what do you do with picky kids?

I was driving far away to a tennis match with my team, this week, and picky eaters was the topic of discussion.

If you think this blog entry is going to fix your picky kids, let me lower the bar right now. Your picky kids will still be picky when you finish reading this.

Sorry.

You can read my more complete (and hopefully much more helpful) thoughts on the topic in the 12 Steps to Whole Foods intro. But what I’m writing today is kinda just for laughs.

My kids have the delightful habit of giving me an uncensored stream-of-consciousness regarding what I make/serve. This is partly my fault because I was soliciting their feedback while developing recipes, for a couple of years.

Now what I want is for them to just shut up and eat it. But it’s too late: they think they are food critics.

My mother (AKA “MomPam”) didn’t indulge opinions on food. Didn’t much care what you thought. You could have ONE food you hated. (You still had to EAT it, but you were allowed to hate it. Mine was this store-bought spinach soufflé she liked. My choice came down to a tossup between that, creamed corn, and mushrooms. Like I said, you just got the ONE.)

(Later, when she quit buying the soufflés, I switched to creamed corn, which makes me convulse. If they served it in the Cannon Center when I was a freshman in the BYU dorms, I walked in the cafeteria, stopped dead in my tracks, and wheeled around and walked out. Skipped dinner. My roommates would look at each other, sniff the air, and say knowingly: “CREAMED CORN.”)

We weren’t allowed to say “hate” or “don’t like” (let alone “gross,” “nasty,” etc.). My mom once helpfully offered “I don’t care for that” as an acceptable dinner-table statement. The eight of us said that, in an exaggerated, proper British accent, well into adulthood.

My longtime friend and tennis partner Laura always has a way of making stressful or annoying parenting situations funny. For instance, we were discussing kids looking at porn on the home PC, and she said she told her 3 boys, “If you look at porn, I will see it in the Google history, and I will call you in and we will look at it TOGETHER.”

If Laura’s kids tattle on each other, they have to do it SINGING.

She said her kids are allowed to say anything at all about what is served, as long as it is followed by,

“And that’s just the way I like it!”

So, imagine this:

“Mom, this is a slimy, disgusting insult to the human palate and it makes my intestines revolt. And that’s just the way I like it!”

Your own tips for dealing with picky kids will be highly appreciated by GSG readers!

25 thoughts on “what do you do with picky kids?

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  1. LOL funny stuff! I have the same problem with my kids being food critics because I am always trying to healthify fun foods and I have asked for opinions. 😉

    This is what I have found works with my picky kids.

    * Never fight with them about eating food or even trying food they don’t like before the age of 4. If they don’t like and won’t eat what is being served they can have a piece of fruit or something just as healthy or more so. But I am NOT fixing anything else. I always offer them things again and again that I know they don’t think they like. I don’t force but I will often ask them if they would like to try it. If they say no I don’t push it.

    * At the ages of about 4-8 (remember ages may vary all kids are different) I ask that they at least try what I made for dinner. One bite just at least taste it. If they find they like it, and a lot of times they do, then of course they eat it. If they claim they don’t like it some times I ask them to eat a couple of bites depending on the age and how much I could tell they didn’t like it. Or I just tell them to eat what they like that is on the table or pick out whatever is in the dish that they don’t like. Again no fighting and forcing Family meal time should be enjoyable for EVERYONE.

    * By the time they are 8 they have tried lots of new things and have developed a taste for a lot of the things they thought they hated. My pickiest eater so far who is now 8 has found a lot of things he likes that he didn’t even dare try at 3. I have even noticed he will eat mushrooms in some dishes. He hated those for a very long time.

