Wednesday, April 15, 2009

How to Raise A Picky Eater

Some time ago, we were eating with a friend. She was amazed as she watched my kids eat. "Your kids eat fruit? Wow! Mine won't even touch it." It was my turn to be amazed. A kid that won't eat fruit? I mean, I understand the stereotypical aversion to broccoli...a little...but who doesn't like a crunchy apple or a juicy slice of cantaloupe or that most wonderful of creations....the strawberry? (Excuse me, I'm getting hungry....O.K. I'm back) "What kind of fruit do you buy?" I asked my friend curiously, imagining starfruit or kiwi (they look really pretty, but they are a little disappointing). "Oh, I don't buy it much," she admitted.

My daughter didn't like bananas as a baby. Can you really blame her? I mean, that stuff in the jars you buy in the baby food section is pink! I have never seen a pink banana and if I did, I would seriously doubt whether I should eat it. When she tried a real banana, though, she loved it and has been eating them ever since. My husband and I have always loved broccoli, so I've always served it (well, not every night, but you get the idea). My kids have always liked it, too. In fact, the first time my son had it in a casserole, he spit it out because "there's something in my broccoli!" (Don't worry, we've worked on table manners since then, but I do serve him casseroles cautiously.) Those are the two incidents that come to mind when my children did not like something. I'm sure there are others, but they are few and they don't immediately come to mind.

Lest you think I'm Mrs. Health Nut and my kids are extraordinary, let me quickly assure you that they can quickly polish off a bowl of chips or an amazingly large stash of candy if I let them...and I sometimes do (paying the consequences for it later). They ask for pop like an addict, and most of the time, I do the right thing and tell them no. No, we are far from perfect on healthy eating (don't get me started on chocolate!). However, God's food is much more enjoyable in the long run.

Just to make it interesting, I will tell you some things to do if you want your kids to be picky eaters:

1. Develop an aversion to healthy foods and let your kids know about it. Tell them stories of when you hid your peas under your napkin or when you gagged eating your broccoli as a kid.
2. Buy only "kid-friendly" foods. You know, like Kraft macaroni and cheese, hot dogs and apple juice. Make sure to serve an adult meal and a kid's meal for dinner so everyone will be happy.
3. Don't let them try salad or questionable vegetables until they go to kindergarten. They will hear the other kids complaining about these foods, and that will take care of their interest in them after that point.
4. Fill them with lots of junk food snacks and you won't have to worry about them eating much at dinner time. Give them something fizzy to drink with dinner, too, and they will leave their plates mostly untouched.
5. Preface every serving of healthy food with a tentative, "I hope you like this. It doesn't look real good, but you really should eat it."
6. Make your children "clean their plate" at every meal even if it means having a 24-hour showdown. (I realize this needs a'll have to wait until next week.)
7. Do not let your kids in the kitchen with you. Allowing them to help prepare good foods might make them enjoy eating them as well.
8. Tell your children to "be sure to eat all your peas, then you can get dessert!" The child hears, "Get the nasty stuff out of the way first, then you can have the good stuff." You won't have to worry about him touching it at all. (then progress again to step 6)
9. Always treat everything with natural colors as "strange" (i.e. spinach, carrots, red peppers), but tout artificially colored foods as "yummy" (i.e. bright blue or red drinks and green, yellow, or orange candies).

If you fail at raising a picky eater, and your kids actually want healthy food, or if you're not sure
you want a picky eater, hang on. I'll share a few more tips and tricks in a future post (and that disclaimer I promised).


  1. Truly funny and true. I love that on your nenu that you have green beans with a burger. We do that. Example: I grew with fried fish & french fries, but now at my house we might do the fried fish & steamed brocolli, etc. It doesn't have to be "one" way.

  2. uh... MENU (I typed nenu)... sorry... screaming 2 year old climbing on me.

  3. Yeah...our transition to healthy eating is slow so you see a few fried and "bad" foods here and there, however, we're doing better than we used to!

  4. I know this feeling so well. My oldest son was naturally a healthy eater. I have never seen anything like it. From day one of solids he has liked veggies, fruit, grains, and so on. Actually, we refer to him as our self-declared vegetarian because he hates meat, in every form. From baby food meats to plain old chicken breasts, from hot dogs to steak, and everything in between he won't eat a bite of meat. Never has. I don't know if I can say never will at this point.

    But my youngest was not like this. He would eat cookies until he was bloated if we let him. Here's the thing, we just don't let him. He's a very good eater because we offer him everything. He had steamed squash just 3 days ago for the first time. He popped it into his mouth. New things aren't foreign to him, so he just tries them willingly. He loved it. He has a new food in his list of foods. He eats almost every veggie I have found, every fruit I have tried, meats, grains, and so on.

    Our theory was, if you only give them healthy options from day one of solids, they will not realize there's any other way. Sure, we have things that aren't so healthy (give me a frozen thin mint and watch my smile). But those are treats not every meal occurances. I also have friends shocked at how well my children eat. They ask how I did it. I guess I am confused. I just tell them I put it on their plate from day one and they like it. They like it because it's what's normal to them.

  5. Thanks for the wise thoughts! I wholeheartedly agree!