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No more spag bol: 10 ways to tackle fussy eaters

The chef, the café owner and the cookery school guru… if they can’t get your kid out of the pasta rut, no-one can.

Kids got you tearing out your hair over barely-touched plates of food? Was it too fishy, too spicy, too many lumps? We hear you, sister. And it’s time for the fight back. After all, there’s only so much pasta pesto a person can dish out, so whipped up with the ease of a triple baked soufflé (I mean, I’m sure you can do that blindfold, here’s our guide to expanding their repertoire. We’ve enlisted the help of three fabulous foodies from across Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, and all you need to do as thanks is babysit once a week once lockdown ends. Deal?

Mrs Bun teaches cooking to kids in schools, village halls, and at parties in the Cholsey area, switching to Zoom during lockdown. She’s learnt a thing or two about fussy eaters along the way and reckons the key is variety – serving new foods in different formats. How many kids will eat a roastie but not mash?

For Scott Needham, chef and founder of fine-dining meal delivery service, Ravenous Beasts , the key is to pick your moment and not add stress to the end of an already intense day of homeschool and WFH.

Jenny Price, co-owner of Benson’s Waterfront Café in Oxfordshire has two young kids so is all too aware of mealtime challenges. She’s found success with getting kids involved with cooking and ‘playing café’ at home – especially handy when you can use real café takeaway boxes!  

We’ve quizzed our foodies for their go to tricks. We suggest these are served with a large portion of patience and an even larger glass of vino…

1/ Stick to recognised food on busy days when patience is thin on the ground, then at the weekend when everyone’s got a little bit more time, turn one of the meals into an event that children will see as different and interesting. 

2/ Try making trying things into a game like blind folded tasting, ‘describe the taste and texture’, ‘this food reminds me off…’. Have a winner and a prize (who gets the last brussels sprout…).  These games will also help the cooks in the family to learn the textures or flavours that kids are weary of.

3/ Involve kids in the cooking, letting them wield a knife (supervised, of course). They’ll love the responsibility, and you can get them to try ingredients as you go along.

4/ Try playing cafes/restaurants, including writing a menu and counting money. It’s a homeschool win-win.

5/ Even just changing plates or containers can get kids out of a habit of saying no. Or, try a picnic box on the carpet or in the garden.

6/ Veg by stealth is one tactic – broccoli and spinach whizzed into pesto or carrots in tomato sauce (blended, so there’s no trace for the cunning little veg detectives).

7/ Pick and grow your own (when you can). It also gives the kids another activity to do during lockdown and it’s amazing how willing they are to try something they’ve picked versus the end product that you’ve slaved over and presented them with.

8/ Encourage them to taste from your plate rather than slapping a whole plate of new food in front of them. And show them that you are trying a new food too.

9/ Instead of just offering an apple for snack, put a rainbow of veg and fruits on a plate, including something new in among familiar favourites. Also try serving fruit and veg in different formats. Kids will say they like grated carrot but not carrot sticks. It might make no sense but it’s a vitamin win.

10/ Children often like spaghetti, so it’s not too much of a stretch to move this up a notch to rice noodles, which then opens the door to stir fries, noodle soups and beyond. Before you know it they’ll be ordering the duck hoisin ramen with asparagus and artichoke…maybe?

Some recipes to try on your new foodies…

Three easy vegan recipes for fussy eaters

Comforting recipes from The Pie Room

Family cooking recipes from Hugh Fearnley Wittingstall’s new book

And if you can’t beat ’em… The finest fish and chips too cook at home

Find more ideas here

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