How to avoid the fussy eater trap and get fussy eaters to try new things

Does your family eat the same 'healthy' food week on week? A nutritionist explains why this may not be as good as you think!

Eating the same thing every day on repeat is fine as long as it’s healthy, right? Wrong. While having staple meals on high rotation is an easy habit to get into, it’s important to make sure you’re eating well-balanced meals loaded with a range of nutrient-dense foods.

It’s too easy to miss out on important nutrients if you get stuck in a food rut – plus, if you get bored then you are more likely to slip into bad habits.

Mandy Sacher is a nutritionist and the author of Wholesome Child: A Complete Nutrition Guide and Cookbook

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If you find yourself sitting down to the same meals week on week, perhaps because you have a fussy eater or maybe because you’re struggling for mealtime inspiration, then you’re not alone. Many of the families I see in my clinic and at my workshops have found themselves in a dinnertime (and breakfast and lunchtime…) rut.

When it comes to fussy eaters, 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 day in and day out.

If your child loves pizza, try a cauliflower or sweet potato pizza base.

If a child with an already limited range of foods eats the same thing daily, their food choices will eventually 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.

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10 ways to avoid repetitive eating for fussy eaters

  • 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.

  • When offering a new food, start with small portions even if this means only one taste or teaspoon at a time.

  • 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.

  • 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 every day for school, start offering it every other day.

  • Rotate your meals so that your child becomes familiar with a wider range of different foods.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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