Feeding fussy eaters on a budget
The price of food has been steadily (or not so steadily ) rising. Even before the grocery bills started getting huge, parents frequently complained about food waste with a a fussy eater.
Many of the standard budgeting tips are a bit redundant too when you do have a child who struggles to eat variety. There is no point buying the home-brand cookies if there is no way that they are going to get eaten!
Although there are no magical ways to save money on food with a fussy eater, there are some basic tips that will make things a little easier on the wallet and also perhaps help get food eaten!
I love win-win tips and every now and again there are strategies that serve two purposes.
Food budgeting tips for fussy eaters
1. Don’t ‘Pinterest’ – this has got to be my top tip! Many parents find a recipe on a Pinterest board ‘that every fussy eater will love’ and spend money and time creating a fabulous recipe.
Or they listen to a friend or a relative who says, ‘my child would only eat xyz, but they loved this recipe’. Although these tales are not necessarily untrue, it will depend on where your child sits on the picky eating spectrum.
If they eat no veg and only plain pasta, they are unlikely to go for an integrated dish where everything is mixed together, no matter what other parents tell you.
Making small changes to what your child already eats is usually a far more cost-effective way of introducing new foods than spending dollars and hours creating something that a child will take one look at and say no.
2. Portions – parents frequently complain about wasting heaps of food when they have a fussy eater. I feel this can usually be minimised. Rather than serving a giant plate of something, serve a nano portion.
In fact, serving small pieces works positively from a ‘picky point of view’ as well. Children are far more likely to eat something that seems manageable than a piled plate.
If it’s a new food then serve a tiny piece – as in fingernail sized. Don’t serve a whole green bean, for example, serve a little slice from one. That way if it doesn’t get eaten it’s not a big deal.
3. Re-use – there is no need to throw things away. In fact, I encourage re-cycling as many uneaten bits as possible. If you’ve served your child a carrot stick, or a cherry tomato and they haven’t eaten it, it can be washed and put back in the fridge.
Or we can add it to the stir fry or the salad for the next meal. If it’s a chicken nugget then it may be fine to serve again at another meal or a pancake can be cut into shapes and reserved as something slightly new.
4. Lunchboxes – many parents, despair at the amount of food that gets wasted through lunchboxes. I think though, that frequently we fall into the trap of desperately wanting a child to eat so offer 17,000 different options.
The logic is correct. If I give my child 10 different things, I know there is something they are able to eat. Somewhat counterintuitively however, this often works against us. They open the lunchbox and are totally overwhelmed by what they see.
Instead of making it easier for them, we have inadvertently made it harder. My advice is to trial offering less and see if that works better. If they are eating 3 things from 10, then send 4 and see what happens.
5. Eat together – eating meals together can really help save money. If we have to create a meal specifically for a child, there is more likely to be wastage. If however, they are eating from the general family food, it matters less what they do and don’t eat.
And yes, I realise that most fussy eaters are not going to be tucking into your lamb curry or stir fry veg. But they may be able to eat the rice, or some flat bread or some plain chicken put aside before the sauce goes on.
Having a child eating with you means food is communal so wastage is almost automatically managed.
6. Bulk cook/buy – bulk cooking/buying and fussy eaters do not seem to go together so bear with me! I feel like you are still able to do this to a degree even with a super picky eater.
Some of the foods that they eat can be made in quantity and then either frozen to re-serve again or served later in the week. It will of course really depend on what is in the child’s diet. Mince, chicken, and muffins, for example, all lend themselves to this.
Peanut butter sandwiches not so much However, if your child is eating specific foods like Vegemite, then bulk buying when on special still saves a dollar here and a dollar there.
7. Dispensers – using the food dispensers or bulk bins in grocery or wholesale stores is a great way to test small portions of foods without having to buy a big bag.
Testing a new dried fruit or a different nut or a another type of flour can often be done quite cost-effectively by buying the minimum amount allowed.
8. Simple food – foods that are complex, like integrated dishes are generally more difficult for fussy eaters. Serving foods that are easy to recognise at a glance are usually more readily accepted.
This is not to say that we are not working towards more complex mixed foods. Absolutely, and this is definitely the end goal. However, it often needs to be done in stages.
Smothering pasta in sauce for a plain pasta kind of a child is probably going to end in wastage. However, serving the plain pasta with a tiny bit of sauce next to it, builds the association but doesn’t mean the meal gets rejected.
We can also work on ways for our child to interact with the sauce, so they do become more comfortable with it. That may be dipping a piece of pasta on a skewer into it or it may be just pouring the sauce into a little bowl, dependent upon their comfort level.
Having a child who is a fussy eater does make feeding a more complex undertaking. And yes, there is probably going to be some wastage, as we do want to consistently serve our child foods they cannot eat yet so they are able to build a comfort level with it.
However, it doesn’t mean we have to throw kilos of food away. Even if they are getting served some of the family meal, it can be a nano portion, and as discussed, I would encourage that policy as it’s easier to contemplate.
Similarly, if we are testing a new brand of chicken nugget, it doesn’t have to be a plateful, we can just put one in the oven alongside the other food. Or even half a one! Raisins not eaten? Back in the packet. Strawberry not touched? Back in the punnet.
Strawberry smushed? Add to a smoothie! Of course, there are limits but much of the time we can both support our child to move forwards and do it without wasting kilos of food.
Judith, MA Cantab, is an AOTA accredited picky eating advisor and internationally certified nutritional therapist. She works with 100+ families every year resolving fussy eating and returning pleasure and joy to the meal table.
She is also mum to two boys and the author of Creating Confident Eaters and Winner Winner I Eat Dinner. Her dream is that every child is able to approach food from a place of safety and joy, not fear.
Learn more about Judith here: https://theconfidenteater.com/about/