A picky eater, I think every family has at least one. O, the dilemma of sharing your table with the picky
eater. For the parents of a picky eater it can be downright stressful to plan, shop for, prepare, and serve
a meal only to look at that disapproving face sitting at your table. With one look the face of a picky
eater can dash all of your hopes that your hard work will be rewarded with the tinging of the fork, the
smacking of lips, and empty plates. I have some simple tips to help you through days like these.
O.K. Before I get into that I have a confession to make. I’m not writing this as a hard working mom who
has mastered the secret recipes that fussy eaters love to love, I am writing as …dum, dum, dum…the
picky eater. I have been a hard to please, fussy eater who likes to eat things a particular way….MY WAY!
Even though I am a picky eater, I eat more healthy foods than most people that I know. I enjoy
so many foods in fact that most people who know me now as an adult probably think I am one of
the more adventurous eaters of the population- and they’re are correct-It’s official I am now a self declared food adventurer.
So here are a few tips and tricks for the picky eater from the picky eater turned food adventurer:
Have some fun dinners served buffet/bar style.
I think taco/nacho dinner night could be a great place to start and a great inspiration for other dinners. I
love how everything is prepared in a way for me to make my plate just the way I like it. Have different
foods and condiments to experiment with. I think dinners like this are such an eye opener to the
different ways that everyone in the family like to eat. One person will drown his food in a spicy sauce,
another choose something creamier. One person will choose one veggie and the other will get the
variety. I love how everyone gets to make their plate just the way they prefer without planning a
Get divider plates. (I loved to keep my foods divided)
I love a lot of foods, but I don’t always love them together. I love yogurt and fruit, but those fruit at the
bottom yogurts disgust me-literally. Allowing for the opportunity for foods to be tried individually and
not influenced by another food is very important when you are trying to learn what you like and how
you like it. I think I was in my twenties before I ever ate a tuna fish sandwich or salad. I thought I hated
tuna for so many years until I tried eating it alone (that’s right, just a can and a fork). Turns out I just
hated the condiment that the tuna was prepared with. Make your life easier. Let the picky eaters taste
things separately and make it their way. Let them experiment with small portions to avoid waste and
hold back on your own yucky scrunch face. If they want to try their tuna with mustard, hot sauce,
yogurt, avocado, or whatever- let them try it and decide. Once choosy eaters get to know which foods
they truly like and do not like they will be able to get a little more adventurous with their food
“No thank you helpings.”
People usually gravitate toward foods that are comfortable and familiar to them. Familiarity comes with
exposure. When I was working in the preschool setting and serving meals family style we always offered
the option of a “no thank you helping.” For example if a child was unfriendly with green beans they could
ask for this no thank you helping and receive one or two green beans on their plate. These beans could be pushed as far over to the side as they wanted, touched, squished, smelled, tasted with the tip of their tongue, or covered with a napkin for only an occasional peek. This way even the more timid eater could gain some exposure, have no pressure to eat it, but have the option to explore at their own comfort level should they decide to dive in sometime during the meal, and add an opinion or observation during the meal. Which leads me to my next tip…
Use your words.
I’m sure as a parent you have used this phrase before. Wouldn’t it be nice to know all
the simple things that make someone form an opinion about a food? The dinner table can be a great
time for family to connect and talk. Sharing at the dinner table can be a great time to connect with the
ones you care about and become a part of the day that people look forward to. So encourage everyone
to stay at the dinner table for the duration of dinner, whether they eat or not. And talk, talk, talk; you
don’t want to only talk about food, but I think it is great to use a lot of words about the food to grow
vocabulary. Label the foods that are being served and while you are eating use some adjectives. How
will your child be able to share with you what it is they like or dislike about a food if they don’t know the
words. If you (and they) get to know what they like and dislike they will be able to MAKE MORE THINGS
LIKE-ABLE. If there is a food that you dislike you can talk about that too. Teach how to give productive,
and respectful feedback. Say things like “These carrots are a little softer than I like them, I like it best
when they are crunchy. I think I will make them crunchier next time.” (instead of these carrots are
yucky). In time and with practice they will be able to give great feedback. And don’t forget to use your
words for praise. Say things like “you are so brave to try the new food” or “thanks for trying, maybe you will like this food another day when your tastes have changed.” regardless of the fact that they liked it or not.
Exposure to whole foods is super important, but while picky eaters are learning to be more adventurous
you may be able to incorporate some veggie nutrients by mixing a blended bit into a more familiar food. Shred
some zucchini or carrots into a spaghetti sauce, or blend a bit of purple cabbage into a smoothie. (the
possibilities are endless).
Plant a garden together.
Your child may hate peas served from a can or mixed in a casserole, but may be shocked to see what
would happen if they are let loose in a garden. I still won’t eat a canned peas, but I am telling you I could
CLEAN UP an entire patch of peas and eat the pods too! The flavor and texture are completely different.
When you eat foods with people who enjoy them those foods become much less intimidating. (and
again exposure is so important. My husband has never been a big fan of tomatoes, but every summer for years
when he sees how much my family enjoys eating them he cannot help but give them another try. (the
past few summers it has been he who purchases them and includes them in his diet because he actually craved
them.) I don’t even know how many times he tried a tomato before he decided they were lovely enough
to crave occasionally.
I’m a big believer in the idea that pretty food tastes better, and when I have the time I take care to chop
and plate my food beautifully. But I have been known to eat some food that is not considered pleasing to
the eye. I think that might be one of the reasons why I decided to make a cozy for my smoothies in a
mason jar. (They are tasty, but not usually beautiful.)
Give some limited choices.
Instead of asking “what would you like to eat?” give limited choice that are acceptable to you for
example “would you like the blue plate or the orange?” “Would you like this food sliced or diced?” “Do
you want the sauce over the top or on the side?”
I’m famous for this one in my family; we are always conducting some experiments. Sometimes I am
curious about something on my own. Sometimes my family is a little more enthusiastic than other times,
but it’s all a fun learning experience. I like to experiment with different recipes and foods, but I also love
doing taste comparisons and test for example my family will have a taste test on the best tasting apple
by name or the best veggie on the platter or the best brand of cheese and we all vote. When I was
working in preschool we make a fun chart and the winner of the taste test (like the red apple) would get
a sticker next to it. It’s fun!
I hope one or two of these tips and tricks will be helpful to you and your quest to discover the adventure