Creative plating tips: How to get kids to try new foods

By Apr 21, 2022 Tips for Kids

Do you have a fussy eater at home? If so, listen up! We are delighted to announce our new family-friendly guided series, offering tips and tricks for encouraging even the fussiest of eaters to enjoy new flavours every week. Here, UAE-based dietician and paediatrics specialist, Jordana Ventzke, shares her creative plating tips for encouraging young children to try new foods.

Jordana Ventzke

Experiencing fussy behaviour around food between the ages of 18 months and 3-4 years is completely normal and developmentally appropriate. However, it’s how we as parents and caregivers approach this fussiness that will determine if it becomes a more significant concern. By this, we mean that our children continue to drop food options or even move into the sphere of becoming a problem feeder (meaning they eat less than 20 foods). 

Our most important role is to continue to offer a particular food to our children, no matter how often they refuse to eat it. Variety is key to maintaining their sensory pathways and how they are processing food on a sensory level. Our child’s ability to process food is going to depend on the level of overwhelm they feel at a mealtime. If we can decrease this level of overwhelm, making food appear “safer” to our children, we can assume that their willingness to taste or even interact with a particular food will increase. 

If we completely avoid foods that our children are consistently avoiding, we end up negatively reinforcing their behaviour to refuse to eat certain foods. For example, if our child refuses to eat the classic spaghetti bolognaise on offer and in turn, we then offer them something they want (such as, chicken nuggets and fries), we have rewarded this behaviour. We will have taught our child that they only need to refuse something for them to be rewarded with something that they do want to eat and something that is easy to process on a sensory level. 

So, the big question is: how do we make meals less overwhelming for our children, to encourage them to taste and interact with the new foods?

One of the fundamentals is how we plate a meal and make it presentable for a child. 

Here are some easy tips to remember when plating a meal for a child:

plating tips
Classic Spaghetti Bolognese with Parmesan

1. Keep portions small

You can always put more on the plate if your child wants. If you start small, the pressure on needing to finish a huge amount of food is removed and there will be more willingness to start the meal.

2. Break down your meals

Remember that children are still building their sensory processing maps (building this takes time and uses all their senses, both external and internal). When we separate meals into the different food groups, or keep sauces and “sprinkles” separate, there is less overwhelm experienced and the nervous system continues to function maintaining appetite. 

3. Change your crockery, but keep it age appropriate

Plates should have separators to keep the different foods apart and not touching each other. But stay age appropriate. For example, a smiley face or an animal shaped plate may be suitable for a younger child, but one that is round and white may be more appropriate for an older child who wants to “eat like a grown up”.

4. Keep the foods on the plate, even if your child refuses to eat them

The more they see them and are exposed to them, the more they will feel comfortable around these foods. If we avoid foods that are refused, our children forget about them.

Looking for inspiration on how to plate your next Hello Chef meal for your fussy eater? Check out our upcoming menu:

Jordana Ventzke is a licensed dietitian, based in the UAE. She specialises in paediatrics and pre-and post-natal nutrition, with a special interest in starting solids and picky eaters. She consults with clients at Genesis Healthcare Centre, where she does one-to-one consultations. Jordana has over 15 years of experience helping families achieve their food goals, most of which she believes is instilled at a young age. Jordana believes in bringing back the joy to eating and taking the stress away (especially for the parent). You can follow Jordana on Instagram @jv_nutrition

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