8 Top Tips and Smart Recipes for Fussy Little Eaters

8 Top Tips and Smart Recipes for Fussy Little Eaters

This is how they’ll eat their greens

Remember the days when you were small and had to remain at the dinner table as long as it took to finish those sprouts or swallow that chewy meat? Many of us share similar, scarring mealtime memories, and we've promised ourselves to never inflict the same ordeals on our own children.

But as parents, we want the best for our kids, and our primary concern is their healthy upbringing. So when they stop eating what we want them to, and start making their own choices about their food intake—which, for some, excludes vegetables altogether—we get worried and resort to behaviors ranging from frustration to force-feeding.

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Here are some tips how to deal with children who refuse to eat (well), and some recipes that you can try out along the way:

Persevere and be patient!

If your child accepted all sorts of food as a baby, and now doesn’t want to touch any vegetables as a toddler, rest assured that this is not unusual. Children change their preferences and behaviors towards food as they grow up. They will accept more and new flavors in the future, or re-discover foods that they once ate. Don’t feel bad to cook them their favorite, tried-and-tested meals.

Simple spaghetti Bolognese

Simple spaghetti Bolognese

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But also continue to dish up new meals, or let them try what you are eating, and continue to offer things they have refused in the past. One day, they may eat it. Never lose faith, and don’t get disgruntled if they refuse!

Hide the veggies!

Vegetables, served as a side dish, can be rather unexciting, even for us adults. For kids, you may need to get extra creative to ensure vegetables are integrated properly and consumed in plentitude. Even though we may value a floret of broccoli more than mash or purée, consistency may be the key as to why your kids don’t eat it. Soups, as well as smoothies and homemade fruit and vegetable juices are a great way to incorporate more veggies.

Orange smoothie with arugula

Orange smoothie with arugula

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Breads and cakes can be enhanced with even more fruit and vegetables in exchange for sugar. Grated carrots and kohlrabi, puréed leeks, or mashed up sweetcorn can be added to pancake batter, and your kids will eat those flavorsome savory versions gladly (even for breakfast)!

Fluffy buttermilk pancakes

Fluffy buttermilk pancakes

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Alter the way you serve food!

Especially small children and toddlers can feel overwhelmed by big portions, even if they like the food in front of them. Serving up a meal in a new way will raise their interest, and add an element of fun and exploration. Try smaller portions, serve ingredients in separate bowls—or the opposite, mashed together. Offer a “proper” plate and “proper” metal cutlery, or serve fingerfood for a change.

Next Level Zucchini

Next Level Zucchini

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Serve junk food—healthy and homemade!

Your kids bounce up and down when you drive past a fast food restaurant? Offer them the same deal at home. Chicken nuggets, fish sticks, pizza, burgers, chips, and milkshakes—all is possible when it is homemade. Try sweet potato chips for a change, make your burger patties vegetarian, or simply use the freshest and best ingredients.

Vegan Sloppy Joe burger

Vegan Sloppy Joe burger

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Get your kids cooking!

Your children will develop a good understanding of food and may accept new ingredients if they are involved in the cooking process. Hardly any child does not enjoy swinging a whisk, kneading dough, chopping up some veg, or laying out pizza toppings. Obviously, they need to be supervised and it can get messy, but it will be worth it when you see them eating the fruit of their labor.

Mini eggplant pizzas

Mini eggplant pizzas

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Don’t underestimate your kids’ taste buds!

Don't presume that you know the absolute range of your child's accepted tastes and flavors. I was once surprised to see my one-year-old push away his bowl of pasta and spoon down my spicy bulgur salad! 

Even if you don’t want to cook a meal that you doubt they will eat, make your own food accessible to them. Sit down and eat at the same time. Let them try what you’re having. And be brave to offer a new dish without any alternative options every once in a while.

Cantaloupe gazpacho

Cantaloupe gazpacho

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Think outside the box!

If you really struggle to get any decent food into your child, ask yourself if there is anything you have not tried yet. Cut endearing shapes such as cucumber crowns or radish mice. Ask your competitive child whether their food can go to their brother or sister. Challenge your kids to eat with chopsticks.

Bento box for kids

Bento box for kids

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No pressure!

Relax and don’t force them into eating, as this may disturb their relationship with certain foods further. Don’t worry if they skip a meal. Your child may be growing a new tooth, developing a sore throat, or simply isn’t hungry. It isn’t always necessary to offer an alternative meal. Trust your kids’ judgements and your own instincts as a parent.

Any tricks we’ve missed? Share your experiences by commenting below! If you have a recipe your kids adore, we’d love to publish it on Kitchen Stories. Simply send it to community@kitchenstories.io!