Dinnertime for anyone can be difficult if you don’t know where to start. Balancing preparation time with nutritional value and cost is tricky enough as it is, but add a fussy little one to the mix and that drive-thru dinner run seems especially appealing. There are a few ways, however, to tick all the boxes when it comes to plating a meal that’s both economical and healthy that will have dishes coming back clean.
All you need is a few of these tried-and-tested tricks up your sleeve to keep your kids’ tummies (and tastebuds) happy, without the fuss! Below, nutritionist and chef Zoe Bingely-Pullin shares her advice on outsmarting picky eaters at the dinner table. Who knows, they may even turn into accidental foodies!
1. Get creative.
While it’s no secret that kids can be nervous about trying new foods, Bingely-Pullin says it’s not the flavors so much as the texture that puts them off.
“As to why they are sometimes a little bit nervous, it’s often the texture element of food,” she says. “So from a texture perspective, it’s always good to try and get it down to a purée or a grated version of that vegetable.”
Try grating, finely chopping, or baking vegetables when trying to hide them in your kids’ dinners.
2. Start small.
It’s important to remember that young tastebuds are more sensitive than adults’. What you consider to be a tiny dash of spices could be the difference between a dinner that’s eaten without a fuss and an untouched plate of food with an unhappy child to boot.
“[Try] just a little a bit of pepper or a little bit of nutmeg, so your child goes, ‘that’s interesting but not overwhelming’,” Bingely-Pullin explains.
3. Make it pop.
A vibrant, colorful dish can turn heads, and this only rings truer when it comes to kids. “It’s as much making it about it taste exciting as it is making it visually exciting,” says Bingely-Pullin.
4. Tell a little white lie.
Everything can be chicken when you’re none the wiser, and if that’s what it takes to get fussy eaters the nutrition they need, Bingely-Pullin says telling a little fib is a-okay. “There’s no one rule for every child, and as a nutritionist and a mom, I’d love to describe everything that they’re eating… to give them a level of base knowledge,” she says. “But then I also think it’s really important to give them good nutrition and so sometimes you just need to get the foods in their diets.”
5. Take it back to the basics.
Getting kids involved in the cooking process can mean the difference between happy and fussy tastebuds. “I find that when you are giving a child a new flavor, it’s good to take it right from the beginning,” Bingely-Pullin advises. “You know, by taking [the ingredients] out of the trolley or bag from the supermarket and explaining it all, getting them to touch it and feel it.” Studies have shown that repeating this process can help change children’s attitude towards food. However, Bingely-Pullin concedes that these discussions can take time you sometimes don’t have.
“It’s about picking the days you can do that,” she says. “For the other five days a week, you might find that you simply just don’t have time to do that. So it might be that you’re combining a bit of… their pre-prepared meals with some of the quick, fresh meals that you can make very dynamically and on the spot as well.”
6. Eat dinner as a family.
Sit down as a family and plate up something delicious, peppered with intriguing elements the kids may not have seen before. It may inspire them to sneak a little something from your plate, and, if you’re lucky, voila! mushrooms are now a favorite with the whole family.
“I think the community element is as important as seeing what the family is eating as well,” Zoe adds. “We sort of have a rule in our house that we try and eat at least one meal every day together.”
This article originally appeared on our sister site, Food To Love.