It’s been said that picky eaters are not born, they’re made. Well, yes and no. Some selective eaters are genuinely more sensitive to taste, and some become highly selective because of well, us, the parents. Getting kids to try a healthy menu beyond buttered pasta should never be a battle royale. Here, insight from Seattle families.
Garden and cook together
Jimmy Morrison Harris
West Seattle dad of two boys, 2 and 3
Involve them. Especially if you really emphasize, “You made this.” They feel accomplished. They feel a sense of ownership. We started doing Blue Apron. We had our first breakthrough, a pork taco — including Sriracha — something we thought he would never eat. “Hey, we’re done cooking, you just made dinner.” He looked so proud. He ate the whole thing. He kept saying, “Water! Water! I need water!”
Talking about the ingredients, smelling, sampling and helping prep are the ways we have discovered to make it work. They’ve eaten spicy pad Thai, Korean tacos in lettuce, salads with lots of different veggies, and more.
PHOTO: JOSHUA HUSTON
We have this little garden in our backyard. This year I took them both to the hardware store and let them pick out the seeds. They picked random things I thought they wouldn’t eat: lettuce, green onions, snap peas, carrots. We had our first snap-pea harvest and they must have eaten 20 of them each. Our little guy goes right out and rips pieces of kale off and eats them. Both my husband and I were extremely picky eaters growing up — we want to help our boys avoid that. I never had a salad until I was in college. My husband lived off macaroni and cheese.
Invite them to take the “polite bite” challenge
Seattle mom of two adult kids, one a very picky eater with autism
When my son was small, getting him to eat anything beyond Annie’s Classic Cheddar Mac & Cheese, apples, and carrots was a challenge. As he got older, I could tell he wanted to try new things, he just didn’t know how to move out of his black and white thinking about food. He also could get pretty offensive in how he rejected food. “That stinks!” he might say. “That looks like dog poop!” So, at age 8, after some manners training, we introduced the concept of “the polite bite.” Whenever we had something new at the table everyone, adults and kids, were required to take a single bite. It did not matter how teensy tiny of a bite you took, trying is what mattered. If you loved it you could take more, if not you passed it on. No faces, no spitting (unless discreetly), no tantrums. We gave my son a reward if he got through a week of polite bites with no blow-ups. My son met the challenge head on — through polite bites he learned to love a wide variety of foods. Now as a young adult he’s about he most adventurous eater I know.
Start with one bite
Magnolia mom with a son, 10, and daughter, 6
Routine has a lot to do with it. We eat at the same time every day; I consistently ask them to eat all the food I make. Except for vacation — I’ll be very lenient on vacation. I consistently make the same foods. My daughter doesn’t like bell peppers, but that doesn’t stop me from making it. When she was younger, I would have her take one bite. The older she gets, I increase it. If you take three bites, maybe you’ll find you like it. Well, I don’t think she’ll ever like bell peppers. But I still make her try it.
Wallingford mom of a super-picky son, 7, and a super-adventurous daughter, 12
The older one, she’s always been willing to try pretty much anything. My son just will not try anything. He just 100 percent refuses to try it. If there’s a piece of cilantro, he’ll go through and pick every speck out.
My daughter, when she was a baby, I only fed her fruits and vegetables. She didn’t have any fast food, or even processed food. She didn’t have her first chicken nugget until she was a couple of years old. With my son, I wasn’t as purposeful with him. One thing I’ve taught him is that some foods taste good together. He’ll experiment if I tell him to try this and this and this together. He won’t eat basil, but he’ll try basil with chicken and rice. I’ll have him help me cook it. Then he’ll feel a little proud and willing to eat it, because he made it. He wants to know how it’s put together; he’s into engineering.
Dice and chop
Deonne Brown Benedict
South Edmonds mom of three: 7, 4 and 2
Our two oldest, they eat just about anything you put in front of them. Our oldest daughter will eat anything, including sunscreen. So that’s how indiscriminate her taste buds are. The 2-year-old, I still hold out hope. She doesn’t like meat and a lot of vegetables.
When I met my husband, he didn’t eat broccoli or a lot of other vegetables. So I started cutting vegetables into itty-bitty pieces. I figured out how to fit it into the things we were eating, whether it was the soup or a curry sauce. He hardly noticed it. Now he will eat them in big chunks. Now he says broccoli is one of his favorite vegetables. So I do that with the baby, too. I make chicken and rice and and broccoli. Right now, because the baby won’t eat broccoli, I just dice it really tiny and she’ll eat it.
No crackers for these tots
Barbara Greene Alfeo
Licton Springs mom of two boys, 3 and almost 2, both super-good eaters
I don’t know if we did anything, or we just got lucky and didn’t get in the way. We’ve never given them bland food. We made most of our baby food — we’d just blend whatever veggies we were making and throw in spices or herbs. We eat most anything, but a lot of Italian food. Mussels with butter and veggies. Pesto and goat cheese. They think it’s normal. We’ve been in a long phase where we’re obsessed with beets. They literally cheer for beet noodles: “Beets! Beets! We want beets!” We mostly do fruits and veggies for our snacks. We’re obsessed with pickles right now, the tiny ones. They eat bran flakes with raisins for breakfast, like real old men.
I don’t keep crackers, pretzels, anything of that sort in the house. My husband and I worked a lot on our weight pre-children. So we had basically set a rule: We have treats. But treats don’t live at the house. You have to go get them.
World food map
Magnolia mom with two daughters, 4 and 7 months
The baby eats very well. My older one has been a challenge. I didn’t see it coming. She takes after her dad, for sure. You can get her to eat a chicken nugget, but not sweet-and-sour chicken, because it’s slightly different. She’ll eat lettuce, but that’s the only vegetable. I enjoy cooking. I make dinner for my family every night. I’m not the kind of person who’s going to cook pasta every night.
We have a world map on the wall of her bedroom. She gets to put a star sticker for every country she tries something from. If I’m going to make Thai food, I’ll leave out some chicken and just make it plain with rice. It’s about continuing to offer food again and again and again. Three times is not enough. It has to be 15 or 20 times of making the same thing. It took me a year to convince her to try macaroni and cheese.
Originally published in September 2018
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