let the ad­ven­ture be­gin!

Healthy Food Guide (Australia) - - CONTENTS -

How to coax your picky eater to eat new foods

It’s not just tod­dlers who turn up their noses at healthy meals. Picky part­ners can fre­quently dis­play the same symp­toms. But fear not — HFG of­fers strate­gies for change!

Steve is a man of few words, and even fewer veg­eta­bles. Steve’s wife Lisa knows this; she doesn’t bother serv­ing him any­thing be­yond po­ta­toes most days for din­ner. “Some­times he’ll eat car­rots,” she says. “But any­thing green, for­get it. He even pulls the let­tuce leaf out of burg­ers.”

Steve is also deeply sus­pi­cious of cous­cous, pasta, rice and many spices. As a re­sult, Lisa pre­pares a very lim­ited range of sim­ple dishes for their weekly meals, even though she loves spicy and ex­otic foods.

“With the kids gone and just the two of us, there’s no point in me cook­ing things Steve won’t eat. I end up just wast­ing food. It’s just eas­ier to do meat and po­ta­toes most nights,” she says.

Lisa and Steve are typ­i­cal of many house­holds. Hav­ing an un­ad­ven­tur­ous or fussy eater in the house can af­fect ev­ery­one and make life dif­fi­cult — and at times even dreary — for cooks.


Be­ing fussy about food — or as Lisa likes to de­scribe Steve, ‘stub­born’ — is not the end of the world. For most peo­ple who eat this way, it’s ei­ther a re­sult of their up­bring­ing or it sim­ply comes down to their in­di­vid­ual tastes, which should be re­spected.

“Chil­dren model par­ents,” di­eti­tian Lea Sten­ing says. “So, if you’ve grown up in a house­hold where Dad dis­liked veg­eta­bles, this could di­rectly af­fect your tastes at the din­ner ta­ble too.”

In some cases, un­for­tu­nate food mem­o­ries from child­hood — con­scious or sub­con­scious — can cause long-term picky eat­ing. For ex­am­ple, a child­hood scare caused by chok­ing or vom­it­ing may pro­duce a lin­ger­ing fear around cer­tain foods.


“Ev­ery­one has likes and dis­likes, and has times when they will and won’t eat cer­tain foods,” Sten­ing says.

But fussy eat­ing can rep­re­sent a prob­lem when it tips over into dis­or­dered eat­ing. The ex­treme end of fussy eat­ing is de­fined as Avoidant/Re­stric­tive Food In­take Dis­or­der. This is when peo­ple of any age start to limit their eat­ing to such a de­gree that their bod­ies are af­fected, or they are af­fected psy­cho­log­i­cally. If you sus­pect this is the case in your fam­ily, then it’s time to talk to your doc­tor.


But when this more ex­treme be­hav­iour isn’t hap­pen­ing, and you’ve sim­ply got an eater in who is just plain picky, what can you do? And does it re­ally mat­ter if your hus­band won’t eat any veg but potato?

It can in­deed mat­ter, Sten­ing points out. Veg­eta­bles are an im­por­tant source of di­etary fi­bre, an­tiox­i­dants, polyphe­nols, vi­ta­mins and min­er­als.

Sig­nif­i­cantly, the polyphe­nols in veg­eta­bles pro­tect the neu­rons in our brains and help re­duce in­flam­ma­tion, which may then im­prove mem­ory, learn­ing and cog­ni­tive func­tion­ing.

“The wider the colour range we eat — red, or­ange, yel­low, green, pur­ple — the bet­ter our ex­po­sure to a range of nu­tri­ents that pro­tect us against dis­eases like can­cer, while also pro­mot­ing our heart health, re­duc­ing blood pres­sure, pre­serv­ing our eye­sight and pro­tect­ing our brain health,” ac­cord­ing to Lea Sten­ing.


Some­times a GP’s warn­ing about the risk of de­vel­op­ing high choles­terol or high blood pres­sure can be a wake-up call for fussy eaters, and will have more ef­fect than any­thing you can say or do at home.

“I often find with adults that they just don’t re­alise that their dis­like of food, or their nar­row way of eat­ing, is im­pact­ing on their health,” Sten­ing says.

As a di­eti­tian help­ing peo­ple who are fussy eaters, Sten­ing car­ries out a 7–day nu­tri­tional as­sess­ment. She then matches the re­sults against the per­son’s blood tests for choles­terol, blood sugar or iron, along with en­ergy ex­pen­di­ture.

“This can help them see the gap be­tween the en­ergy and nu­tri­ents they need, ver­sus what they are eat­ing. Often, see­ing this in­for­ma­tion can re­ally be a cat­a­lyst for change. It also helps if th­ese re­sults are matched to per­sonal goals peo­ple may have, like fer­til­ity, phys­i­cal per­for­mance or work expectations,” she says.

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