On picky eaters

img_0855Pic from last winter.  I thought it would be a nice point of contrast to show lovely greenhouse greenery against the snow and new igloo.  I didn’t expect her to eat it!

We’re often asked what tricks we employ to get our daughter to eat.  Everywhere we go, people are normally pretty amazed at her un-finicky eating habits.  I wouldn’t say she eats everything with extreme relish.  And she (and her parents, frankly) is a rather skinny kid: always falling around 5-20% of the national average for her age, she’s not bony but just slim.  But put a plate of frisee in front of her, or some sushi?  It will be eaten.

I’m not 100% sure what to point to.  We never gave her baby food.  She breastfed for(ever) a long time; she only got her first experience with real food when she was around 14 months.  I’m a from-scratch cook, and she’s always had a place in the kitchen.  Of course she’s had an extended upbringing within the garden itself.  She loves her chickens’ eggs.

I guess we do kind of hold the line at the table, too:  we don’t have much tolerance for pickiness.  Even with her least favorite things (sauerkraut, turnips) there’s usually something else to eat that she loves.  Tom is a picky eater (extremely so) and I try very hard for the girl to never see this or notice this.  (He’s not allowed to complain, for one, within her earshot.)  And we do play certain games with our food.  Take salad, for example.  As you well know, we eat a lot of salad around here.  She can tell you what’s what in her bowl because she’s planted it or picked it.  “That’s Brune d’Hiver, and that’s my favorite, Freckles,” she’ll say, “and that’s your favorite Amish stuff Mama, and that’s Nana’s arugula.”

Maybe she eats so well because her parents love to eat?  Each dinner is a celebration, really.  The warmth and happiness of the dinner table is my favorite time of day.  I guess it’s rubbing off on her, too.

12 responses to “On picky eaters

  1. Great photo, El. I was the world’s pickiest child, ever. I mean it! I think subconsciously it was my only way of sticking it to my mother, who was a total control freak and a horrible parent. I love her, and she’s not a bad person, but she should never have had children. She could control everyone and almost everything in the household, but when push came to shove, she couldn’t actually force me to eat. I think that became my way of screwing her over, and I sure ran with it. But as a kid, I honestly felt that most foods were repulsive. I wasn’t conscious of using my pickiness as revenge. As soon as I left home, I discovered food and cooking. I’ve never looked back, and I now eat far more broadly than she does.

    About being forbidden to complain or criticize food, I think this is key. When adults display disgust with food, kids naturally pick up on it. I think you’re very wise to control that carefully. I’m now surprised by how often I hear “Ewww” from my own mother about food I think is wholesome and tasty. I guess it’s no wonder I subsisted on hot dogs and cheerios as a kid.

    Congratulations on having a non-fussy eater!

  2. I think you just got lucky. 😉 There’s a world of difference between my kids. Ethan will at least TRY everything. Aden is a completely different story. And I think as Kate mentioned, Aden loves having that control. I cannot force her to eat, or even try things. (And as I grew up on a house where we were force fed, I’m not going to be going there anytime soon either. ) We do much of the same things you do, and there is still pickiness and refusal to try things going on alot here. Aden also hates foods to be mixed. She likes different and distinct piles on her plate and hates dishes that are mixed and jumbled like casseroles. All I can do is keep trying, keep involving her in her food every step of the way and hope she comes around. Congrats on your adventurous eater….I cannot even begin to imagine how nice that must be!!!!

  3. Angie! I had to jump in. I think you are absolutely doing the right things. The only thing I would suggest knowing your daughter and mine are the same age is have her make her own plate. Have her put the plate on the table, get her silverware, pour her milk, scoop out her dinner, eat it, scrape her leftovers, put it in the kitchen. If she feels she has some semblance of control (AND responsibility) she might just come around. And if she heaps only mashed potatoes or noodles on her plate, OH WELL. She certainly won’t starve. Or…you could let her have different little plates so things don’t get all mixy and icky. I think so much that as moms we really just want to help them and maybe in food stuff like Kate mentioned it’s not a good thing.

    Another thing: we let our daughter free feed on apples and yogurt and the like. She knows where these things are and fixes her own. Yes it can be messy but hey: she’s eating.

  4. My approach was to offer healthy food. They could eat whatever they wanted, and it was still good for them.
    I realized I may have been somewhat overzealous in my attitude when my then seventeen-year-old daughter came home with the most enormous box of Fruit Loops I had ever seen. Yuck. When I commented, she told me that she had a job, she could drive, and she was having Fruit Loops. How lucky was I that rebelling in my home meant Fruit Loops!
    She now has her own home and garden. I don’t know about the Fruit Loops.

  5. My kids aren’t picky either. They know they have to try whatever is served. My girl actually brags to her friends the “gross stuff” she eats, like guacamole.
    You are allowed to not like 2 things in our house. After that, you have to eat it.

