Family life

How do you deal with picky eaters?

Anna likes what she likes. Avery only wants pizza. Tracy tries to figure out how to expand her kids' horizons.

By Tracy Chappell
How do you deal with picky eaters?

I give up.
Dinnertime isn’t the most harmonious event in our house. It’s not the actual time of day, it’s the planning. The issue isn’t always the same. Of course it isn’t. That would be too easy.
It used to be that I tiptoed around Anna’s food issues. Anna’s quite a healthy eater, but like all things with Anna, she likes what she likes, and that’s it. She’s not overly keen on expanding her horizons and is, shall we say, extremely vocal if she doesn’t like what’s put in front of her. So I admit, I do try to make things she likes to avoid the drama, or at least make sure that there’s something on the table that appeals to her.
Avery used to be pretty good, but has plunged into picky-eater territory. She used to eat any meat, I just couldn’t get veggies into her without disguising them in pastas and potatoes. Back when she used to eat pasta and potatoes. And meat. These days, it’s hard to get her to eat any sort of normal dinner and I’m not sure what happened.
Last night, for example, we planned to have burgers. In fact, Avery and I chose them together at the grocery store. But when I served them, Avery started up. “I don’t want any burger in mine,” she whined. She wanted the bun. Just a bun. I convinced her to at least put lettuce and cheese in it and, surprisingly, she ate that.
She’s getting harder and harder to feed, claiming to dislike pretty much everything. She likes eggs, then hates them. She adores spaghetti one day and turns her nose up the next. “I only like pizza!” she declares regularly. While I totally get that, it makes dinnertime an exercise in extreme patience. Many nights, she refuses to eat anything at all and goes to bed having eaten nothing since whatever snack she had mid-afternoon.
I’m sure our food issues aren’t helped by the fact that I’m not an overly adventurous eater myself and that I don’t particularly like to cook. (I wish I could hire someone to cook dinner for us every night!) But I do try. I really do. I haven't truly surrendered. Sometimes I just cook what I want and let them deal with the disappointment, but it does feel like wasted time when only Sean and I will eat it and the kids spend the meal whining and complaining. I’m envious of all the moms I hear making lentil soup and seared steak with fresh pepper pilaf or other things that make me say, “My kids would never try that.”
But maybe I just need to make the lentil soup? I don’t want my kids to be crippled by picky eating (let alone spend my time trying to sidestep dinnertime hysteria), but how do you get them to try new things? Do your kids just …try it? Then like it?
(In the minor miracle category: Avery will now occasionally eat vegetables beyond corn, including nibbling on baby carrots, cucumber and celery — especially if it has peanut butter and raisins in it. When she feels like it. The other day, I was floored when the two of them ate a whole bowl of raw broccoli and dip. So while I haven’t found that the “model good eating habits” advice has worked for us — because I have pretty good eating habits — I do believe in the theory of “never stop offering.”)
They do eat a lot of fruit. That’s something, right?

Photo by foodswings via Flickr

This article was originally published on Apr 20, 2012

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