    By the time they are 8 they like enough things that I don’t worry about them getting enough to eat and eating healthy. If the 8 and older children pick some things out that they don’t care for I don’t usually say anything. I mean they all like salad by then and eat a big plate with dinner! It’s funny though when it comes time to do the dishes all the plates are clean. 😉 I think it’s the Jack Sprat nursery rhyme thing going on…..So between the family they licked the platter clean! 😉 And since I know it’s all healthy I’m okay with that. I think the trick is to have even dessert be healthy! If your really tricky a lot of times dessert could potentially be better for you then the dinner.

    Just the other day my husband and I watched our 3 year old horse down a big plate of leafy greens. She pretty much had never touched salad before. We would keep offering it to her and she would have a taste here and there but never really cared for it. I wasn’t concered though because she loves green smoothies! 😉 I have found if it’s not a power struggle with only good feelings abounding; They don’t connect the food to negative feelings. And if they see everyone else especially parents eating and ENJOYING what they are asking them to try they will keep tasting and I have found as tastes develope there are very few things children will not like.

    *With older kids who were fed a lot of junk food as babies they will be harder. Again I think example is HUGE! But just finding the healthy things they like and fixing it lots and then slowly expanding seems too work. I also found making lots of healthified treats, like whole grain cookies, cakes, etc. so they don’t really miss the junk food helps the transition a lot.

    Robyn has lots of good healthy treats in her 12 Steps to Whole Foods. And recipes to treats I have healthified are on my blog Simple, Healthy, Tasty.

  2. I have 2 sons, 13 and 16 years old. The older one is pretty good about what he eats, the younger tends to be picky and wants sweets, nitrate-laden meats and ramen.

    I just started my quart-a-day green smoothie habit, and I really want to improve my son’s eating habits too. Here are my strategies so far, and I’ll be glad to hear some more ideas.

    – I’ve started making him a yummy green smoothie (16 oz) each morning. I make sure it’s a “beginner” one that’s not bitter or too strong so that he will get a positive feeling about the experience,

    – We all eat dinner together, which includes whole grains, salad and veggies.

    – I keep LOTS of fruit in the fruit bowl, especially his favorites.

    – He LOVES my garden lettuce and spinach, so I will serve that as salads and save the Costco stuff for my smoothies (next year I’ll plant MORE).

    – The nitrates and ramen will be less and less available… 😉

  3. I’ve used Robyn’s advice with saying “it is not my favorite”.

    The best advice I got was from my sister & it involves serving food in courses. The first course is always a vegetable (except at breakfast which is a green smoothie). If they don’t eat their first course they don’t progress to the next course. Rest of meal is usually served together (sometimes meat, often vegetarian). “Desert” is fruit. And if they don’t like what is being served (in any course) – they can get down & we’ll see them at the next meal.

    Of course I started this from the beginning – so I wasn’t breaking habits – but everyone is always amazed at what good eaters my 6 year old & twin 2 1/2 years old are.

    When we’re at parties – they enjoy the junk – but we don’t have it in our house.

  4. My twins are 6 and eat just about everything! I made all their baby food when they were infants and they just got the taste for fruits/veggies. They are very expensive to feed, but wouldn’t want it any other way.

    Oh, and I do allow sweets/junk food every now and then so they won’t crave for it. They’ll actually choose fruit over the junk most of the time.

  5. Creamed Corn! Hilarious. It makes me convulse as well…great tips from your site and readers. I have an 8 year old girl that is the pickiest eater I’ve ever seen. Always looking for info

  6. I have found that you have to keep reintroducing a food your child may not like at first at least 3 or 5 times before giving up on it. There is a rule in our house, you have to take 1 bite of a new food on your plate and actually swallow it, before deciding if you like it or not. I find there are not many things my kids dislike. They are 8 & 5 yrs old and my friends always say, “you are so lucky your kids aren’t picky eaters!”. We create picky eaters. My kids don’t have a choice, they eat what we their parents are eating. We set the example and if a healthy choice is the only choice you are giving your kids then the only choice they will make is a healthy one 🙂 My kids LOVE green smoothies and eat there veggies and fruit without a problem. This healthy change did not happen over night but slowly we got rid of the pop tarts, and chips etc… my kids know that fruit can be desert and my family and friends are shocked at how well they eat their veggies. I am SO happy to say my son recently said Yuk!…. to cost-co pizza! I allow them to eat whatever they want at parties and i have found lately that all my hard work of introducing whole foods at home has paid off because they are making healthier choices on their own even at parties, Horray!

