Do you find yourself sitting down to the same meals week in, week out? Perhaps you have a fussy eater or two and you’re fed up of preparing food that simply gets rejected? Or maybe you’re just struggling for mealtime inspiration?
You’re not alone, I see many families in my clinic and at my workshops who have found themselves in a dinner time (and breakfast and lunchtime…) rut. If your child is a fussy or picky eater, then it can seem easier to stick with what they know – and even adults find comfort in familiar foods. The trouble is that just as our brains would get bored watching the same TV show over and over and over again, our bodies eventually tire of eating the same foods on heavy rotation.
At some point your child will refuse to eat their favourite food. If they eat a wide range of foods – more than 30 – but love avocado, for example, and want to eat it daily, it won’t matter too much when they become bored and refuse it, as they have 29 other foods to choose from. However, if your child eats a limited range of foods (less than 10), losing one favoured food is a big deal, especially if it’s the only food in a particular food group.
Over time, if children eat the same foods daily, their food choices dwindle down so much that their diets become nutritionally lacking and can cause lethargy, poor concentration and nutritional deficiencies, which demand attention. Children with limited diets are often low in iron, zinc and B12 and this can suppress the appetite and cause further fussiness due to lack of interest.
It’s important to identify repetitive eating behaviours early on and use positive strategies to nip it in the bud before it becomes a bigger issue. The eight steps and easy meal plans in my book Wholesome Child: A Complete Nutrition Guide and Cookbook will help you increase variety in your child’s diet and below are some simple strategies to prevent repetitive eating:
1. Variety is key.
Introduce a wide variety of foods from as early as possible and remember to exercise enormous amounts of patience in the face of rejection. It can take a young baby 10-16 tries to accept a new food.
2. Start small.
When offering a new food, start with small portions even if this means only one taste or teaspoon at a time.
3. Set realistic expectations.
Getting your child to move from white bread to a white preservative-free sourdough is a small step but can make a big change at a nutrition level.
4. As your child gets older, continue to offer variety.
Even if your child has 15 things on their food list, introduce more. If your child loves a bagel with cream cheese, for example, and typically eats it everyday for school, start offering it every other day.
5. Switch it up.
Rotate your meals so that your child becomes familiar with a wider range of different foods (see our menu planners in my book).
6. Flavour is king.
Don’t be afraid to use herbs and spices. Work with your child to identify herbs and spices they may like to try. Start, for example, with a sprinkle of oregano on a pizza.
7. Keep it fun.
Choose a new vegetable and spark your child’s interest by letting them get involved with preparing it in various ways. For example carrot can be eaten steamed, roasted, fermented, cut into strips and cooked like pasta, baked in muffins or cake or turned into Bliss Balls.
Making fermented carrots is a fun way to spend time with the kids in the kitchen. Image: Supplied.
8. Play around with the foods they love.
If you are stuck for ideas take into consideration the eating preferences of the fussiest member of your family and choose meals and recipes based on the foods they love to eat. For example, if your child loves pizza, try a cauliflower or sweet potato pizza base.
9. Stretch their food choices focusing on the foods they love to eat.
If they are an avid cheese sandwich eater, then offer them a wrap with cheese instead of a sandwich. Then move onto cheese melted over a jacket potato, then add tuna to the melt. Or if they love chicken nuggets, offer homemade turkey schnitzel.
10. Most importantly, seek help early.
Obviously every child is different, but if you find that meal times are way more stressful for you than they are for your peers, it’s time to speak to a nutritionist or feeding therapist. Remember, the main aim is to bring the joy back into meal times.
To learn more about Mandy Sacher please visit the Wholesome Child website. Her book “Wholesome Child: A Complete Nutrition Guide and Cookbook” is available to purchase online and through iTunes, and you can connect with Mandy on Instagram and Facebook.