If you have children or grandchildren, you have likely had to confront a picky eater or two. This can be extremely frustrating to parents who go to the trouble of cooking dinner and want their children to eat a healthy meal.
When we were raising our four children, it always amazed me how one child might be willing to try just about everything, and another wanted nothing to do with anything green — unless it was a piece of green candy. That being said, I do have lots of strategies (some work on certain kids — some might work if you keep trying) to help you convert picky eaters to try new things and discover many things they actually DO like. Let’s do this.
If you have toddlers or super young children, begin early on introducing new foods to them. A toddler might like to chew on a green bean while you are cooking dinner. Top some chopped broccoli with a little cheese sauce and you might see a young child gobble up several servings. Some children will eat just about anything if it is dipped in ketchup or ranch dressing.
If your children are elementary school aged, get them in on the meal preparation. Children are much more likely to try new foods they had a hand in preparing.
For example, when making something like vegetable soup, let them help you chop vegetables (with close supervision), saute them, stir the soup and taste for seasonings. Look for alphabet shaped pasta or some other interesting shape.
It is best to cook the pasta separately and add it to individual bowls. If you store leftover soup with the cooked pasta in the soup, the pasta tends to absorb all of the broth, leaving you with a delicious pasta, but not much soup.
If you have middle or high school aged children, chances are their palates are somewhat entrenched as to what they will or will not eat. Don’t give up! Sometimes the trick is to involve them heavily in the meal planning and preparation department.
Even though most children look at their screens constantly, why not head to the library and check out a pile of cookbooks. There is something about seeing those beautiful food photographs that tend to make your mouth water.
Let your children browse through the cookbooks and pick out some recipes to try. If possible, take them with you to the grocery store so they can see the entire process from beginning to the end — the end being a delicious dinner. You might be surprised how being more “in charge” of dinner sparks their interest in trying new foods.
Make cooking dinner, especially on the weekends when you might have more time, a family activity. Our children always loved homemade pizza night.
Set out bowls of toppings, including healthy options such as fresh tomatoes, basil, minced peppers, sliced olives, along with pizza staples such as various shredded cheeses, pepperoni, and marinara sauce. Either make your own pizza dough or purchase your favorite dough. Let everybody make their own small pizza pie and top them how they like them.
Another fun thing to make is sushi. Of course you can watch online videos for instructions on how to make sushi rolls, but I promise it is super easy once you get the hang of it.
All you is a bamboo sushi mat, some seaweed sheets (you can get these at almost every grocery store), some sushi rice (look for short grain varieties specifically for sushi), rice vinegar, and various sushi roll fillings. For more tips on making sushi, read my food column this week.
Whenever possible, incorporate vegetables in as many dishes as possible. For example, most children love spaghetti and meatballs or just spaghetti with meat sauce.
Try adding finely minced red bell pepper, mushrooms, onions, and garlic to boost the nutritional value of the sauce. When you brown the meat or the meat balls, drain off any excess fat. Of course using bottled spaghetti sauce is quick, but the sodium content is almost always off the charts. In addition, most have lots of added things you simply don’t need.
It is so simple to make your own sauce. Just saute some onions and garlic, add a can or two of whole tomatoes (crushing with a wooden spoon), or crushed tomatoes. Season with salt, crushed red peppers, Italian seasoning, fresh basil leaves, and a splash of red wine. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 20-30 minutes. Taste for seasoning and you are set.
If you have young children, check out Russell Hoban’s 1964 timeless classic children’s book, “Bread and Jam for Frances.”
It was one of my favorites when I was a little girl, and all of our children loved the story as well. Frances (a member of the badger family), only wants to eat bread and jam. Her brilliant mother gets tired of Frances’ constant complaints about various foods, so she tells Frances she can eat bread and jam for every single meal
Needless to say, Frances gets tired of bread and jam very quickly and changes her ways and decides to try new foods. It is a cute book, has a great message, and the illustrations, by Lillian Hoban are wonderful. All of the Frances books are adorable.
No matter what, don’t give up on your picky eater. Our youngest was the pickiest eater of all of our children and now he eats pretty much everything — and he cooks almost every night.
Adlen Robinson is an award winning columnist and author of “Organic Food and Kitchen Matters.” You can email her at email@example.com.