Children don’t have a penchant for sugar and garbage that will ruin their health. It is well-known that food manufacturers go to extraordinary lengths to infuse their pharmaceutical-esque frankenfoods with chemicals that excite dopamine in the brain effectively braking the feedback mechanisms that indicate satiety. The idea of ‘kid food’ is a modern invention by such anti-food companies and encouraged by doctors, both of whom stand to profit from your child’s failing health while creating a picky eater in the process.
From depression to food allergies, most, if not all, disease states can be traced back to poor food choices and in particular mass-produced crapola shipped over large distances aimed at separating you from your hard-earned cash all the while keeping you on the degrading health hamster wheel upon which the government can measure its economy. Once you relinquish consumption of real food in favor of trusting a faceless entity with preparing your meals, not only do they get rich, but so does everyone from your doctor to the undertakers. It’s a win for everyone, but the consumer — that is, YOU!
It struck me how far the US has to go to fix this problem about 17 years ago when we began taking our kids to Europe, where kids menus did not exist. Restaurants, acknowledging that children are simply small adults, offered either offered us an extra plate for our daughters to share from our plates or half of an adult portion for half the price — depending on the age of the child. Recognizing that children may get antsy while awaiting the meal, they would offer a small snack — a few slices of apple, a soft pretzel (Berlin), cold cuts or slices of cheese.
Decades of brainwashing have led to not only an epidemic of picky children, who in turn suffer from obesity and diseases of the elderly, but also picky adults with child-like, often complicated, food preferences and aversions. Few of these people are expected to outlive their parents. Whether child or adult, dealing with a picky eater is a pain in the tuchus.
As someone who once dealt with severe food sensitivities to a wide variety of foods and was met with more hostility than picky eaters get, I take offense to being asked to jump through hoops for someone with shape-shifting food aversions. Quite frankly, I’m done with changing my dinner menu for the one guy in the room, who makes special requests for gluten-free food so he can partake, only to find him eating wheat flour burritos at the local taquería the following weekend.
The above scenario depicts picky eating as a conscious decision. This does a disservice to those with legitimate food sensitivities and allergies. Anyone with true allergies in all their forms knows that they simply cannot eat reactive foods no matter the setting. So what drives someone to claim an allergy where none exists? A need to control one’s environment? A desire for attention? A wish to be part of a trend of being able to use a buzz word or jump on the bandwagon with all your friends who have adopted one dietary restriction or another? I have no idea, but there is an increasing body of research to suggest any of these could lie at the heart of a picky eater.
There is another picky eater, who in some ways has a more legitimate reason for making special requests. They simply didn’t have a good experience. In other words, the dish was either poorly executed or prepared in a way that highlighted its least flattering attributes.
Many of the cooking videos soon to be featured on my Nutrition Heretic YouTube channel will address picky eaters of all shapes and sizes. Simply look for the “Picky Eater Approved” stamp (#PickyEaterApproved) in the recipes.
In the meantime, here are a few tips to break the habit of picky eating in your house.
1. Start Out Right
If you’re lucky enough to be reading this before having children, remember just one thing to help head off picky eating: Keep your children away from Cheerios® and their organic imposter cousins! I’m serious! A few decades ago, the makers of Cheerios had a marketing campaign to promote books designed with a string across pages upon which the candy-like extruded cereal was to be hung while reading to your child.
The image of snuggling down with your little one unconsciously stuffing their faces with baby crack was too irresistible for some parents. The sales spiel about helping with hand-eye coordination was too precious to go ignored. Not buying into this seemed tantamount to child abuse.
Know what else helps with hand-eye coordination? A spoon!
I would argue that using a spoon is far superior to sticking one’s fingers in her own mouth as the distance of the handle to the part where the food is must be calculated. Children have already learned the distance of their hands to their mouths through sucking of thumbs and fingers long before they ever get to eating solids.
Yet every picky child I have met has a history of snacking on little O’s or their equivalent as one of their first foods. Just say, “No!”
