Conquering the Picky-eater Syndrome

"Is this what we're having for dinner? Yuck! Can I have some macaroni and cheese?" your child complains as you bring a lovingly prepared meal to the table, your back aching from standing in the kitchen for more than an hour, and a stack of dirty pots and pans waiting in the sink. The only thing that could make the situation worse is your husband piping in with, "Or we could have hot dogs instead!"

This is a true story - it really happened to me; and I imagine that it happens in dozens of other homes in my neighborhood - and neighborhoods everywhere - on a nightly basis.

I wrote my book, 52 Weeks of Proven Recipes for Picky Kids, to help empower you to reclaim dinnertime in your home and to provide ideas, tools, and suggestions that can possibly obliterate dinnertime whining and complaining altogether, or at least reduce the complaints from nightly to monthly. The following are my top tips for conquering the picky-eater syndrome. You may feel like you've gone back in time and are just introducing your baby to solid foods, but these tips really will make a difference in what your child and spouse - and even you - enjoy over time:

It's better to take just one taste. Sometimes the threat of having to eat an entire portion is overwhelming. Promise yourself, or your child, that all that is needed is just a single bite. If, after trying a new food, you or your child insists that it’s not going to be on the menu, then simply accept it.

Be brave and introduce new foods more than once - even if it was rejected on the first try. Many of us have to try a food several times before developing a taste for it. Continue to offer a new food without force. Eventually you or your child just might acquire a taste for it.

It's important to be a role model. Let your children see you enjoy a wide variety of foods. Just like you had to show your baby how to take his first bite of strained peaches, sometimes you need to show your eight-year-old that you, too, can eat vegetables. Scheduling family meals helps kids watch the adults in their family enjoying lots of different types of food. It also keeps a family healthier and happier when you eat together.

Try foods in different forms. Your child may not like bananas, so try a smoothie with bananas and yogurt instead. Some foods that aren't so appealing in their natural state can take on a whole new appeal in a different form.

Be flexible, but disciplined. Don't snack on unhealthy foods between meals. When kids eat too many sweet treats, they are more likely to not be hungry at dinnertime, and it will be easier for them to refuse to eat what you have prepared. Instead, when your children are hungry during the day, offer them healthy snacks like vegetable sticks or sliced fruit. If they are hungry enough, they will eat them. And when your children have been snacking on healthy foods, you can be flexible enough to occasionally let them skip eating a serving of vegetables at dinner because you know they have eaten veggies earlier in the day.

Let dinner be a special time to focus on the family. Think of dinner as a chance for quality time rather than a chance to focus on the food your child won't eat. Put less pressure on eating and more emphasis on sharing the details of the day.

Let the children get involved in the preparation of dinner. Not only will you have fun, but you can almost count on children eating what they have prepared.

In addition to these general tips, here are some specific meal ideas to entertain and nourish your children:

  • Have a sweet and sour Asian food night and as your kids eat the meal, have them talk about things that make them feel sweet/good and things that make them feel sour/bad. Instead of utensils, use chopsticks. (If chopsticks turn out too difficult to eat with, fingers will do nicely, too!)
  • To change the consistency of sauces, clever moms can add pureed zucchini, squash, or carrots. Your kids won't even realize they've eaten their veggies!
  • Have a weekly pizza night and let your kids build their own pizzas. My son and daughter once actually built a 3-D pizza and made a ship with masts and sails. It didn't survive the storm in the oven, but it was so much fun.
  • Give your recipes fun names. Your kids won't be able to resist eating little pigs (sausage with rice or in a blanket).

Many of us come from a generation of quick and easy meals, so that's what we are used to. But too often, those straight-from-the-can or packaged dinners are lacking in nutrition and taste. But we can have both. Several books (including 52 Weeks of Proven Recipes for Picky Kids) and websites are designed to introduce your kids to new foods, with new ideas for making flavorful dishes that are fun, easy to make, and packed full of real nutrition for real families. (To find other resources for picky eaters, search "picky eaters" on kidscooking.about.com and kinderinfo.com, or go to kids.cdkitchen.com.)

Each week of the year, try a new meal and see if dinnertime whining turns into dinnertime pleasure as your family comes to the table. Enjoy!

Adapted from 52 Weeks of Proven Recipes for Picky Kids; Copyright 2008 by Deseret Book. Buy it here!

Get some of the recipes from the book here!

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