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The Taming of a Picky Eater



My son is proof positive that a young child can in fact survive on macaroni and cheese alone. Because that's what he did from age 2 to age 7, when, after my husband forgot to feed the little fellow dinner before trick-or-treating, he discovered chocolate.

But from 2 to 7, he downed bowl after bowl of mac ‘n cheese, snubbing his nose at anything not made of semolina flour and bright orange powder. All the while, the parent judge that lives inside me dropped her gavel on a daily basis:

"Guilty!" she'd boom. "I sentence you to self-loathing for the remainder of your picky eater's childhood."

At the time, Aidan's pediatrician assured us he was growing just fine. But watching his face turn an unnatural shade of orange each night, I worried we were starving his brain cells of smart juice in our inability to get any other food into his mouth other than the stray apple here and there. We resorted to guerilla tactics, for example: crushing up supplements and mashing carrots (they were orange too we reasoned) in the cheese sauce, offering chocolate just for trying something new, refusing to make the mac ‘n cheese ever again. All to no avail.

When he was four we made the mistake of trying to substitute rice noodles for the semolina. Aidan, with a sour, hateful look on this face, stuck his lip out and wailed "That's POOP!" We were on retreat and sitting in the dining room of a large facility with about 70 other families at the time. The entire room fell silent.

Ah, the picky eater. God love 'em.

We will never know what it was about that particular Halloween night that caused the transformation, but upon diving down into a basket full of chocolate candy, our son rose back up suddenly eager to taste new foods. A food phoenix, rising from an orange pumpkin-shaped bucket. I imagine he thought all new foods might taste like Snickers.

In the years since, this same kid has learned to eat just about anything, including raw fish sushi and slimy avocado. Even kale and escarole. In fact, he loves kale. It had nothing to do with us, of course. But we are here to tell you it can happen. Your picky eater can be tamed.

I can't help but wonder if the following tips from the American Heart Association on dealing with a picky eater would have helped ours venture out a little sooner. If you are going through similar struggles with a child across the table, I'd say they are well worth the try.

Get them excited about healthy food: Let them smell, touch, taste, ask questions and try fruits, veggies, yogurts and other healthy foods in the kitchen. Ask them what they think of the foods and let them know their opinions count.

Get them involved in the kitchen: Let them help you with small, kid-safe jobs in the kitchen such as mixing ingredients. Be sure to thank them for their help.

Give them a say in what they eat: Help your kids make the right food and drink choices from an early age. If they have a say in decisions they will be more excited about what they eat. It's a great way to get them to take charge of their health.

Take them grocery shopping with you: Get your kids involved in shopping decisions. It may take a little more time in the supermarket but it is likely to lead to less tantrums at meals.

Keep the junk food out of the house: Your kids can't eat unhealthy snacks if you don't buy them. Kids will moan at first but soon they will get hungry and reach for the apple instead of the chips.

Add healthy food when you can: Find ways to add healthy foods into foods your child already likes. You can put blueberries in pancakes, chopped fruit on cereal, or small pieces of broccoli in macaroni and cheese.

Help them learn: Encourage your kids to draw or doodle pictures of healthy foods or write a poem. Post on the fridge and make sure they know you are proud.

Sit down together: Try to set aside your meals as family time. Turn off the TV and enjoy eating together.

Keep healthy snacks on hand: Bring healthy snacks when you pick them up from school, after sports practice, and at other times when you know their stomachs will be grumbling.

Make healthy food and meals fun: Try cutting up food into fun shapes or making faces out of fruit and vegetables. Putting healthy snacks such as oatmeal cookies or dried fruit into a fun bag can turn healthy foods into a cool snack for your child.

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