Presentation may be the key to pleasing even the fussiest eater in your household.
It may be your serving style, not your cooking, that makes children move food around on their plates.
New research by University of Copenhagen shows kids have distinct plating preferences that vary with age and gender.
What the study found
Researchers asked kids aged 7-8 and 12-14 to prioritise photos of six different dishes served in three different ways – elements clearly separated; foods mixed together; and a combination of the two.
Girls in the 7-8 group preferred foods that didn’t touch, while boys didn’t favour one arrangement style over the others.
The older children, aged 12-14, preferred either a mixed style or a combination of mixed and separate components.
Separating meals may make children more open to new foods
Smart Bite paediatric dietitian Karina Savage says the findings align with what she sees both in her Sydney clinic and from her own daughter at home.
“If a child is naturally cautious about food and a bit fussy, serving foods separately on the plate will usually be more appealing and will probably increase the likelihood of them trying a new food,” Karina says.
“It is less overwhelming to have one new food to taste, touch and smell compared to a mix of new foods.”
Serve a mix of protein, carbs and coloured vegies
Karina says while kids’ daily serving requirements vary depending on their age, they need a balance between food groups to make sure they get the nutrients their growing bodies need.
Stay ahead with clever forward-planning
Karina recommends stocking up on these nutritious foods, which can be served as separate parts:
– Have healthy protein sources in the fridge and freezer, such as eggs, kebabs, chicken, meatballs, fish, baked beans, good quality sausages and tofu.
– Add 2-3 plant foods. Include orange, green, red and yellow vegetables.
– Add a healthy carbohydrate such as pasta (wholemeal if possible), rice (basmati or brown), cous cous (wholemeal if possible), quinoa and sweet potato.
Three easy meal ideas for kids:
1. Roast chicken, brown or basmati rice and steamed vegies such as broccoli, carrots and capsicum.
2. Meatballs, wholemeal pasta and a basic salad.
3. Scrambled eggs, a side of baked beans, peas and baby corn.
Avoid ‘food wars’ with your kids
As well as testing different serving styles, Karina says parental role modelling and eating with a child is still the most crucial factor in the development of a competent eater.
“Avoid any distractions such as TV and avoiding placing pressure on the child to eat – no food wars,” she says.
“There’s no quick fix with fussy eaters, honestly it can take years of perseverance, consistency and calmness.”