Hands up if you were ever re-served the exact same meal as a kid after you refused to eat it the first time around? Hands also up, if you have thought about doing the same thing to your child when they have refused to eat their dinner? As with many pearls of parenting wisdom that we receive, things like “keep serving it until they eat it” are played like a broken record. But does it work? Should you serve the same meal again after a child has refused to eat it?
As a children’s nutritionist, I work with families and fussy eaters daily. My approach is responsive in nature meaning that I work with families to reduce stress about mealtimes through step-wise familiarity building. A responsive approach to feeding children focuses on the child’s ability to learn when they are hungry and full and help parents facilitate the role of provider instead of assuming a “food police” role of trying to make the child eat (through a range of differing approaches). Subsequently improving dietary variety AND fostering a positive relationship with food and their body in the long run. So, when it comes to deciding whether to send a child to bed without finishing their dinner or knowing if you should just save the unwanted meal for the next eating occasion, it’s easy to see how perplexing this can be. We “know” it doesn’t feel responsive to the child’s needs BUT we also get told “that worked in my day”.
In order to avoid wasted time, effort and food, we naturally want to see the meal get eaten! We are all waste adverse to some extent. And having these feelings is not something you should / can easily turn off. They are deeply engrained. We can, however, be creative and think about it in another way.
Hence, I have a few guidelines for helping you to decide on when to keep that meal for the next occasion and how to reduce waste at mealtimes overall.
Family Style Serve
When you serve up from the middle of the table, everyone can choose what to eat to satisfy their feeding requirements AND the leftovers in the middle of the table can easily be packaged up for next time without having been touched, prodded, licked, spat in etc. My biggest tip with family style serving is to not make it too hard on yourself. Put a chopping board in the middle of the table and plonk the pots there before having the children come to the table so it is no longer burning hot. This saves dishes and empowers them to tune into the amount they want to eat. They may need help with serving at first but even if it just 3 separate tong fulls that they eat one-at-a-time, they will build the confidence to go back and get enough to fill their belly. And there will be less visual bombardment from a fully loaded plate. And they will learn to take what their body needs so you aren’t scraping a full plate of touched food into the bin at the end of the meal.
Consider Food Safety Guidelines
If food that is deemed a safety risk (usually is refrigerated or frozen) has been in the “danger temperature zone” for over 4 hours CUMULATIVELY it needs to be discarded. If it is has been in the “danger temperature zone” for over 2 hours it cannot be chilled for storage again and eaten at a later point in time (a GOOD point to remember for Parties / BBQ’s.) At risk foods generally need to be eaten within 2-3 days of refrigeration in air tight containers. (see me talking about this in the video below). For more about food safety guidelines, this is the link to more about food safety at home: https://foodsafety.asn.au/food-safety-at-home/. * Note: the danger temperature zone is when the FOOD itself is measured to be between 5oC and 60oC.
When you are deciding what to do, remember that you must serve foods that don’t pose risk to your child to get food poisoning.
Change the Presentation Next Time Around
If it looks unappealing this time, chances are when it gets reheated or stored it may look even more unappealing. So, you can think outside the box and think of another way to serve it. Here are some suggestions to get you thinking:
- Toasted sandwiches can take on all manner of fillings!
- Waffles/pancakes (see my example below) are perfect repurposing vehicles for cereals, oats and fruits.
- Left over sausages/chicken/lamb or beef could be reheated and threaded on a skewer.
- Left over vegetables turned into bubble and squeak or fritters.
- Unwanted yoghurt? It can be turned into frozen yoghurt bark by spreading it onto baking paper and topping with some pantry staples like sultanas, coconut or chocolate chips. Or simply turned into frozen yoghurt dots.
A new presentation can make this a new food at the next meal opportunity. And sometimes this new food may be easier to motor plan, or your child is more ready to eat at the next meal opportunity.
Only Elaborate on Leftovers If YOU Would Eat It
My cautionary tale is this, only repurpose your leftovers into a form that you would eat. Once repurposed, you can’t go back!
Here is a video of me retelling the story of a time when I re-worked barely-tasted cereal to be part of our morning tea and using the points made above to guide my decision:
I hope this helps you feel inspired around being responsive to your child’s needs and feeling at ease with wastage. A child’s eating journey is made of of thousands of little steps and learns. If you want to know more, head over to my website www.playwithfood.com.au
You may also like to read: