Family Eating: Dealing With the Picky Eater


By: , SparkPeople Blogger

This is the third in a series about eating healthy as a family and the challenges that can come along with it. Click here to read the first blog entry in this series.

Growing up, mealtime was often a source of stress for my mom. She always liked to experiment with new (and sometimes very unusual) recipes. My dad's nickname was (and still is) the "human garbage disposal" because there are only a small handful of foods he wouldn't eat. He was always willing to try something new, but my sister and I were a different story. When she cooked an unfamiliar dish, we'd take one look at the plate and say "I'm not trying that." Or we'd need a detailed explanation of every ingredient before we'd let the food touch our lips. Now that I cook for a family of my own, I can see how frustrating that was for my mom.

Since cooking a different meal for each person isn't a long-term solution, what can you do to appease the picky eaters in your home? How can you create meals that the whole family will eat and enjoy? Especially with kids, it takes time and patience when introducing new foods. If they don't like sweet potatoes the first time you offer them, try again. Maybe the next time you prepare them in a slightly different way: mashed instead of sliced, or mixed with apples and cranberries instead of plain. Try not to get frustrated or force them to try it, because that can end up being a negative situation for everyone.

Also consider serving dips or sauces on the side with some foods. For instance, your teenager might be the only one in the family who doesn't like plain carrots. But if you serve them with hummus for dipping, she'll eat them. That way you're not creating multiple dishes, but just easy variations on the one dish you're serving.

A lot of times it's fear of the unknown that causes people to resist trying new foods. In my home we try to use the "just take one bite" rule. If you take a bite and decide you don't want to eat it, at least you tried. I will admit, I've also been known to sneak ingredients into my dishes. For example, my daughter would never eat a plain chicken breast because she says she doesn’t like chicken. But if I make a casserole with chicken in it, she'll gobble it up without thinking twice. So again, preparation can be the key.

How do you deal with picky eaters in your household? What kinds of strategies have been effective for you? Share your tips here!

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  • 18
    I don't like chicken, either. I'm an adult, so if there's absolutely no other choice without being rude, I'll eat it, but I'll be grossed out the whole time. The casserole thing probably isn't so much a "trick" as it is hiding the unpleasant taste. I like homemade chicken pot pie and chicken broccoli casserole as long as the chicken is all white breast meat (the dark meat has a stronger taste) and is torn up in small pieces (rather than cut into chunks). Chicken broth is also fine.

    No one is going to believe me now, but I'm not actually a picky eater (except when it comes to quality - no fast food for me). I love pretty much anything plant-based. I love fish and like most kinds of seafood. I like beef, pork, bison, lamb, and even eat turkey every once in a while. But I have a strong aversion to chicken, mayonnaise, and ketchup. - 4/10/2009   7:23:48 PM
  • 17
    Neither of my two sons were picky eaters. There were some foods that they would rather have less often, but they ate what was put on the table.

    My oldest son had a new friend, Robby, and asked if he could stay for dinner. My wife called his dad and ok'd it.

    Meal came and it was regular meatloaf, mashed potatoes and gravy and green beans (Hey, it was 30 years ago. We had other vegetables on the table, Catsup and Tabasco).

    Other than "formal style" dining, our meals were what my mom and my DW's mom called "home style". Platters and bowls of food were placed on the table and the food was just passed to the left, starting with what was in front of you.

    Noticing what was our style, Robby picked up the meatloaf and passed it to his left, as we all did, until everyone had what started out back in front of them.

    My wife noticed that Robby hadn't taken any meatloaf and reminded him he needed meat to build muscle.

    He said, "Well I don't eat meat", which caused my son to break into the conversation with, "Well, that's why you're weaker then my little brother!"

    There was a pause just long enough for me not to do something Neanderthal-ish before Robby said, "Well, I guess I can try it". This time my oldest son said, "You'll love it, Robby. My mom's the best cooker on earth".

    By the end of the meal, he had eaten two helpings of everything on the main meal, except the green beans (both my sons only ate one helping), AND he ate a slice of Strawberry/Rhubarb pie, a la mode.

    When his mom, Kathy, stopped by to pick him up on her way home (the boys had already run down to his house to play with the basketball his dad had recently put up over their garage) she came into the house looking a little bit tentative. Her first question was, what had Robby eaten?

    My wife told her and Kathy looked as if she might faint. Seeing her distress, I was ordered to get a glass of ice water and when I returned to the living room I heard Kathy telling my wife that Robby didn't eat meat, simply because he "didn't like it", and a green bean had never crossed his lips.

    We expressed shock to learn he was a picky eater and apologized if we had overstepped. "Not at all," Kathy said, "let him eat whatever he will eat whenever he's invited over. Wow, this is just so surprising".

