Perseverance is the trick with fussy eaters

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Think cooking one meal every night is a chore? Spare a thought for Kiwi parents who cook two or three dinners each night to appease the fussy eaters in the family, says Amy Wiggins.

Two-thirds of parents cook more than one evening meal: 55% say they prepare two meals and 9% cook three dinners to keep the family happy at least once a week, according to a survey commissioned by meal kit provider HelloFresh.

The survey also found 19% of Kiwi parents often or always ate different meals to their children and 79% cooked the same meals regularly because they knew their kids would eat it without a fuss.

Almost a quarter of families admitted they rotated the same three to four meals each week and another 22% said they had a repertoire of five to six meals.

Almost half of the parents surveyed worried their children were not getting the nutrients they needed but Otago University Prof Rachael Taylor said the nutritional consequences for fussy eaters depended on which foods they resisted.

Half of parents said their children would not eat spicy food and 32% reported their kids refused to eat anything green.

Prof Taylor said the nutritional intake of most fussy eaters was probably reasonable, although each case would have to be looked at individually.

''Many children are fussy about vegetables but eat reasonable amounts of fruit. Others can be reluctant to eat meat, so appropriate vegetarian sources of iron are required.

''The more extensive the fussiness the greater the chance of issues with nutrition.''

Although it was possible there was a genetic link to food preferences, eating habits were more likely influenced by exposure to different foods from a young age, Taylor said.

''There is some suggestion that a proportion of the population has a much higher concentration of taste buds on their tongue, which may lead to selective eating habits; especially when it comes to bitter foods and beverages such as coffee, grapefruit juice and olives,'' she said.

''We also know that the environment we are raised in has a significant impact on the foods we become accustomed to.

''As solid foods are gradually introduced, children from a wide range of different cultures learn to like a variety of flavours.''

The survey also found 82% of parents resorted to some form of bribery to get their children to eat dinner. Techniques included telling kids they only had to try a little bit (52%), offering dessert as a reward (35%) or disguising the food (31%).

But Taylor said the key to overcoming fussy eating habits was perseverance.

''We know it takes many, many times being offered a food without any pressure from parents before children may even taste the food.

''Adults should be good role models, including eating together as a family. Young children are very influenced by what their parents do.''

HelloFresh chief executive and father of three Tom Rutledge said it was important to create meals everyone enjoyed because ''a lot of life lessons can be learned around the dinner table''.

''Dinnertime should be an opportunity to expand your kids' food horizons, helping them to discover new foods they love, rather than feeding them the same meals from a small repertoire.''

Tips for feeding fussy eaters

  • Get your child to help select fruit and vegetables at the supermarket and help you prepare meals
  • Preparing a separate meal can promote picky eating. Instead, encourage your child to stay at the table for the whole mealtime — even if they don’t eat it.
  • Be patient with new foods. Children may need repeated exposure to new foods before they take the first bite. Talk about the colour, shape, aroma or texture rather than the taste.
  • Don’t offer dessert as a reward. Withholding it sends the message that dessert is the best part and may only increase a child’s desire for sweets.

— Source: Mayo Clinic

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