The Picky Eater Conundrum

posted on: Monday, February 18, 2013

helping picky eaters

The question I get asked the most by my readers is, "how do I get my kid to not be picky?" Funny you should ask considering that my kids are far from being easy when it comes to food. However, there have been some things that have worked out well for us.

Feed them when they're hungry.
This seems so obvious right, but it actually took me a while to figure this out. When Enzo wakes up in the morning he is hungry. He'll have pancakes, eggs, bacon, and a bowl of cereal on the side. Or he'll just have 3 big bowls of cereal and some fruit since most mornings I'm not cooking anything. When I wake up in the morning I'm not hungry. I can wait 2-3 hours before I eat breakfast, and by then it's already lunch time. If I have a piece of toast and some tea as a morning snack then I'm good to go. Maria just wants milk. At around 10:00am she'll eat a handful of Cheerios. If I feed Maria when she's hungry she'll eat anything.

On Friday I made a cauliflower, chick pea, curry stew, the kind of food I usually have to trick my kids into eating. Lunch was ready at 2:00pm. By that time Maria was hungry, really hungry, so she just sat down and ate two big bowls without a single complaint. On Saturday I tried to give her the same thing and she wasn't at all interested, she just wasn't hungry.

This gets tricky because if you're trying to feed everyone when they're hungry then you're pretty much cooking and re-heating food all day long, and I have a 3 month old who nurses on demand, plus I work, plus I have a bathroom to clean for goodness sakes. So here is what I do - breakfast and lunch I let them eat when they're hungry, even if it means we're eating at different times. Enzo is in school  during lunch 4 days out of the week and and 2 days out of the week Maria eats at preschool. Plus, I work 30 hours a week. Christian is usually the one who gets lunch together. If I have a minute I'll take a break and eat with him, if not I just eat in front of my computer. 

Dinner is a whole other story. Yes, I want my kids to get healthy food inside their bodies but I also really want them to learn table manners, and learn how to socialize around the dinner table. At dinner time we all sit together and we eat and we talk. I try to push dinner to 6:30 when I know they're hungry but before 7:00 when they start getting tired.

Get them involved
Ever since Christian started gardening with the kids both Enzo and Maria have been willing to try out all sorts of things. Enzo used to not touch his salad, now he eats it and enjoys it! I like cooking with the kids, but have no interest in gardening. Find some way that you can involve them, as long as this way is also enjoyable for you. One mom told me she likes taking her kids to the store so they can help her pick out produce. I would rather stick a needle in my eye than take my kids shopping. Her idea sounds awesome but I know it's not for me. If cooking is stressful for you than don't cook with your kids, it will just make it more stressful. If you like having your table set then let them help you set the table and fold napkins, tell them how special dinner is when you get to eat on a pretty plate. Find one aspect of food preparation that you enjoy and get your kids involved. If they participate in the process of creating food they are more likely to want to try the food. Also, plan on doing this sometimes not every day. Sure I like cooking with the kids but more often than not I'm rushed and if I have another body in my tiny kitchen it totally throws my momentum off. I try to cook with them once a week max.

When all else fails
If they're being crazy stubborn this is what I do. 
  • Dice. If they're being super stubborn and I'm on the verge of yelling at them (which I have done many times) I make them roll a dice. Whatever number they get, that's the number of bites they have to take. If they want to be mad about it they can just be mad at their own luck.
  • Books. Maria will eat anything if I'm reading a book to her and distracting her from her food. I don't like doing this, but sometimes I'm in a hurry and it gets the job done. Also, if Enzo is eating by himself I let him listen to an audio book. If we're all having dinner together books are not allowed at the table.
  • iPad. I have only done this a handful of times but if baby Eliza needs to nurse at the same time the other two kids need to eat and Christian is gone and my patience is running very thin, I prop the iPad on the table (far away from their food) and I let them watch a show while they eat. 
And then there's the old favorite, just add bacon.

And here is what you do
I asked my Instagram and Facebook followers to share their tips on helping picky eaters and here is what they had to say. And if you like what they had to say click on their name to follow them (some have private accounts).

Cheese. Lots of cheese.

Lots of cheese and breadcrumbs too.

Butter and parm go on most veggies really well!

I make a lot of blended soups that hides some of the least popular veggies and then rough cut those they do like for texture.

I hide some veggies but cooking things a different way and with different seasonings usually does the trick.

Puréed veggies in stuff like spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, etc. my picky eater is the worst!!

Cheese on top! Also if I let her play with it for a while..smoosh it, smear it, whatever.. she'll make a huge mess but will eventually be too curious to not give it a taste.

Ketchup!!! I know it's pathetic, but it works every time :-)

It takes time for little palates to develop. Serving as many whole foods as possible and the least amount of processed foods will help. Sauces, dipping sauces, cheese, cheese sauces, these always got my kids to try foods they didn't think they liked. Of course now they always want a sauce :(

Different utensils to eat the food with! Toothpicks are awesome...making kebabs, etc.

I've found that advertising the weeks meals gets them ready to try a new meal.

For my step-son who is an extremely pick eater. I'm always finding way to add vegetables he wont eat. When i make spaghetti i chop up zucchini, and add it to the sauce. I will use purees like squash, sweet potatoes when I'm baking cookies, banana bread etc...

How do you help your picky eaters try new things? I'd love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to leave a comment here or follow me on Instagram to add to the conversation.


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