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Family-style pork & ginger tacos: A recipe for fussy eaters

Dealing with picky eaters in your family? Accredited Practising Dietitian Dr Jane Watson shares her tips on feeding fussy kids and a healthy taco recipe the whole family can enjoy.

Feeding children can be challenging at the best of times, but if mealtimes have become a constant battle in your house, it’s worth considering serving your meals ‘family-style’. This approach can help reduce stress for everyone in the house and bring some calm back to mealtimes.

What are family-style meals?

Any meal where food is put out for everyone to help themselves is a family-style meal. Think Christmas lunch or birthday parties: everyone gets an empty plate and serves themselves whatever they’d like to eat. It’s a way of eating that’s been used for centuries all over the world and it’s a strategy used by nutrition experts to help reduce the stress of mealtimes and support children to become independent, competent eaters.  

Strategies for fussy eaters

If mealtimes in your family have become a battle over how many bites are needed or what constitutes enough dinner to “earn” dessert, then it’s time to consider family-style meals. Your child’s eating is unlikely to improve when there’s tension at mealtimes. Changing the way you serve meals helps to reset the mealtime dynamic and clarify the roles of both parent and child. At the very least, it can help return some calm to the dinner table, which is usually a relief for everyone.

Your child has probably already had some experience with family-style serving – maybe for a special occasion or some other time when they’ve been able to choose whatever they want from what’s offered without any rules about what they should eat or how much. 

Transitioning to family-style meals doesn’t have to create more work, be more complicated or more expensive. It’s a change in the way food is presented rather than a change to what's offered.

Any meal or snack can be served family-style and the transition can be gradual. Evenings are often a busy time for families, so it might be easier to move to family-style meals with breakfast or snacks or on weekends.

To get started, include at least one food that your child will usually eat, give everyone a plate and let them choose what goes on it. Remember to keep it simple – for example, you could try no-cook foods like bread, crackers, cheese slices, dips, cold meat and cut-up fruit and veggies.

What if my child eats absolutely nothing at mealtimes?

If the goal of transitioning to family-style servings is to achieve calmer, more enjoyable mealtimes, it may help to remind yourself that’s the focus. It’s quite possible that your child will choose to eat nothing at all for a meal or snack but if mealtimes are calmer, that’s a small victory!

It’s tempting to encourage children to eat more or less, especially if you’re worried about their growth or nutrition, but it’s important to resist the urge and keep mealtime peace as your initial goal. Once calmer mealtimes and family-style servings are established, it’ll be easier to make other changes and work towards increased variety.

Although family-style servings won’t be the solution for every feeding issue, they’re a simple and effective way to stop mealtime battles.

Children’s appetites are highly variable and picky eating is an expected developmental stage so it can be helpful to think about what your child eats over a few days or across the week, rather than for one meal or snack.

If you’re concerned about your child’s food intake, eating behaviours, growth or nutrition-related health, contact a GP, paediatrician or Accredited Practising Dietitian who can provide a comprehensive assessment that considers your child’s medical history and eating patterns, including mealtime experiences, physical activity and genetic factors. 

We’ve also partnered with Prima Health Solutions and Ethos Health to give eligible members* access to Healthy Families For Life, an online program designed to encourage kids to develop positive eating habits for growth and development, reduce the risk of chronic conditions in their future and help parents role model healthy eating behaviours.

Family-style pork and ginger tacos

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 500 g pork mince (this can be substituted for chicken or your preferred meat)
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 2 tsp grated fresh ginger
  • 1½ tbsp soy sauce
  • Sweet chilli sauce
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 2 carrots, grated
  • Shredded lettuce
  • Cucumber, finely sliced
  • Mini wraps or tortillas

Method

  1. Heat oil in a medium frying pan over medium-high heat.
  2. Add the pork mince and cook, stirring to break into smaller pieces, until browned and cooked through.
  3. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for a further 1-2 minutes, stirring regularly.
  4. Add soy sauce and stir through.

To serve:

  1. Make the taco sauce by combining the sweet chilli sauce and lime juice.
  2. Place pork, grated carrot, shredded lettuce, sliced cucumber, wraps/tortillas and sweet chilli & lime sauce in the centre of the table or on a bench for everyone to serve themselves.

For babies

Remove some of the cooked mince before adding the soy sauce (as it’s too salty for babies). Mix with anything you have available: leftover cooked vegetables, rice, potato, sweet potato, pasta, cous cous or noodles. Mash, finely chop or blitz in a food processor to the appropriate texture for your baby.

Get children and toddlers involved!

Involving children in meal preparation and cooking provides an opportunity for them to become more familiar with foods that they may not be ready to try at the table. Exposure to a wide range of foods is invaluable for developing acceptance of foods and building variety.

With the above recipe, for example, even small children could help by:

  • shredding the lettuce by hand
  • grating the carrot
  • juicing the lime
  • putting food into bowls or onto a serving platter.

Variations

You can put almost anything in a wrap/soft taco. Other options for pork tacos are:

  • avocado
  • coriander
  • chilli sauce
  • rice
  • grated cheese
  • sauteed cabbage or coleslaw.

Freezer-friendly

The pork mixture can be stored in the freezer for up to three months.

Words by Dr Jane Watson
First published November 2021

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*All HCF members with any HCF health insurance product (excluding Overseas Visitors Health Cover) are eligible to access the Healthy Families for Life online resources and online/phone assessment from the care support team. Other conditions apply for additional support, see hcf.com.au/healthyfamilies