    This may sound gross to some of you but another way i got my kids to eat more veggies and fruit when they were younger (6 & 3 yr old) was to talk about the shape of their poop;) They found it hilarious and fascinating how the foods they ate affected the shape and consistency of their poop! We would make a joke over who made a solid log versus small pebbles or whom was constipated! Believe it or not, it encouraged them to eat more fruits and veggies, especially if i would say “this food will make your poo poo soft!” 😉

  7. I have to say I am one for picky eaters- I was one!! I have found, with my kids, that it is easy to work around things. I am pretty lucky and started my kids eating healthy from the beginning. There isn’t much that we have that they don’t like.

    I do have a daughter that has geographic tongue and is sensitive to the more acidic and spicy. Therefore, I leave out the tomatoes, avocado, etc. on her plate. My biggest thing is I want to teach my kids that if they are given a plate of something and there is something on it they don’t like- onions for example- then they discreetly push it aside and continue eating.

    One day they will like more and they have proven that over time. My oldest is only 6 so I am sure we will experience different levels of this but my kids have been eating salmon and asparagus since they were 3 so I really don’t have a problem, yet! I think it is the kids that refuse to eat anything other then cereal and chips that you have to worry about and I have no experience with that. Love you story- thanks for sharing.

  8. I have five lovely kids, ages 17, 15 and 10 (all girls) and 8 and 18 months (boys)….so far, so good with the food stuff. We have had LOTS of food related sensitivities, so our diet has changed dramatically over the years. It’s not uncommon for our house to go “cold turkey” on something that bothered someones tummy. We are currently vegetarians, who eat a high raw diet…no gluten, no processed food, only raw cheese occassionally and looking into that too. The kids are very open about changing diets (I’m so thankful) and when there’s resistance, we all chalk it up to “change is hard” and move on. No big deal made out of it. Also, we work hard as a family to respect and be thoughtful to how they all feel about the change. For instance, when we started eating green smoothies, my darling boy (6 yrs old at the time) decided he didn’t want to eat ANYTHING that was “THAT” green, sooooo, I asked him to help me make his smoothie and allowed him to decide how much green stuff went into it. As he dropped ONE piece of spinach into his smoothie, he looked at me as if to say “okay?”….I said, “Great, if you’ll eat one piece of spinach in your smoothie today, that’s more than you had yesterday and I’ll be thrilled!”. So, we blended it up and he drank it down. I was happy! I solicited his help each day and by the end of the week, he was adding in the whole bag of spinach and declaring them “delicious!”….We all laughed when he said that!! For me, time, respect and thoughtfulness has helped tremendously and I try to remember that I have done all that great reading about nutrition and they haven’t, so it’s leap of faith for them and I love that they are open and willing to try. I also appreciate a good sense of humor ….one time I made sesame milk. It was so beautiful and frothy and creamy looking, so I took a big, long drink and RAN to the sink to spit it out!! It was bitter….yuck!! This was witnessed by my oldest daughter, who promptly said “I’m not trying that!”….we still laugh about this story!

  9. My husband once said to me, our kids are really good eaters considering what you make. (healthy food) He meant it as a compliment. Just reading about creamed corn makes me gag. I am afraid that the one thing the majority of my children cannot stomach is oatmeal. How do you make it more appetizing? I’ve tried lots and I find it wonderful. Putting fruit in it helps the whining go down.