If your kid is older and you’re having issues, the next step may be of help.
2. Making Food Fun the Right Way For Picky Eaters
Darn near every child’s birthday party has the cheapest pizza from a local pizzeria delivered under the assumption that that’s all children want or will eat. Pizza, therefore, comes to symbolize “party” and “fun” in young minds. I’m no psychologist, but I’m pretty confident that my assessment of this association is accurate. Furthermore, it has been proven true in my rudimentary experiments.
Rather than masking pumpkin in boxed cake — which by the way is a loss, not a win — I believe we can use the “fun” approach to win children over. I do this with theme parties and movie nights.
Theme parties and weekend dinners go a long way to luring children away from the hum-drum of the same fare over and over. Does your kid take karate classes? Have a movie night where you watch The Karate Kid and make sushi rolls and miso soup. We’re currently planning an anime party featuring the favorite foods of the characters in the show My Hero Academia. The menu consists of karaage (small pieces of fried chicken), candied apples (bite-sized chunks coated in what will be my version of the sweet glaze), crudité, cold soba (buckwheat) noodles, katsudon (fried pork cutlet), and onigiri (rice balls).
Perhaps your child digs archaeology and ancient Egypt. Why not a party featuring foods of the region such as mezze (hummus, babaganoush, tabbouleh, köfte and kebabs) with baklava for dessert? If it’s movie night, watch Night at the Museum or one of The Mummy movies.
When my older daughter was fascinated by Queen Nefertiti, we threw her a birthday party where Middle Eastern food became the central theme. One mom told me for months how her six-year old would only eat sweets and an occasional hot dog for protein. At the party, however, she was so hungry and having so much fun that her usual mantra, “I don’t like meat,” took a back seat. Immediately, her mom ran up to me to tell me that she was excited to see her daughter tearing into a plate of barbecued lamb. LAMB! A meat that many people dismiss as gamey and unappealing. For years, until we left New Jersey, that mom would remind me that lamb was still the only meat her daughter would eat.
At our Pirates of the Caribbean party, one boy discovered a love of string beans sautéed in butter (not particularly representative of Caribbean cooking, but we had them on hand); another boy with a spectrum disorder — these children are particularly picky due to biochemical imbalances in the brain — discovered that he liked tostones, which are green plantains cooked in bacon fat or lard, then smashed and returned to fry once more; and yet another almost malnourished little boy discovered his first Jamaican beef patty.
What are your kids into? Disney princesses? Make finger sandwiches and have a tea party. Watching Coco? Why not plan a Mexican night using the opportunity to introduce tamales, horchata or some new moles (other than guacamole)? Get it?
If your kids are still quite little and a bit squeamish, try saying, “This is what [INSERT NAME OF MAIN CHARACTER] eats. You might like it too!” You’d be surprised how useful that can be just to get them to try.
3. Homemade Rules
It is complete heresy to say this, but CHILDREN LIKE REAL FOOD like men like being in charge of the grill. There is an innate appreciation for fresh food — meat, dairy, vegetables etc — that has been squashed by marketing, movies, television, books and the well-meaning, yet misguided adults in their lives.
About 15 years ago, a boy from my daughter’s preschool had a party one morning. Knowing that I’m a Certified Nutritionist, she gave me a heads up that she’d serve boxed mac and cheese for lunch. As luck would have it, it was during the holiday season and I had stashed a little of my own Righteous Mac n’ Cheese in the freezer.
The morning of the gathering, donut holes, brightly colored cereals, and other sugary fare was on display. Luckily, my daughter had no idea it was food and showed no interest despite the fact that all the other littles were getting their crack on.
When it was time to eat, as the mom opened up a few boxes of Kraft, I opened Daisy’s thermos of reheated macaroni and cheese. Then came comments from the peanut gallery — i.e. the other moms. “Oh! That’s the good stuff! My kids refuse to eat that. We have to make them the boxed one, if we want them to eat. Blah, blah, blah….”
