Surviving Picky Eaters

As adults we are largely able to choose to eat the things we like and avoid the ones we don’t. Kids aren’t. Give them time (sometimes lots of time!) to develop their palate without driving yourself crazy. Some tips that might help you survive periods–or even years–of pickiness are listed below.

1. Serve essentially healthy food most (but not all) of the time. Those kids who never get sugar or anything perceived as a treat tend to go bonkers when they are at someone else’s house. Just sayin’.

2. When they’re little, make “trays.” An example would be 2 baby carrots, a spoon of rice, 1 broccoli floret, 1 slice of sausage, cut up strawberries, and yogurt. This way, you aren’t battling with a kid and they aren’t going to starve. And they may try something new! My dad hated strawberries (blasphemy!) and I have a friend who is allergic, so don’t make assumptions about what is universally enjoyed by everyone.

3. Serve spicy options, but also have bland/non-spicy versions. Tip: if spicy and non-spicy sausage are cut differently, they can be cooked together. Cut spicy on a bias so they’re elliptical, and non-spicy straight across like coins. This makes it easy to get the kind you like out of one bowl. It may not work when they’re tiny but it may when they’re older. Bonus is they may get used to a tiny bit of heat in their food that will develop over time.

4. Serve a slightly wider variety of options at the dinner table than you might if you were having a dinner party. Always include something that the pickiest eater is likely to eat. This is the older kid version of trays, in that you’re not “making something special” but you’re also not starving them. A bowl of cut up carrots? The leftover brown rice with some Braggs? Pasta with parmesan? Sliced baguette and olive oil? Serve only a small amount of the extra, so they’re encouraged to try something else rather than eat four slices of bread.

5. Don’t always serve the same extra option, so they expand even their “safe” palate. Often, this can just be something left over from yesterday. One of my kids who thought toothpaste was spicy loved baguette with oil and balsamic vinegar. Spicy? No. Sour. Definitely. Give them opportunities to surprise you.

6. Have sympathy for kids who don’t like their food mixed. If you’re doing stir fry, consider keeping some broccoli and carrot separate in small bowls so it could be eaten plain. Or uncooked. It’s not more work to put some cut veggies into a bowl for the table and stir fry the rest.

7. Consider that as the person choosing and preparing the food, you are able to avoid foods you don’t like. Kids aren’t. Textures, smells, cooked versus raw, mixed versus separate, wet versus dry…we all have opinions, preferences, and aversions. As adults we are just able to mostly avoid foods we dislike. If someone poured gravy over my mashed potatoes, I wouldn’t eat them, while my husband wouldn’t eat them without gravy. That’s the point of gravy! In fact, I could lose 20 pounds if someone would just pour gravy all over my food.

8. Do everything you can to tamp down your desire to micromanage what they do or do not eat. Do not become a parent in those Kraft commercials.

9. Keep portions tiny and let them ask for more of what they want. Tiny bowls are your friend in the early years.

10. Keep serving foods you like to eat. Consider tweaks that might make them more likely to be palatable to younger taste buds (adding some spice to yours after serving rather than during cooking). My son and I love a particular spicy cabbage salad with chicken, but I like it much spicier, so I coat my bowl with more sriracha after we make it. And I have a kid who craves cabbage and cilantro and some sriracha!

11. When they were little, we had “last call for food” before bedtime that had a blah but filling protein/fat option (think peanut butter toast or full fat yogurt). That way nobody went to bed starving but they were encouraged to eat dinner when dinner was. This helps them sleep later also. Reminder: When someone is craving sugar, they probably really need protein. And adding fat helps someone feel full longer.

12. We saved up our coins and about twice a year cashed them in at the grocery store for “junk food day.” We all picked whatever we wanted: frozen pizza or french fries, ice cream, chips, etc. We put on a movie and had no limits on what you wanted to eat. Then everyone had fun but later felt so poorly they remembered why we don’t eat like that 🙂 It was fun!

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