Will this simple trick get fussy eaters to eat their veggies?

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images 

As a parent of a mega-fussy eater, my ears pricked up recently when a Reddit user shared their "best parenting hack", which was covering vegetables with butter and honey to make them enticing, and then gradually reducing the amount added until the kids are munching down on mountains of broccoli with only their own gusto as garnish.

At the age of seven, my fussy eater is way too far gone for me to get away with this tactic now, but it did make me wonder whether it was a good idea. It sounds simple enough – it is a truth universally acknowledged that anything covered in butter and honey is delicious – and gradually reducing the amounts until you've only got a plate full of greens left sounds fool-proof.

Fussy eaters are a common challenge, says accredited nutritionist Tracie Connor.

"In fact, more than 50 per cent of Aussie kids aged two to five years are reported as fussy eaters, and resisting vegetables is a top fussiness category," she says. "Other food fussiness categories include meat, eggs and food textures."

Connor says that, although the honey and butter technique can be helpful in some circumstances, it's not always the answer because children will dislike foods for a variety of reasons.

"Children are fussy for many reasons, and a dislike of taste is only one part of it," she says. "Experimenting with cooking textures, servings, and meal timing plays a much larger role when working with children to overcome fussiness."

But Connor also says it's important for parents to understand that adding butter to vegetables is actually a healthy approach – not a "treat" to be phased out.

Honey, on the other hand, isn't always such a great idea. While kids may enjoy the taste on their vegetables, it could lead to a reliance on sweet flavours.

"Problems with adding honey include increased sugars in the diet and a lasting association with vegetables needing to be sweet," she says.

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And children under 12 months should never be given honey.

"Babies under 12 months should not be fed honey," says Connor. "There's a bacteria within honey that can be toxic to young babies; however, it is fine for children and adults over one year to consume in moderation.

"Babies under one year old are rarely fussy and therefore I don't recommend adding any sweetener to any of their meals or snack to satisfy taste preference."

Connor says if your baby under 12 months is fussy, you should consider speaking to a professional about a possible underlying problem.

For older children, Connor recommends getting creative about offering them their vegetables, and being patient.   

"A classic and often successful approach that all parents and carers can try is to continually offer a food, up to 12 times, but offer it in different ways each time – such as have it cooked a different way, cut a different way, served at a different time of day," she says.

"If after 12 times with various ways, stop offering it and try again in a few months' time.

"There are so many nutritious foods to choose from, a child should not go hungry or malnourished due to fussiness. If parents and carers are concerned, please seek professional help."

Connor also adds that your attitude when offering foods is important.

"The less stressed parents and carers are when offering the food, the better the outcome will be," she says. "I'm a mum of two young kids and have worked with families for decades, so I understand that this situation can be very challenging!

"However, kids pick up on our behaviours, and if we're acting forceful, stressed or negative about it, they'll react negatively too. 

Although she recommends parents don't stress about the food kids are eating, Connor does add that if a child is showing signs of malnourishment – not growing or gaining healthy weight, constantly lethargic, or regularly sick – parents should seek medical advice.

"Also if a parent/carer is at wits end, or is worried and just needs some guidance to get through dinner time without dramas, its more than okay to seek help," she says.

Connor says she doesn't recommend vitamin gummies to supplement children's diets because "they're often cheap and filled with less than quality ingredients".

Instead, she recommends seeing a practitioner for multivitamins that will help your specific child, because they will be "high quality and much more likely to provide the extra nourishment as needed".