UK mum's ultimate hack to 'revolutionise' mealtimes for picky children

Kid refusing to eat broccoli
Photo credit: Getty Images

As a modern 24-year-old with little inclination to use my kitchen for anything other than toast and G&Ts, mealtimes can sometimes be a little stressful. Feeding one fully functioning adult is hard enough - how people feed not only themselves, but also their children is beyond me. Parents, I applaud you.

Even non-parents know that mealtimes with children can be a minefield. Between the fussiness, pickiness and total aversion to anything green, getting hard-to-please kids to eat balanced and nutritious meals each day would be enough to spike anyone's stress levels. 

However, one woman believes she may have discovered the best-kept secret to stress-free mealtimes - a technique that ensures no one goes hungry, while also encouraging healthy eating habits for the future. 

Although she had built a successful career as a paediatric dietician, Sarah Bushell struggled in her own home. With one picky, strong-willed child and another with aversions to multiple foods, mealtimes were a constant battle. Speaking to, Bushell revealed how she gradually changed her children's attitudes.

"I had one kid who was really picky and really strong-willed, refusing foods all the time. A couple of years later, my daughter actually had a food aversion because she was unwell as a baby. She learnt that food hurt her, so she became totally disinterested in eating," Bushell explained. 

Despite making a living by supporting parents and their children to eat well, Bushell found these tried-and-tested methods "didn't actually work" for her own family. To develop her understanding, Bushell decided to pursue further study in the US, undertaking a course in the psychology of eating. 

Speaking to, Bushell said her studies "absolutely revolutionised" her family's mealtimes.

Armed with her new findings and back in the UK, Bushell began applying the new techniques to her own children, who were aged two and four at the time - and she "couldn't believe the difference". 

Now, at ages 13 and 15, the family still uses the strategy "every single day", Bushell said. 

The simple method of serving food 'buffet-style' not only broadened her children's culinary horizons, but brought her family closer together, she told the outlet.

The mum now swears by buffet meals to keep dinners stress-free.
The mum now swears by buffet meals to keep dinners stress-free. Photo credit: Sarah Bushell /

The secret is deconstructing meals so each component is served separately, just like it would be at a buffet restaurant. For example, Bushell will cook spaghetti bolognese, but serve the pasta and sauce in separate dishes, alongside a bowl of salad and plate of garlic bread. 

On the same table, she will also include healthy desserts, such as yoghurts or bowls of sliced fruit and berries. 

Instead of serving the main meal, sides and dessert as separate courses, Bushell allows her children to pick and choose what they want to eat in whatever order they prefer. 

"They'll have a couple of raspberries in the middle of eating fajitas, that kind of thing," she explained.

The technique also allows children to eat intuitively, rather than feeling obliged to finish the portion that's been served to them. 

"The whole point of it is that you're trusting your child to listen to their internal body signal of being hungry or being full. We're putting them in charge of the food that goes into their own bodies," she said.

"If a child is allowed to eat intuitively, they won't gain too much weight. But if a child is being told to eat something, we know that in the long run we know that those kids go on to gain extra weight as adults."

While the method gives children the autonomy to put together their own plate, Bushell said it's important parents still set a good example. If you want cereal for dinner, that's your prerogative as an adult - but it might not be modelling the healthiest eating habits to your kids. 

"By building your own plate to have some vegetables, some chicken, some pasta, they can see from looking across the table what it takes to build a healthy meal," Bushell advised.

She added that buffet meals have also fostered a close relationship between the family, encouraging open conversation with one another and regular socialising. She noted that committing to eating meals at the dinner table carves out some time each day for families to connect and communicate.

The one downside? You guessed it - more dishes to wash up. You've already encouraged the kids to eat intuitively - might as well encourage them to clean while you're at it.