  6. Just as long as you don’t placate them with hot dogs and Kraft mac ‘n’ cheese.
    When I was a kid, I asked my mom if I could eat that tomato, whole. “Sure!” How about that potato, raw? “Sure!” Bless her. (Well, she did think I was too skinny, so she was happy to see me eat anything. But never Fruit Loops!:D)

  7. I have 3 children and they are all different. My daughter is adventurous and will try just about anything- I really haven’t found anything she won’t eat. My middle child is much more difficult. It’s hard to get him to try something new. The rule at our house is you have to eat at least 2 bites and then if you REALLY don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it. He has issues with textures (he won’t eat bread that has ‘stuff’ in it). My youngest has strong dislikes that he has had all his life (he HATES potatoes- even french fries!) but other than that he is pretty adventurous and is usually willing to at least try something new.
    You are fortunate that your daughter is like mine, willing to try just about anything. I do think that having them help in the garden and kitchen helps tremendously. My youngest wouldn’t eat cucumbers until he grew them himself and now he can’t get enough.

  8. “we don’t have much tolerance for pickiness”

    I think that’s a big part of it. The pickiest eaters I know are the ones who use it as an attention-getter…and get lots of attention for it! (This includes one adult. I refuse to “cook special” for her anymore.)

  9. I think the parents not being picky is a key thing too, just in terms of general fussiness — mental impressions can do a lot to appetite. My mom made a point of eating lima beans, which she really disliked, to show us we could (and had to) eat things we didn’t like either. My brother was allowed to use ketchup on his peas, which he hated, but he had to eat the peas. I had to eat (canned) cranberry sauce, which I avoid to this day, even though I love most fruits, vegetables, berries, and nuts.

    Funny thing is, the food I hated the absolute most, homemade macaroni and cheese (my mother always shredded cheddar and used condensed milk) are the two things I am now prohibited from eating because they cause an immune reaction: gluten and dairy.

    I often wonder whether kids’ bodies are telling them something when they refuse to eat certain foods.

  10. I have one picky kid and one who loves hot sauce, curry and anything pickled (she’s nearly 3). Both of them have strong thoughts on veggies. If it is from mummy’s garden then it’s yummy but bring it in the house and it’s a suspicious leaf/root/shoot/fruit thing. If we go to a restaurant – forget it. They seem to like their leaves straight from the plant.

    Both my kids were also breastfed for an exteeeeeeeeeeeended period.

  11. I only hope that if and when we have kids, we’re as lucky as you!

  12. Kate, I wish your story were yours alone but I think there’s a lot behind it. I don’t know why the dinner table becomes a battle: it should be a fun place to be, you know? But I agree. Keeping one’s food opinions to oneself is very key to not influencing young eaters. My husband, for one, hates cheese. I love cheese, especially the stinkier the better. He needs to hold his tongue if I make a gnocchi with gorgonzola, end of story!

    Angie, Aden is also the one with the allergies. What Firefly says kind of rings true, you know? Maybe they hate things because of what the food does to their little insides. That’s why I recommended letting her serve her own plate.

    Ah, Pamela, you and my mom come from the same school. When I first paid my own way (college) I ate peanut M&Ms and Diet Coke. Sigh. I came to my senses, eventually, in grad school. But how great to have a gardening daughter!

    Michelle that’s pretty cool! Bragging rights. I do turn it back on my girl a little bit and bring up history if she’s being picky: when you were a little kid, you used to LOVE tofu, I would say. Really? she asks, then eats her food. Evil mom that I am…

    CC, now see? You’ve got your mom to thank for being a foodie! I guess the only time I say no is if it’s too close to dinner. Otherwise it’s carte blanche.

    Judy, you’re right: having them help does give them a level of investment in it, doesn’t it? After all that time growing those cukes, he figured he better like them! Anyway, it’s a great lesson for him. Have your older boy help you make bread with mixies in it, and maybe he’ll also have a revelation. Most chefs have to learn how to be bakers too.

    Emily, you are on to something there. Again, it is about control and the bizarre reinforcement that kind of happens when parents (or friends) simply concede and whip out the hot dogs. Personally I think food is far too important and would never shortcut an “issue” with our girl by simply giving her what she wants. My husband is a much bigger softie on this, though, but then again he was the one who has the long list of food issues (which I ignore, frankly).

    Firefly, I think you are right and that your body was telling you something about why you hated that mac and cheese. Isn’t that interesting. When I was around 2.5, I also became intolerant to wheat and dairy. Gosh I am glad that didn’t last long and I think it’s why I hate white rice to this day (that, and veggies, are what I ate). But yes parental attitude in MOST things is huge!

    OG: yep, extended breastfeeding is pretty awesome all around for the little guys. Luckily we both just stopped: I didn’t need to stop HER. As you know, what you eat is passed through you so the kids are exposed to all kinds of tastes through the milk. Such a wonderful, varied diet they get then! And yes I remember well the whole disconnect between the yucky stuff on the plate and yummy leaves in the garden: I ended up really involving her then in the cleaning and the chopping of the veggies and it helped her a lot.

    Katie, well, shucks! Yes maybe it is the luck of the draw initially but the homelife and parental expectations do reinforce things too…

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