    Two days later, Kathy asked us down for some ice cream and coffee so we could all meet. It turned out that her husband, Mark. was my high school right defensive tackle to my center linebacker.

    As we walked home from the visit, my wife took off running to the porch, sounding like she was going to be sick. When I caught up with her inside the door, she was rolling on the floor, laughing so hard she had tears coming out.

    When she finally calmed down, she told me that Kathy had asked for her meatloaf recipe because, according to Robby, my wife was "one of those chief cookers, the fancy ones, and other people had to pay for her food, unless they were family - and friends didn't have to pay either."

    After talking together, my wife learned that Kathy's recipes were almost exactly like the recipe's she used. Kathy caught on quickly. Very soon, if she prepared a recipe of something that Robby wouldn't eat prior to visiting our house, she would just tell Robby at the dinner table it was a "new" recipe from Eric's mom, and how much Eric and Blake liked it.

    As long as we were neighbors, Kathy never had a problem with her oldest sons eating what was on the table, again.

    Often for "picky eaters", it's just all in their head. Peer "pressure" isn't always bad.
    - 4/10/2009   7:08:45 PM
  • 16
    My sons both tried to become picky eaters, but I nipped it in the bud. They complained about my cooking for about a week when I decided to go on strike. I switched chores with them for one week. I did the dishes and they got to cook dinner every night. Sure, we had a lot of canned soup, sandwiches & tuna fish, but after a week of trying to come up with something for dinner and then prepare it they were ready to eat whatever I made.

    To be fair, they are permitted to politely say they don't care for something - after trying it first of course.... but those comments are few and far between - they're afraid I'll stop cooking again - lol. Also, in the sense of fairness, I don't make anything with cut-up mushrooms because my youngest REALLY doesn't like mushrooms. The compromise is that I use whole mushrooms & he picks them out. - 4/10/2009   5:23:07 PM
  • 15
    My son was the picky eater for me. I grew up with having to have a "Thank-You-Helping" of everything served. This was to allay the "Eews " and "yucks" and teach us good table manners. (The helping was miniscule if we presented it that way. My son, however, shunned this tradition and didn't oblige. He used to physically gag if it "didn't look right' to him. I could count on two hands what he would eat. After 16 years of canned, French style green beans, even he complained about the sameness of his meals. But it was a control issue on his part and if he wanted the same thing all the time while everyone around him ate a variety, that was his choice. He got the five food groups in but what a drag to ALWAYS eat the same thing. I admit it wasn't me who cured him. It was the United States Navy. If you are out at sea for 6 month stretches you either eat what is served or starve. NOW, the "child" eats many/most things, He even tries to get me to eat sushi . . . (young, cute NYC vegans can turn a guy's palate around too!) - 4/10/2009   4:53:44 PM
  • 14
    I made a new recipe that I found in a magazine and 11 year old son says he does not like spinach. Well the pasta dish called for a pesto made in the food processor and poured over the pasta. I used fresh spinach, but my son did not realize it was make with it, he thought cause the recipe called for cilantro also, that was the only thing I used. Wrong! On his first bite he said it was so good! (Spinach and all). I never told him even after that I used Spinach. Maybe I will have the chance of making it again one day without him figuring it out. - 4/10/2009   3:57:09 PM
  • 13
    My oldest son was very picky. I would put a very small amount of what I knew he didnt like and tell him to eat half of it. It would work, in most cases. I would also make sure that the meal consisted of a balance of "yucky foods" and yummy foods. That is not easy to do as I was a working mother, as well. My husband is another story. We met and married when my sons were in their teens and his is very picky, too. He has, tho, over the years tried and liked many foods that he initally thought he wouldn't eat. I usually plan meals so that, again, there are some foods for him and some for me. - 4/10/2009   3:51:33 PM
    Well . . . I raised 5 children and none of them complained about the meals. That was long ago and everyone simply sat down at the table, passed around the bowls and platter and ate!! Oh, if it were that easy today! Now it is my husband who is the picky one - he absolutely will not try anything new or different, he says to give him his standard food, which is mostly too much fat/sugar, etc. This is hard on me, trying to lose my excess weight so what I do is . . . I make what he wants and make myself what I want and know is healthy and I'm ALWAYS trying new things for myself.

    Hubby had to have his heart checked this past week and guess what? He was told to lose 25 lbs!!!! NOW, he wants to try different foods, less fat and sugar. Hooray!! We can both slim down together. - 4/10/2009   3:40:57 PM
  • 11
    LOL IRONORCHID did you live at my house. The same rules applied if my mother cooked it you eat it. No snide remarks if you didn't like it you didn't eat it.