As the host mom chimed in, her younger son, sitting next to Daisy, grabs the lid of her thermos and starts licking it! Then he went back for more!
Think of it this way. Kraft Foods didn’t invent macaroni and cheese, although I believe they gave it the nickname ‘mac n’ cheese’. They chose to make an approximation of the already popular macaroni dish. It was popular because it was freaking amazing! When we realize that, feeding the family becomes so much more rewarding.
Listen to End Picky Eating Forever with Guest Heretic Jennifer Scribner for more great tips!
Here’s another example of a picky eater approved meal.
We once had some classmates over after school on a Friday night, when I happened to have pizza dough rising. I gave each girl (including mine) a piece of dough to shape, sauce, cheese and farm-fresh veggies to top them at their discretion.
When the mom showed up, she said, “Sadie, you’re eating pizza? You hate pizza!” To which Sadie replied, “It’s the best pizza ever!”
Despite already knowing she was a picky eater, it never would’ve occurred to me that serving pizza — the typical party favorite — was a rogue move on my part. I simply wanted to give the kids the experience of knowing how to make pizza opening the opportunity up to test out new toppings.
This scenario played out again about a year later, when her mom was surprised to see her eating popcorn I popped fresh with butter and salt in a pot, not a microwave. That’s how you make “the best popcorn ever!”
Cooking from the heart makes a difference that I believe can be sensed by the person eating it. Despite all the commercials telling you the contrary, cooking with love can fit into a busy lifestyle with a little forethought and flexing your ingenuity muscle. Ditch the conditioning that tells you it’s too hard or that you don’t have time or that you can’t afford the good ingredients or that your kids won’t eat it or that YOU won’t like it!
I like to think of it this way: I’d rather spend the time in my kitchen than in the waiting room of the doctor’s office or hanging out at the pharmacy waiting for a prescription to be filled.
You may quote me 😉
4. Protect Young Ears from Hate Speech
Picky children often have at least one picky parent, grandparent or other influential friend from school or adult (like a teacher) in their lives who tries to undermine their parents’ efforts to provide good nutrition. With so many food cults and marketing to hawk non-food items as somehow better than food, it’s no wonder.
Never let your kids hear you say you don’t like a particular food because it is that particular food. My husband, for example, did not like beef liver for a long time. I got him to LOVE chicken livers (the way I make them) early in our relationship, but beef or lamb liver put him off due to “bad memories and textural issues.”
Knowing how excellent it is for brain development, I chose to only serve it on days when he was traveling for work. This was rather frequent. I didn’t want to put him in the position of being uncomfortable trying to choke down something he didn’t really want to eat or accidentally let it slip that he wasn’t a fan.
If you’ve never seen a 2- and 9-year old devour 2 pounds of beef liver, it is a sight to behold. I had to stake a claim on my own portion before running back to grab the mashed potatoes or I would be out of luck. LOL!
Watch your language around food. Set boundaries with other parents too, if needed. You may find that even your own parents will try to undermine your efforts to feed your children well. That said, I’m all for parents politely declining a particular boxed, canned, jarred, or frozen atrocity in front of their child. This teaches etiquette as well as shows that you don’t need to feel lured into consuming something that runs contrary to your values.
One pitfall to avoid is calling birthday cake, donut holes, Taco Bell, Funions or whatever a “treat” or in anyway special. When the hell did we turn the corner to believing that something synonymous with tooth decay, diabetes and high blood pressure is in any way beneficial or desirable?
Treat implies rare. But most people eat such “treats” daily, often several times per day. The psychological reasons for needing to self-medicate with treats is beyond the scope of this post. For now, simply learn to observe your language with regards to food.
I am excited to share the Holy Chow Cooking Show with you. I hope it will serve you greatly on your quest for better health for you and your picky eater(s).
What about you? Do you have a picky eater at home? How do you get real food into them?