Wasting food is a pet peeve of many parents, not to mention expensive. There is no way to predict what new edible item will be a winner and which tried and tested favourite will fall off the short list of choices.
There are a number of different reasons why some family members may be less adventurous with food, and yet our young and inexperienced culinary critics need plenty of neutral, no pressure exposures to unfamiliar food. So how does a parent provide opportunities to explore food, and make sure everyone is well fed – without throwing away a small mountain of food?
Big Batch Cooking
The adventurous eaters in your family are going to like a lot more variety than your picky and selective eaters. Making multiple family size servings of a few favourite dishes and freezing them (labeled with cooking instructions) turns later meals into a simple reheat and serve affair. While the family meal warms in the oven, there is extra time to consider what your less adventurous dinner companions can eat. Don’t ask children if they’re okay with pasta or pancakes – that’s catering. As the parent, decide if you will serve pancakes, pasta or a loaf of bread with the meal – that’s being considerate. No one should should be punished with hunger because they can’t handle the food. The more adventurous eaters have a chance to stretch their palates on different tastes and textures, while the less adventurous can get acquainted with family food without any pressure to try some.
The chicken that was always eaten is now forbidden territory. The never fail pizza has lost its appeal. The apples are now too boring-crunchy-soft-wet-white-sweet-sour-noisy. Ugh! Losing a food off a limited list of options is always frustrating and sometimes a little scary. It’s impossible to know if the dislike for an old favourite is temporary or permanent.
Fruit can be frozen and added later to smoothies, pancakes or muffins. Meat can be added to the family’s meal for the following day. Bread and pasta can be frozen or used in another soon-to-be-meal. Plan a leftover night where everyone can have a favourite without having to cook.
As a side note, children don’t respond well to pressure. Dropping foods is often your ‘check feeding’ indicator light that pressure is present in the feeding environment.
Less is Better
Don’t expect your selective eater to have a big appetite or a even a willingness to try something new. Let each diner choose from a buffet style presentation. Small portions and second helpings waste less and are less overwhelming than a plate full of large portions and too many options.
Mix it Up
If you only have a couple of items on the safe list, prepare a rotation menu plan. Selective eaters grow tired of their food much quicker than the adventurous because the same items show up on their plate more often. Add as much variety as you are able to.
Make a list of all the food your selective eater considers safe. Categorize it in whatever way makes meal planning easiest to meet your feeding goals. Are you looking for a balanced diet? Sort the list by protein, fats and carbohydrates. Trying to introduce new food? Sort by texture, colour, or whatever works for your situation. When you are planning meals for the family, think about how considerate feeding can add a new dimension to the meal that everyone will enjoy.
The Nose No’s
Smell accounts for 75% of our sense of taste. Keep in mind that too many aromas at the table can easily overwhelm a selective eater, making their meal too distracting or even unpalatable. Respect what someone with a smell sensitivity can and cannot do. Experiment with ventilation, placement of fans, scents and seating arrangements.
The appetites of children vary from meal to meal. Trust that your child doesn’t want to be hungry, and isn’t trying to get on your nerves. He just needs more time to figure out this eating thing, and he will. If the parent provides food that is considerate to the eating ability of the child, the child will eat enough to satisfy his hunger. Some children appear to thrive on air – I know, I have one. The most reliable indicators to seek professional help are a sudden deviation from a consistent pattern of growth (weight and/or height), and behaviour.
Keep Calm and Buffet On
Serving the meal buffet style takes the pressure off. Everyone is charge of their own portions, and has the freedom of selection. Buffet service also makes leftovers easier to handle. Have some fun with it. Present the food using fancy bowls or out of the pot. Break out the fine china or eat from paper plates. It doesn’t matter. The people gathered around the food are far more important than what’s on the table.
Do you have a suggestion for wasting less food and keeping your grocery bill reasonable?