    I had 4 male children (counting hubby as one) everyone of them is picky. I done what my grandma done I make sure there is one thing each one likes. A veggie, or whatever. Then after that they are on their own. - 4/10/2009   3:32:52 PM
  • 10
    Picky eaters, I have two of them at home. One is my 7 year old son and the other one is my husband. My son eats mostly healthy stuff but once in a while he hears his friends or his dad saying that they don't like a certain food and he will go on refusing to eat it for a while. It's not too bad dealing with him becasue once he's over that I-don't-feel-like-eating-it phase, he usually will eat the good foods again. But my husband who is the worst in the family will continue to fight no matter how hard I try. He doesn't eat anything green except for frozen peas. With him, I am just tough. Eat what's in front of you or you're not getting anything else. The man has to grow up some time, or so I hope! LOL - 4/10/2009   3:23:26 PM
  • 9
    When I was a child and tried once in a while being picky, my parents told me to get out of the table. That's it, very simple. Your mom spent time cooking, you don't appreciate it, you are not welcome to share it. I've learnt my lesson.
    Being hungry once or twice is not going to kill a picky eater in the family. :) - 4/10/2009   3:14:24 PM
  • 8
    Our grandkids live with us and eat like adults! My granddaughter loves sushi. We ask them to try one bit of whatever is new. If they don't like they don't have to eat any more. So many times if they had eaten with their eyes they wouldn't like as much as they do. If they don't like something they try it about once or twice a year to see if their taste buds have changed. Those two kids eat more variety than most adults. - 4/10/2009   3:13:24 PM
  • 7
    I AM the picky eater! =D

    It's not that I don't like different/exotic foods, but I really hate sauces, especially creamy ones. Also, fried foods? Count me out! I will only eat things that are lightly sauteed at best. X3 - 4/10/2009   3:06:47 PM
  • 6
    Children need to be exposed to a new food generally 9 times before they try it. Have them help prepare food and never ever make a big deal out of something, whether they eat it or not. My husband and his brother are picky, likely because of force feeding and there mom catering to them by making special foods. My sisters and I were never and still aren't picky because we were never forced to eat things and we could make ourselves a sandwich but my mom never made us special meals if we didn't want what was served.
    - 4/10/2009   3:06:36 PM
  • 5
    I don't KNOW how to deal with my ultra-picky 9 year old boy or even his slightly less picky dad. DH is not a good example of trying new things, believe me! Even if I make pasta, it has to be a certain SHAPE of pasta. If I make alfredo sauce, if the thickness isn't just PERFECT, there are complaints. I have like 3 dishes I make for them, and none are healthy enough for me to eat with them.

    Frankly, that trick of having them try one bite or sneaking things into a casserole simply won't work with them. That alone has caused tension at the table.

    The easy route for me has been simply this: we use the bbq grill a lot, so I have DH grill up something they both like and I feast on the salad and side dishes since I'm a vegetarian anyway. That way, if they don't eat the salad or side veggies, there's more for me! And if they do like them, all the better. - 4/10/2009   2:44:53 PM
    I have 2 very pickey eaters a 10 year old and a 6 year old. I often make sume pureed vegetable like carrots, beets, cauiflower, sweet potato and several others. When I buy them I come home and steam then I will take and puree and place 1/2 cup in sandwich bags and freeze it. Then when I make pizza, tacos, meatloaf or pretty much whatever I pull some out and thaw and mix it in to whatever. The kids never know but rave how good the food is. Works well give it a try for something new. - 4/10/2009   2:41:55 PM
  • 3
    Growing up we had two choices: take it or leave it. There were 4 kids on a teacher's salary, so not a lot to go around. No snacks, no other meals.

    With my son, I would serve a lot of raw veggies as he would eat those and cook things a little differently. No catering to special meals and no snacks to make up for an uneaten meal. He had to try things. My grand daughter right now will eat things that her parents are eating, so he is really watching what he eats and how he expresses eating his dinner because little eyes are watching. - 4/10/2009   2:41:54 PM
    I AM the picky eater in my house; I've only taken up eating bananas, peanut butter, sweet potatoes & who knows what else in the last few years. Often just keeping on trying tiny bits was the secret--sometimes just actually trying something I always thought I wouldn't like! With bananas, it was finding that I liked them mixed with other fruit--I still want a glass of orange juice with my morning banana. With peanut butter, it was discovering the all natural kind that actually tastes like peanuts. Just lately I finally found a whole grain bread (other than whole wheat) that I enjoy--every now & then I would try some different kind, most of which had too much seeds & stuff for me, but success at last. So picky eaters might need a variety of approaches. Good luck! - 4/10/2009   2:20:11 PM
  • 1
    I love making vegetable soup for the kids. I can put anything in there, as long as I add at least some carrots and/butternut and blend it into a thick soup. My kids love it and won't eat any other "watery" soups. - 4/10/2009   2:14:55 PM

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