Tips for dealing with fussy eaters


The PEACH program's very own Dr Helen Vidgen gave her top tips for dealing with fussy eaters in the below Courier Mail article, by Sharnee Rawson.


Dr Helen Vidgen is a dietitian and senior research fellow at the Queensland University of Technology, and national co-convener of food and nutrition for the Public Health Association of Australia. She has two daughters and loves eating out.


Creative cook Rebecca McGuinness is a high school economics teacher and teaches children’s cooking classes at Putia Pure Food Kitchen, Banyo, and develops recipes that cater for special dietary requirements.



It can take up to 20 taste-tests for our tastebuds to get used to a new food, depending on cognitive development. “You really have to introduce a new food quite a few times before you can confidently say, ‘Yes, they don’t like that’,” Vidgen says, with even mobile phone apps created to help with the counting process. “The first time, it may just be that it’s unfamiliar, the next time, it might be a textural thing.” From a health and nutrition point of view, food textures help with speech and jaw development, and promote mindfulness around eating. Exercising creativity and playing around with textures is an excellent way to introduce new flavours, according to McGuinness. “It takes a good few attempts for us to like stuff, so if they don’t like it, change the texture,” she says. “With something like banana, you can mash it and mix with egg and maple syrup, and cook it just like a pikelet, or blend frozen banana with a little coconut milk in the food processor for an awesome sorbet.” And for harder sells, like vegetables? “I use a spiralizer a lot to make zucchini or carrot spirals. Grating and processing is also a good way to change the texture,” McGuiness says.



Too many processed foods — loaded with sweeteners or artificial ingredients — can program your family’s tastebuds to prefer fabricated flavours. Vidgen says that products aimed at children are often the worst offenders. “There was an experiment in the United Kingdom, where children were given strawberries and then strawberry flavouring. They didn’t realise they were the same thing, and they found the strawberries bland and uninteresting after trying the syrup.” So always choose natural foods over processed varieties. A chocolate muffin can hide multiple vegetable ‘sins’, like red kidney beans.



McGuinness is a fan of hiding vegetables in sauces and dishes and tries to cram them in wherever she can. “We often think that we have to eat a majority of our vegetables with our main meal at dinner time, but five serves, which could be almost five cups, is way too much. I think it’s better to try and eat them throughout the day. “In my lunch box classes, we recreate typical lunch box favourites — so for a wrap we use lettuce leafs instead of tortillas, and sushi sandwiches, using nori and rice as the bread, and filling with plenty of grated vegetables and roast chicken.” Savoury muffins, made with chicken or lamb, can also be packed with grated vegetables. The same approach works for fruit, beans and superfoods. “I make chocolate muffins for my students, but hide red kidney beans in them, or use banana and chia seeds.” But it’s still important to serve them straight up so children can develop a taste for individual ingredients, independent of other flavours, says Vidgen. “We want children to develop a taste and a preference for healthy foods over unhealthy foods.”



Give mini-me menus with deep-fried protein and chips a miss, and encourage your kids to consider an entree or making a tweak to a main item. It may be more expensive, but it will set children up with a better attitude towards food. “There should be no such thing as a kids menu,” Vidgen says. “The dietary guidelines aim to move children towards family food in the first year of life. When you’re introducing solids, you may be making special foods, but the rest of the time, it should be a mushed, lumpy or finger food version of what the rest of the family is eating. So, by the time they are one, they are eating what the family is eating.” DIY TUCK SHOP Crafting your own order forms or lists can be a fun way to involve kids in what they are eating throughout the week, McGuinness suggests. “It’s like ordering from the tuck shop, but doing it in your own home,” she says. “There are heaps of resources online that have menu creators and little checklist sheets that you can print out. Plan out the menu, make stuff and freeze it, and let the kids pick from there.”



Not for the oozy cheese and wine, Vidgen says, but for the structure and reverence around food. “The French diet has been World Heritage-listed, and there are three main elements included: the diet is varied, there are regular meal times and the meal is shared with people, so it’s about pausing and taking time to eat. Part of that is being really conscious in the moment.” DINING OUT What’s the key to turning your little one into a well-behaved gourmand when dining out? Vidgen says that a little communication can go a long way. “We were on a holiday in Byron Bay and it was raining, so I felt like we needed a treat,” she says. “We checked in at a nice restaurant and I talked to the girls (who were five and seven) a lot before we went about the artistry of food and the craftsmanship that goes into fine dining, as well as at the socialism and symbolism about dining out. It’s an exciting, adult thing to do.”



Involvement in meal preparation plays an important role in developing children’s preferences. “In my classes, I only meet the kids for a few hours,” McGuiness says. “So it’s all about squishing, rolling, grating — the more involved they are, the more they feel pride and control over what they are doing. It comes back to their creation. It’s about education and exploring.” One of her favourite dishes is to make a meat-ifed pizza. “Take any kind of mince, add onion, garlic, oregano and an egg, and roll it out into a very thick rissole. Bake it in the oven until it crisps up, and then get the kids to top it with whatever they want. It has a lot more protein and iron than a regular pizza, and kids love putting on the toppings.” --