Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Weekly Column: Picky Eaters? Join the Club!

When my oldest daughter began exploring the different food groups – years ago – I remember being excited and a little afraid.  Hadn’t I heard horror stories about kids who would demand macaroni and cheese or applesauce, and refuse all else?  I worried incessantly about keeping her within a well-rounded, highly varied diet. 
Quickly, it became clear that her tastes would prevail; I could enforce variety as I saw fit, but if she didn’t like it, she wouldn’t eat it.  Her little sister has grown into different – yet equally certain – tastes, and we’ve tried everything possible to encourage a full range of healthy foods. 
Here are a few ways to encourage your own picky eaters to venture away from their trusted favorites.  First, remember that repeated offerings are vital in order for your child to recognize the food as normal and acceptable.  Second, if they don’t see you eating it, they’re less likely to believe it’s actually good.  Dive right in with them, and see what happens.
If your child doesn’t like the standard cheese you have on hand, experiment with textures, colors, and shapes.  For example, my own daughter will only eat mozzarella, and only if it’s shredded.  Try different types of yogurt and milk, too; greek yogurt is thicker and tangier than conventional varieties, while soy or almond milk has a completely different taste (in my opinion) than cow’s milk.  Keep trying, and hope for a winner.  Luckily, pudding and ice cream count, too – thank goodness for simple joys.

While this group seems less likely to cause issues, there are still ruts to get stuck in.  For a child who will only ever eat one thing – apples, bananas – try a new fruit each week.  Pick something complementary to the usual favorite, and serve them together.  Be sure to recognize that textures can cause trouble for some kids.  Be open to serving fruit in a different way: baked apples for example, or berries blended in a smoothie.

To steer your kids toward the more healthy whole-grains, it’s okay to just not purchase the enriched, stripped varieties.  If possible, let your kids help make a few loaves of fresh wheat bread; the act of baking it themselves may make them love it.  Otherwise, try cutting whole-wheat sandwiches into fun shapes, and substituting white rice with brown at meals.  The flavors aren’t as drastically different as you might think, but it might take a little practicing to accept the change.

We’ve never had much luck with homemade versions of usual favorites: chicken nuggets or strips are automatically routed out as imposters.  Instead, try completely different choices altogether.  Stir-fried chicken chunks or steak kebabs might satisfy the ‘small food’ desire, but not impose on the old favorites’ standing.  Remember that beans and eggs are packed with protein, too, as well as nuts and seeds.  Toss them in liberally, and your child might find a new, sneaky protein to love.
For this time-honored, most-hated food group, experimenting is more important than ever.  Try broccoli steamed or roasted, sauced or salted; try sweet potatoes in soups or casseroles, caramelized or mashed.  If all attempts at cooked veggies are shunned, don’t forget the beauty of raw.  A platter of colorful, crunchy veggies looks festive, and can be served with a few bowls of dips to get the ball rolling.  Plus, these can be served before a meal, and seem like a snack – something about ‘snack’ says ‘fun’.  

The simple act of offering new foods can start the process – even if it’s a years-long process – of kids learning to open their palates.


  1. Great ideas, Sarah! I live with 3 very picky little eaters and just try and keep consistent with having them try new things. Millie finally decided she liked broccoli a few weeks ago... although it was covered with cheese... but hey, that's two food groups in one, right? :) Thanks for some new ideas to try too!

  2. And if your child shuns red meat as mine does that raisins are a good source of iron.

    Great suggestions!


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