Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Picky Eaters

I am a voracious, adventurous omnivore, and I have little patience for picky eaters. But having to feed a toddler and a somewhat picky husband, I have had to learn about the patience, creativity, and downright sneakiness that is needed to coerce someone into expanding their palate. I figure this hard-won information would be put to good use in the cookbook.

How to Deal With Picky-Eater Children

When babies learn to walk, they suddenly become picky eaters. This is nature’s way of protecting them from poisonous plants that they might otherwise be inclined to taste. The byproduct of this is that children tend to reject new foods without even trying them. Unfortunately, many parents accidentally reinforce this, by reminding children that they dislike certain foods, or by never offering a food again once it has been rejected. It takes constant effort from parents and caregivers to steer children away from the seduction of junk food, especially given the bombardment of advertisements despicably aimed at children, and the prevalence of foods such as breakfast cereals, which claim on the box to be healthful, but which in reality are just another form of junk.

Toddlers and young children need to be encouraged, over and over, to try new foods - and especially vegetables and other whole foods. If a child rejects a food once, try cooking it a different way, or cooking it more or less. If the food is safe served raw, try that. Try serving the food frozen, if your child is old enough that frozen food doesn‘t pose a choking hazard.

You can also try changing the food’s presentation. Sometimes just cutting the food into different shapes is all it takes to garner a child’s interest. Try using cookie cutters to cut vegetables or sandwiches. Present the food in a bento box. Or arrange the food on your child’s plate into a smiling face.

Try turning a recipe hot pink by adding grated beets. Try offering the same food seasoned with a different set of spices. Don’t assume that children require their foods to be bland.

Try offering condiments. A child may reject carrots when they are plain, but may love them when dipped in salad dressing, or catsup, or salt. Toddlers love to dip foods.

Yet another thing to try are meals that can be assembled by the child. Have a build-your-own sandwich or burrito dinner. Or make a pizza, and let your child add the toppings.

Most importantly, let your child see that you are eating the food that you want him to eat, and continue to offer him that same food.

Hiding Vegetables in Food

Hiding vegetables (or any other rejected category of food) in a cooked dish is not an effective way to teach a picky-eating child to like vegetables, because they don’t realize what they are eating. However, when a child rejects an entire category of food, such as vegetables, hiding the vegetables in cooked dishes is a good temporary way of ensuring that your child is getting proper nutrition.

Balls, patties, and loafs (recipe #) are an excellent way to disguise a rejected food - just mince it up or grate it and add it in. Saucy foods, such as curries, stews, and soups (recipe #) , can hide vegetables in several ways: chop the vegetables into bite-sized pieces, grate the vegetables into the sauce, or make the sauce from a vegetable puree, such as canned pumpkin or tomato sauce.

Pancakes (recipe #) and French toast (recipe #) can both be made with pumpkin or squash puree. Grated vegetables can be added to pancakes or quick breads, such as zucchini bread (recipe #). Mashed potato (recipe #) can be used to hide other white vegetables, such as peeled zucchini, turnip, or cauliflower.

Grated vegetables go well in scrambled egg (recipe #) or omelette (recipe #) or frittata (recipe #) . Finely-chopped greens in eggs aren’t exactly hidden by doing this, but a toddler who rejects them in any other form may be happy to eat “green eggs and ham”.

Grated beets can’t exactly be hidden in a dish, because they will turn the food hot pink. However, a child may be intrigued by the novelty of hot-pink grain (recipe #), or pancakes, or meatballs.


  1. As someone who was deliberately raised to be a picky eater and got over it in college, I really appreciate this post. I hope that my hypothetical kid grows up to appreciate food in a way I didn't get a chance to.

  2. Deliberately?! Yikes. Have no fear, you will raise an adventurous eater.