If you have ever had to cook for a child who is a picky eater, you will understand the frustration of having your food rejected.
A turned up nose. A plate pushed away. A bowl tipped over even.
But the worst is that one word said with all the disgust that a small person can muster. "Yucky".
Yucky is a word that can drive the most patient parent on the planet to distraction.
That carefully crafted meal that took time, effort, care and money to create has been dismissed on the whim of a person whose diet you take very seriously indeed.
But if you have a picky eater in your family, fear not for you are not alone. And the likelihood is that it's not because of anything you are doing or not doing.
There are tips and tricks to getting a picky eater to eat. (Image: Getty Images)
A recent review of dozens of studies dating back to the 1990s that all looked at kids' eating patterns found that fussy, picky or choosy eating habits were linked to and affected by everything from parental control at mealtimes to social influences to maternal eating patterns to personality traits.
But the good news is that there are tricks and tips that can help mealtimes become less fraught.
How to help a picky eater
- Introduce a wide variety of foods from as early as possible and remember to exercise enormous amounts of patience in the face of rejection. It can take a young baby 10-16 tries to accept a new food.
- When offering a new food, start with small portions even if this means only one taste or teaspoon at a time.
- Set realistic expectations. Getting your child to move from white bread to a white preservative-free sourdough is a small step but can make a big change at a nutrition level.
- As your child gets older, continue to offer variety. Even if your child has 15 things on their food list, introduce more. If your child loves a bagel with cream cheese, for example, and typically eats it every day for school, start offering it every other day.
- Rotate your meals so that your child becomes familiar with a wider range of different foods.
- Don't be afraid to use herbs and spices. Work with your child to identify herbs and spices they may like to try. Start, for example, with a sprinkle of oregano on a pizza.
- Choose a new vegetable and spark your child's interest by letting them get involved with preparing it in various ways. For example carrot can be eaten steamed, roasted, fermented, cut into strips and cooked like pasta, baked in muffins or cake or turned into Bliss Balls.
- If you are stuck for ideas take into consideration the eating preferences of the fussiest member of your family and choose meals and recipes based on the foods they love to eat. For example, if your child loves pizza, try a cauliflower or sweet potato pizza base.
- Stretch their food choices focusing on the foods they love to eat. If they are an avid cheese sandwich eater, then offer them a wrap with cheese instead of a sandwich. Then move onto cheese melted over a jacket potato, then add tuna to the melt. Or if they love chicken nuggets, offer homemade turkey schnitzel.
- Most importantly, seek help early. Obviously, every child is different, but if you find that meal times are way more stressful for you than they are for your peers, it's time to speak to a nutritionist or feeding therapist. Remember, the main aim is to bring the joy back into meal times.
WATCH: Healthy meal ideas that will get eaten!
Post continues below…
Take a look at our gallery below for 15 simple dinner ideas that will please even the pickiest of eaters!
Many kids go through a picky eating stage. (Image: Getty Images)
Sweet chilli fish cakes
Fish cakes are fabulous finger food for little hands or, paired with a salad or steamed veggies, make a hearty, nutritious meal. These have a dollop of sweet chilli sauce which young palates will enjoy and just enough heat to make them interesting.
Find the recipe for these tasty fish cakes here.
Italian baked meatballs
Kids, even fussy ones, like to eat anything that's made in miniature so these Italian meatballs are just the ticket. Made of pork mince, they're easy on the budget too. Serve on a bed of rice or wide noodles to make the most of the zesty sauce.
Find the recipe for these Italian meatballs here.
Savoury mince slice
Give a new lease of life to the humble savoury mince pie with this tasty recipe twist. Full of hidden vegies and sandwiched between delicious, buttery pastry, they're a surefire hit for even the most picky of picky eaters. Serve them warm or cold with mashed potato and steamed greens, or wrapped up for a lunch box treat.
Find the recipe for this savoury mince slice here.
