Dealing with Picky Eaters

July 26, 2011 | By | Comments (6)

I am the mother of two picky, picky eaters. Over the years I have tried everything within reason to get my boys to try new foods. While I’m not one of those moms who forces her kids to eat what’s on the plate, I do encourage them to try a “bird bite” of everything. I don’t bribe them with dessert (as bribery is reserved for math facts and room cleaning) but I do try to include at least one food I know they like at every meal.

Over the years I’ve tried it all: involving them in the cooking and menu planning, taking them on trips to local farmer’s markets, exposing them to the same item over 20 times in hopes they will eventually eat it.

None of these techniques has worked.

Countless mothers with more experience have advised me to let “the food thing” go. “He won’t be eating cheese sandwiches forever,” they say. Maybe so. But I’m at a point now where I find my kids’ picky eating habits embarrassing. Trying. Emotionally exhausting. Last week we were invited to a friend’s house for dinner. She was making pulled pork and these amazing cheesy potatoes to die for.

My kids would have none of it.

Ready to try some new interventions, I consulted Emily Franklin, mother of four, former chef, and author of Too Many Cooks: Kitchen Adventures with 1 Mom, 4 Kids, and 102 New Recipes (her book has been described as “one part Julia Child, one part David Sedaris”).

I had to ask, is it simply too late to turn my boys around?

“I believe it is never too late to start,” Emily said. “If you’re okay with mac and cheese every night, I’m not judging you. However, it sounds like you’d very much like to have a broader culinary experience at your family table.”

Yes, Emily! I would!

“The bad news? You might have a few trying evenings,” she said. “The good news? It will work even if the changes are gradual.”

I found much of Emily’s advice refreshing. Some ideas to try include:

1. Host a family meeting (when no one is particularly hungry) and bring props. Emily suggests wacky pasta, funny looking chips, even weird candy. Bring a new vegetable they’ve never seen. Start a conversation about your love of food but do not place blame.

2. Tell stories about your own positive experiences with food and be specific. Emily suggests using language like “One time, at Aunt Betty’s house I had this soup that tasted so delicious!” Explain calmly that you are bored with the current meals in the house and that you feel everyone is missing out on some exciting foods.

3. Segue into the new plan. Explain (calmly still!) that there are going to be at least two meals a week which involve new foods. Emily is quick to point out that only you know how much newness your family can handle without making it horrible. Maybe start with Sunday dinner.

4. Allow the kids to be part of the selection process. Emily suggests using a grab bag of ideas, planning meals on a calendar, or throwing darts at a map and choosing foods from that state or country.

5. No substitutions. During the new meals there can be absolutely no substitutions. The kids eat what has been made or they don’t eat. No cereal. No peanut butter sandwiches.

I’ll admit to having tried some of these techniques at home, but I’ve never hosted a family food meeting. I think I’m going to go for it. Need some more inspiration? Check out Emily’s blog, where she chronicles her family’s culinary adventures at home and abroad.

Do you have picky eaters at home? What has worked for you? Do you have any tips or suggestions for changing up the mealtime routine?