No Picky Eater Zone

When I say we don’t permit our children to be picky eaters, I should clarify that we also do not shovel spoonfuls of food down an unwilling throat, making a child gag. I try to have something on the table that each person will eat- even if it’s just brown rice or home-made bread. Each person is allowed one food that they do not like and do not have to eat. For one child it’s fish. For another it’s tortillas. For another it’s mushrooms. Nobody is allowed to choose beans. For everything else, every person in the family has to have at least one tiny taste of everything that is served. If they don’t like it, they can fill up on other foods in the meal. But unless it’s their one food item they never have to have, next time I serve it, they have to take one more tiny bite. I do not even require a full mouthful- just the merest taste. Over time, most children will get used to and even acquire a taste for almost anything this way (there’s a spiritual metaphor there. It also helps if, when they are babies, you do not succumb to popular fallacies and assume that children don’t like X so you should never try it. We start giving them the same strange and unusual foods the rest of eat, foods ‘kids don’t like’ as soon as they are able to eat them. I think it’s very telling that our pickiest eater, the one who has the hardest time with the most foods, had the least variety as an infant and toddler because she didn’t join the family until she was nearly four years old. At that time, she’d never seen broccoli and I was told she would only eat tacos, hamburgers and french fries. So start your kids on a lot of variety and flavors when they are too tiny to know they won’t like it, and you will be surprised how seldom you have to enforce the ‘take a small taste of everything’ rule.

Caveat- some children do have allergy, food intolerance, and sensitivity issues. I would not follow this program with an autistic child, for instance, and I would be very, very careful about doing this with a newly adopted child.

And I must emphasize the value of a tiny taste. Sometimes this ‘taste’ is so tiny that it’s a bite not even as big as a baby pea, a homeopathic taste. I want the tiny taste to acclimate their tastebuds to the new food over time. Making a child gag will accomplish exactly the opposite.

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5 Comments

  1. Queen of Carrots
    Posted May 18, 2007 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    Neither of the ducklings is very picky in the sense of not liking foods, but they can be quite picky when it comes to which food they want to eat in the largest quantity. Invariably this is the most expensive/time consuming dish on the table. (Tomatoes out of season, say, or straight meat, or muffins.) We usually wind up insisting you must eat so much of X before you get any more Y, but this seems to lead to a lot of battles especially between one and two. Is there an easier way to deal with it?

  2. B. Durbin
    Posted May 19, 2007 at 1:51 am | Permalink

    If you only ever feed a child certain things, she will only like those certain things. My mother thinks of me as a picky child, a hangover from when she was trying leftover experiments such as macaroni pizza.

    The macaroni pizza is rather infamous amongst my siblings. The fact that it was crunchy did not improve its charm.

    At any rate, she occasionally expresses surprise at my adventurous nature regarding food these days. But I was never really that picky— I just had problems with weird cooking. I love my mom, but she’s never really liked to cook and it would occasionally show through. She’s a better cook now that she doesn’t have to do it all the time, too.

  3. Baleboosteh
    Posted May 20, 2007 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

    We use the ‘you must at least try it’ approach too, with varying degrees of success. I am so relieved to hear that the ‘homeopathic’ morsel counts, as I was rather worried that we were kidding ourselves. You are right, sometimes it is no bigger than a baby pea (and baby peas get short shrift too). Our four year old son is, well, lets say ‘challenging’ and has an inflexible, practically neophobic streak when it comes to food. I invariably eat his portion of supper for lunch the next day. I try, as you say, to include something he will like in every meal and try not to make food into a battleground but it is so hard (especially around other people). He is quite happy though, full of energy and rarely, praise God, sick. He enjoys the small range of foods he does eat and has this wonderful knack of stopping when he has had enough. It is me who worries over whether this will turn out to be the right approach or not. Ah, motherhood!

  4. Posted April 16, 2013 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    I love your approach! I do have one question, is there a time- once a year, once every few years… that you ask them to try their forbidden food to see if their taste buds have changed? Thanks for sharing this!

    • Headmistress, zookeeper
      Posted April 16, 2013 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

      I don’t require it, but it generally occurs naturally as they grow older. With maturity, they will often just give the disdained food a try themselves voluntarily. Or they will be at somebody else’s house and that food is served and they can’t exactly refuse it with good manners. Of course, it does make a difference what the food is. The child who dislikes tortillas is confronted with far more ‘opportunities’ to test her tastebuds again than the child who disdains beets. But funnily enough, the tortilla hater still hates them, and the beet hater doesn’t still loathe beets.

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