  10. My kids are probably in your age group and taking flak from both sides – picky kids of their own and picky parents (me and my wife) working on them to read the China Study for starters in an effort to shift them to a plant based diet. I have great hopes that the kids (along with their peer group) will become become picky about what they eat (plant based, of course) and encourage their parents to do the right thing. I’ve been told that some things skip a generation, so maybe their is some basis to hope for a favorable outcome.

  11. I like Leigh’s approach. I have 4 “kids”, ages 34 through16. I have found that if you give children the same type of respect you would give an adult, and, as much as possible , let them make their own choices and even be part of the process, they don’t expend so much energy fighting you, and more often than not, follow your example, at least to a large degree. We’ve all been given the gift of free will, and a child’s free will should be respected as much as anyone elses.

  12. I would never force a child to eat anything. I think that is crossing their boundaries. They won’t let themselves starve, and if they see you eating well and being healthier for it, in time they’ll follow along. But if you force the issue, they expend lots of energy opposing you to show they can be independant.

  13. I have found that with three kids, I can’t please EVERYONE. The best I can do is find something that they’ll eat mostly without too much complaining.

    When I DO find something they mysteriously all like, I’ll make it too often, and they’ll get sick of it, and I’ll have to find something else.

    Mind you, for the most part I serve what I like and expect them to eat it (or at least make a reasonable attempt at it). Occasionally I’ll have a “free night” where they can choose their own food.

  14. Hi Robyn,

    I have talked to a few people who have suggested that if you blend at a very high speed that you destroy the enzymes in the green smoothies. Also that if you leave the smoothis for any length of time either in or out of the fridge then it will oxidize and again this destroys the enzymes. Do you have any inofr mation or altenative knowledge about this please.

    Thanks

    MaryAnne

    1. MaryAnne, some oxidation but not too much, nutrition DOES deteriorate over time, read my book for much more about this. My main point is: it’s still better than anything else you’d be eating instead, when you drink a GS the next day.

  15. Our boys are now young adults and with peer pressure they don’t always want to eat as healthy as my husband and I. To stop the complaining I always tell them they can eat any thing they want to as long as they buy it with there own money, which means going to the store to get it , cook it and also clean up the kitchen after they serve it to there friends. I buy only healthy foods and invite them and there friends to join us for meals or help them selves any time they are visiting. It works , a couple of times they all chipped in and ordered pizza but when they saw how much it cost they now meet at the house and make pizza with the veggies that are in the fridge. It’s really fun to see a bunch of 20 year old guys making creative healthy pizzas.

  16. This discussion is great. I just had to read it because I have a couple of picky eaters and food critics. Also, I had a lot to learn about healthy eating. My husband and I come from different backgrounds. He was a Pastor’s kid who would try anything and loved to cook like his Mom. I was a spoiled and stubborn picky eater who became an athlete with an eating disorder. Pregnancy, nursing, children, and a dear friend woke me up to good nutrition. I had to eat better. For our family, smoothies and Robyn’s book have changed our eating habits for good. Thank you.

  17. My 2-year-old son eats anything raw, my 4-year-old daughter is another story. Her response to something she claims not to like is “this tastes like car exhaust!” After my son eats something real green (green smoothie or spirulina/chlorella crunchies) he’ll gets close to his sister and she tells him to move because he “smells like grass.” It’s been easier to get my son to eat great because that is all he’s know.

  18. Linda, I loved your veggie pizza making story and how to get a group of 20 yr old guys to make a healthier choice on their own! I so respect and appreciate a mother’s wisdom that has older children. Thank you for sharing 🙂

  19. Love all of this. My parents used to tell my sister and me: “That’s the beauty of living in America. You are entitled to your opinion. Isn’t it great? You don’t have to like it. You just have to eat it!” And as mentioned above, when dinner concluded, the kitchen was closed. “See ya tomorrow!” Needless to say, we learned to like a lot of things we didn’t like–part of self-preservation.

    1. Alice, I love your comment. Love love love.

      I love it so much I am going to re-post it soon, on the blog, with my detailed comments. Watch for that. And thanks.

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