Digital Parenting | 12 Mar 2024

If your child is a fussy eater, then the internet can help

If your family’s mealtimes are plagued by your child’s food phobias, or if you just want to build healthier eating habits together, this guide can help improve your child's relationship with food.

Having a picky eater in your family can wreak havoc on the whole gang’s interaction with food, making mealtimes fraught times. One of the best ways to work through your child’s fears or preferences is to gently explore new things together. To help you build up their approach to food so that it’s less fussy, we asked the experts about the best digital tools to help.

“Cooking is a great way to help your children develop key life skills and it can help boost their emotional wellbeing too,” says Natalie Costa, children and parent coach and founder of Power Thoughts. Preparing food with children “provides an opportunity for connection with them, where you’re able to get a deeper insight into their world,” she explains. “Children also feel a sense of reward and accomplishment when they see the results of their work, helping them develop their self-belief, and it even helps foster their creativity.”

It’s also great for developing problem solving skills, she points out. Chopping, rolling, mashing and more also help kids develop motor skills, which help lay the foundations for important skills that come next, like language development. When they follow recipes, they practise reading and comprehension. When they weigh ingredients, they learn maths.

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It’s not only good for their brains, but their bodies, too. A study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics showed that children who engage in tactile experiences, like handling ingredients, tend to have less food neophobia (an irrational fear of new foods) and are more accepting of a wide variety of foods. Research also suggests that cooking from an early age produces adults who are more likely to explore and eat healthier options.

Cooking, then, is one of the most important things we can do with our children. But you don’t have to tackle it alone, as there’s plenty of help out there to whet your child’s appetite for healthy cooking and less fussy eating.

Fire up their imaginations

“I suspect that YouTube has been the greatest influence on this generation’s attitude towards cooking,” says Lucinda Miller, author of kids’ cookbook The Good Stuff and founder of NatureDoc – a team of UK-wide nutritional therapists specialising in teen and child nutrition.

Here’s some inspiration for children in three broad age groups.

Toddlers: the Messy Hands YouTube channel encourages pre-school and primary-aged kids to roll up their sleeves and get stuck in. Their kids cooking videos walk children through age-appropriate recipes like cheese and cress muffins, or toad in the hole. Many will be familiar from the Cbeebies show I Can Cook. Video recipes from that show are available on the BBC website.

Tweens: “Some favourites among the kids we see at NatureDoc include YouTubers Sam’s Eats, Andy Cooks and Cooking Buddies from Buddy Oliver,” says Miller. The latter is the 12-year-old son of celebrity chef Jamie, who already has over 130,000 subscribers. In his short, colourful and easy-to-follow videos, he takes kids through recipes from spaghetti bolognese to quesadillas,  sometimes helped by his friends and siblings. He’s also about to get his own BBC TV show, so we can expect more recipes from the precocious l’il cook.

Teens: Launched in January 2023, Young MasterChef is a spin-off of the main show aimed at Gen Z. Ambitious chefs aged between 18 and 25 are pitted against each to be crowned culinary crafting champion of the year. In each episode, the contestants will be set a new and increasingly cheffy challenge to test their creativity (and their timing). You can watch the whole series on BBC iPlayer.

Let’s get cooking

Once your kids are inspired and salivating, there are plenty of online cooking courses aimed squarely at kids.

Jamie Oliver, who has made improving childhood nutrition his mission, has designed several classes especially for children in his online cookery school. Consider Online Mexican Street Food for Kids (two hours long, no experience required, and £29 per household). Or perhaps Mighty Meatballs for Kids (ditto).

If neither of those spark your small sous-chef’s imagination, then head to Outschool. This website has thousands of classes taught by just as many teachers, open to learners aged between three and 18, from one-off sessions to full-on courses. Their online cooking classes and courses cover everything from ‘independent cooking’ for teens to introductory baking for six-year olds, and include such delights as vegan dishes, sushi and pizza. Sign up, log in, and your kid can cook along, live, in a small class of other enthusiasts their age from across the world. From £8 a class.

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Teens who are serious about their skills might try BBC Maestro, which offers video courses covering myriad subjects, taught by the world’s best in each field. Aspiring cooks can, for example, learn from legendary French chef Pierre Koffmann, among other chefs. It’s not cheap but, with Koffmann’s course as an example, a one-off fee of £79 buys you 25 video lessons, so each one costs a little over £3 each. You can watch them at your own pace as many times as you like, and try them together as a family, too.

Help for parents

If you’ve got a particularly fussy eater on your hands, then don’t worry – there’s an app (and a TikTok channel) for that.

Chiara Attwell is not only a mum of two, but also the founder of leading family blog My Fussy Eater. Her app, by the same name, contains more than 400 family-friendly recipes designed to tempt and reform the fussiest of eaters and also work for those tackling specific food allergies or intolerances. Meal planner and shopping list functions are a godsend, too. It’s available on Android and iOS for £4.99.

If you’re looking for a more playful way to tempt children into trying new foods, then Jessica Woo, mother of two, may be able to help. The ‘bento box queen’ posts cute how-to videos on her Tiktok channel, in which she makes lunch boxes no child could resist. A boiled egg is transformed into a cartoon chicken (beak from cheese, eyes from seaweed, bell pepper for its comb). Sushi rice, cheese slices and ham transform into a cow… She’ll turn you into an artist, and your child into an adventurous eater in no time.

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