Mini fish pies
Even something simple as serving dinner in individual pots can make all the difference when it comes to little ones who are a bit tricksy with what they will and won't eat. These fish pies are topped with cheesy mash that will tickle tiny tastebuds.
Find the recipe for these mini fish pies here.
Beef mince nachos
Nachos tick all the boxes for a quick, tasty and cheap midweek dinner: they're filling, fast, crunchy and, with a dollop of sour cream, a little bit naughty. Best of all, the kids will wolf them down!
You can up the vegie factor by finely grating carrot and zucchini into the mince mixture before cooking as both will melt away into the sauce so the young ones need never know they were ever there…
Find the recipe for these beef mince nachos here.
Healthy chicken nuggets
Give an old favourite a healthy makeover with these tasty, gluten-free bites of yum. Chicken nuggets are always a good go-to meal for kids and these ones are no exception. These ones are coated in quinoa flakes to give little tummies an extra protein hit with a satisfying crunch.
Find the recipe for these healthy chicken nuggets here.
Sausages, capsicum and soft polenta
The sweetness of roast capsicum combines with that old kids' favourite, sausages to make an easy dinner that's perfect for a midweek meal. Ring the changes from boring old mash with some smooth and creamy polenta. YUMMO!
Find the recipe for these sausages, capsicum and soft polenta here.
Honey soy chicken skewers
Kids love eating anything that's on a stick so whatever you can put on a kebab skewer, please do. These skewers use chicken tenderloins which are marinated in honey and soy making them so tender that even the "no-chew" brigade will be silenced. Serve them with extra dipoing sauce and since those plates wiped clean!
Find the recipe for these honey soy chicken skewers here.
Chicken and sweet potato lasagne
This kid-friendly version of lasagne is good for the pocket too as it uses chicken mince. Slices of sweet potato add colour, texture and a delicate sweetness that little mouths love. We reckon this is one meal you'll have on high rotation!
Find the recipe for this chicken and sweet potato lasagne here.
Baked eggs with capsicum and tomato
There's nothing we like more than a recipe fit for a picky eater than a recipe that's one-pot too! Winning! This particular beauty combines the enduring appeal of soft-baked eggs with sweet and colourful tomatoes and capsicum. What's not to love?
Find the recipe for baked eggs with capsicum and tomato here.
Chicken tikka with cucumber-mint raita
It's so easy to make the mistake of plumping for bland food if you have a fussy eater when, in reality their tender palates will take a lot more exciting flavours than we'd give them credit for. That's the case with this quick and easy Indian dish. Use chicken breast to make the meat as tender as possible and a ready-made tikka paste for speed.
Find the recipe for this chicken tikka with cucumber-mint raita here.
Quick roasted baby vegetables
The beauty of roasting root vegies such as beetroot, carrots and potatoes is that it brings out the best in them. Kids love the sweetness of roast vegies and these are no exception. Pair with roast meat or top with crumbled feta cheese and pop under the grill until just melted.
Find the recipe for these quick roasted baby vegetables here.
Egg fried rice
This quick and simple dish uses up leftover vegies and rice with a protein hit of egg and bacon that ticks all the boxes when it comes to filling picky little tummies. This version of this ever-popular meal uses char sui sauce to give a beautiful smokey flavour.
Find the recipe for this egg fried rice here.
Spaghetti with pea pesto
Kids tend to be visual eaters who will happily reject something if they decree it to be "yucky". But, much like food on a stick, funny-coloured food is usually a hit and this bright green spaghetti dinner is a visual feast that picky eaters love. It's quick and easy too making mealtime a breeze!
Find the recipe for this spaghetti with pea pesto here.
Sizzling sausage pizza
There's hardly a kid on the planet who won't scoff a sausage so this colourful pizza recipe is sure to be a winner! Make things simple by using a ready-made pizza sauce if you like and swap out the pizza base for pita bread if you have some to hand.
Find the recipe for this sizzling sausage pizza here.