How to Engage Your Picky Eater

I once was a picky eater, but had forgotten what made me so picky, until I had my own little picky eater at home. The distant memories came flooding back pretty quickly.

It really can change the mood in the entire household when one child refuses to eat. So much of myself goes into planning, prepping and preparing healthy meals for my family, that it really feels personal when my daughter scoffs at the food on the table. The gagging noises, screaming, refusing to eat and words like ‘gross’ and ‘disgusting’ swirl around meal times. This doesn’t make for a pleasant dining atmosphere. In fact, I couldn’t wait to finish my food and start cleaning up, which wasn’t fair to the others at the table.

Determined, I am constantly dreaming up new ways to feed her, and my other two kids, and keep their bodies healthy. My ‘thumbs up’ rate from my picky eater was about 20% – until I started engaging her in the kitchen.

It is important to listen to your picky eater and really hear what is bothering them and take note of the healthy foods they do like. Acknowledging them by offering foods they like will be beneficial to all involved as well. Many times it is not even the food, but a feeling of lack of control in the home. Don’t get me wrong texture, taste and presentation definitely play a role too!

As we are into a new school year with homework and activities increasing, I wanted to find a way to help my daughter. So, I came up with a plan to incorporate food preferences and personalities into the weekly meals.

Here is what we do to engage our picky eater:

  • Each week my husband and I sit down and figure out the meals and grocery list. It is a time sucker, but worth it! However, our new routine is incorporating our children’s wishes (including the kid-friendly recipes they’d like) into the mix. I know it sounds more difficult, but hear me out.
  • Each week my girls (10 and 12) – my little guy is still a bit young for this – will pick a meal they want on the menu. They are responsible for providing my husband and I with the ingredients for the grocery list (after checking the fridge and pantry to make sure we are not duplicating anything). Many times they will also go with my husband to do the grocery shopping as well.
  • On their night of the week to cook, it’s their job to prep, cook (with me as a sous chef), set the table and clean up. The stipulations are that veggies must be included in the meal, recipes are not allowed to be repeated each week and a new recipe is to be incorporated each month.

This is definitely a work in progress, but the whole process has enabled my daughter to understand the value of money, the work involved in preparing meals and the satisfaction when compliments are given from the family. We also now engage in more family talks about school, friends, and challenges in their day around meal time. Hallelujah!

It is not a perfect world, so we still have the odd noise, scream or words that escape from her mouth, but they are more manageable now. Her creativity is flowing, too! She loves to create special ‘kid drinks’ on the weekends for her brother and sister and make them fancy with a slice of peach on the side. Setting the table is an event too – with folded napkins, plating the food and special glasses. She often asks to help make meals with certain kitchen gadgets and I will ask her opinion on flavours, which allows her to really taste the food before making a face or uttering words. She is starting to understand more of herself in the process too, all of which makes my heart sing!

The meals that the kids choose are not always my favourite and don’t always adhere to what I strive for, but they are taking responsibility and learning to appreciate food in a different way. If I ask them to try, then I need to try as well.

When my daughter can see all the components that go into a meal, instead of having her imagination run wild with all the different flavours and textures just put in front of her, it truly makes a difference in the willingness to try foods and experiment with different tastes on her meal night.

It also gives me time in the kitchen to teach them about the world we live in and the food available to us. There are certain ingredients that don’t make their way into my kitchen (like high fructose corn syrup, yellow and red dyes, and anything you can’t pronounce or you feel it should be from a chem lab).

Educating is a big part of what I try and express. Once you have the knowledge, you can start to integrate strategies and food choices that will nourish rather than deplete our children’s bodies.

Image: iStock/gpointstudio