Buddy Hackett once said, “My mother’s menu consisted of two choices: Take it or leave it.”
For those in my generation and older, that probably sounds about right. Even if our mothers never actually said that, we knew it to be the truth. Many of my younger friends often ask what to do about picky eaters, and how best to make them not so picky.
Of course the best advice always uses the old cliché, “Hindsight is 20/20.” So my best advice is to start early. Early as in when they are in a high chair.
Of course you would want to follow the advice from your pediatrician. If she agrees, try to introduce as many different foods as possible to your baby/toddler so they get used to trying new things and are not so hesitant.
How many times do we parents say, “If you would just try it, I know you would like it.” Toddlers often like frozen foods such as peas or other items that are healthy and normally served hot.
When our children were all quite young, I tried to plan meals that had at least two things I knew they would eat, and then one thing either I knew they probably wouldn’t like but wanted them to try. For example, I knew they would eat spaghetti and carrot sticks, but wasn’t so sure about broccoli. I also always tried to have things like apple slices, grapes, etc., because I knew they would eat fruit.
If you have an elementary-age child who is really picky, consider sneaking in some veggies. I was never above that with my kids. I used to steam cauliflower, puree it in the food processor with some butter and milk, and then add some grated cheddar cheese and cooked elbow macaroni. Voila! Healthy mac and cheese that every child loves.
Another trick I used to do was making a variety of muffins with grated zucchini, grated carrots and so on. You can really steam and puree a wide variety of vegetables and add to soups, gravies and sauces.
It also helps to make meals fun. Add baby spinach to scrambled eggs and serve with ham and tell the kids you are having “Green Eggs and Ham” … Dr. Suess’s classic book will be honored. We also have used cooking contests, so that each child prepared their “signature” dish, and we got to judge. For the most part, when kids help you prepare a dish, they are much more likely to try it.
Now here is some tough love. Some mothers tell me, “My children will only eat junk food.”
Um, unless your 7-year-old has a job, I’m sure you’re the one buying junk food. I’m also pretty sure that all children get enough junk food when they are not at home, so try weaning them off of it and replacing it with healthy snacks.
I promise they will not starve. When they whine about being hungry, smile and offer them an apple with some cheddar cheese, or carrots with fat-free ranch dressing.
If this seems extreme, remember that teaching your children about nutrition is really a lifelong gift.
Resident Adlen Robinson is author of “Home Matters: The Guide to Organizing Your Life and Home.” E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.