Struggling with a picky eater? Meet our centre chef who cooks for 70 children a day

Two children enjoying spinach, banana and avocado smoothie

This week is National Nutrition Week.  With the theme, “Get the most out of your veggies”, what better time to talk about the importance of a balanced diet.

The Australian Dietary Guidelines notes the prevention of multiple chronic diseases, such as Type II Diabetes, when outlining why healthy eating habits are so important.

With only 9% of children meeting their recommended daily vegetable intake, it has never been more important to start healthy habits early.

But how do you convert the chicken nugget and vegemite on toast lovers to eating a plate of vegetables for dinner instead?

We’ve put that question to someone who is an expert when it comes to satisfying picky eaters… Amanda Prentice, cook at Creative Garden Coombabah Early Learning Centre.

“I cook fruit and vegetable-packed meals for around 70 children every day, catering for all dietary and allergen requirements, and battling tricky taste buds,” said Ms Prentice.

Why is healthy eating so important for young children?

According to Accredited Practicing Dietitian and Creative Garden’s Nutritional Trainer Lisa Strauss, healthy eating is vital for children’s development.

“Nutrition for a child, especially in the first five years of growth, will have an effect on their health, both now and in the future,” said Ms Strauss.

“Young children, whose brains are rapidly developing, need a nutrient-dense diet to help them as they process the world around them.

“Without the right nutrients, toddlers and pre-schoolers might struggle to develop the skills to maintain concentration, which becomes increasingly important as they get older.

“Nutrient-dense foods, such as fish, broccoli and berries are just a few foods shown to improve cognitive functions and memory.

“Conversely, processed foods, including refined sugar, colourings, and other artificial additives can negatively affect a child’s mind, even making them feel hazy and less focused.”

Cooking for 70 children – what is Amanda’s secret?

Creative Garden is converting even the fussiest eaters with a nutritious meal plan, based on the popular book, Wholesome Child: A Complete Nutrition Guide and Cookbook.

“Kaianu used to refuse to eat vegetable stews at home, but now, with the Wholesome Child recipes, he loves them,” said Sam, mother of 4-year-old Kaianu from Coombabah.

Cook Amanda said it starts with simple swaps or additions to existing crowd pleaser meals.

“Start by fine dicing vegetables in a food processor and add them to any wet dish like pasta sauce,” she said.

“Add puréed cauliflower to the wet ingredients when making muffins.

“Adding cubed pumpkin and sweet potato can be a great way to sweeten and thicken curries and stews.”

Amanda Prentice, the centre cook at Creative Garden Coombabah

Amanda’s 3 top ingredient swaps

  • Swap out sugar for honey, coconut sugar or pure maple syrup in cakes and muffins
  • Use whole grain instead of white pasta, rice and flour (start with a half-half mix to make the transition easier)
  • Make fruit smoothies instead of flavoured milk

Now that you’ve managed to sneak in some vegetables and make some healthier ingredient swaps without too much uproar, let’s try some new dishes.

TRY THIS! Amanda’s favourite snack recipe 

Broccoli Tots 


2 cups   Broccoli, washes, broken into florets, steamed and completely cooled

½ cup  Baby spinach, washed and chopped

1 Egg

¼ cup Brown onion, finely diced

1/3 cup Grated cheese

½ cup Rice breadcrumbs

2 tbs  Fresh parsley, washed and chopped


  1. Place broccoli into a high-speed food processor and blend until it breaks down into small pieces.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients and pulse to combine.
  3. Using a tablespoon, form dough into desired shape and place on lined baking tray.
  4. Bake for 25 minutes, flipping halfway.
  5. Serve and enjoy!

Presentation is everything

If it looks yummy and familiar children will be more likely to try something new, according to nutritionist Lisa Strauss.

“Children are drawn to how food looks and tastes, so presentation and taste are important,” she said.

“I’d also encourage families to keep trying new foods.

“When we are busy, it is easy to give up and give in, but if you continually try to present the new foods and show that you are enjoying the food, children will be more likely to open up.”

In summary, there is no golden rulebook of how to get your children to eat a more balanced diet, however persistence, creativity and leading by example will go a long way.