guest post: the lazy parent’s guide to raising not-picky eaters

October 8th, 2014


Today’s guest post is from my friend Susan, who was a fellow cheerleader with me in college! (Photo evidence — from way back in the day — here!) Susan’s blog, Smartly Momming, documents her new life as an ex-pat in London with two young kids — it’s a really fun read and I’ve gotten great ideas from her already!  Hope you guys enjoy her post today.)

What did your child eat for dinner last night? Nuggets and noodles? You can change this, I promise.

Our girls are not picky eaters. I use the phrase “not picky” because “good” implies to me that a kid cleans her plate. I want our children to eat vibrantly and to enjoy real food. If it is edible, our girls should try it. Of course, snooty eaters stink. I would be mortified if my girls asked at a friend’s house “where’s the tapenade?,” but at the same time, when we are at a café in Paris, we all eat the snails.

Our 18 month-old’s gustatory antics have become something of a party trick among the London set. Parents chuckle as she goes right for the adult food: okra, leeks, smoked salmon tea sandwiches, caviar, lamb kidneys, foie gras, stinky cheese, escargots, bratwurst. There is not yet one thing she has shunned (follow #thethingssheeats on Twitter and Instagram).

Here’s the thing, though: this not-pickiness was borne primarily of my own laziness.

Seriously, who has time to cook two sets of every single meal?

Embrace your inner slacker and I promise you, your children will start eating most everything you put on the plate.

Children Eat When They Are Hungry.
It’s true. If your child is not eating, she probably is not hungry. 
A close corollary here is that your child will not starve from missing a meal. Malnutrition takes time. When your child tests you and refuses her lunch, let her eat the side dish and a piece of fruit. Do not whip up a PB&J. Am I a cold, insensitive parent for saying this? Maybe so, but my kids ate all their lamb, leeks and rice last night.

Three Bites of Everything
No explanation needed. Just take three bites. Big ones. If you don’t like it, eat the other parts of the meal. Most of the time, after three bites my children realize that that the broccoli mash, or salmon patty or whatever else I have cooked is actually pretty tasty.

“Of course our cousin eats curry.” “We ran out of peanut butter.” It’s all for the greater good.
More importantly, it works. Much food fussiness is begotten of an overabundance of choice. Put it this way: if you thought you could eat pain chocolate every meal of every day, would you ever try anything different?

Never Say, “You Won’t Like That”
I am always confused when parents preemptively tell their children “oh no, honey, you won’t like that” and then hand over a stick of American cheese. If your little one reaches for roasted peppers or tikka masala, let her try it. Then lie and tell her how much her favourite cousin or friend likes the food.

Kid Menus are For Sissies.
After an exhausting day walking around gardens in Paris a few months back, I took the girls to lunch in our hotel. Our sleepy four year-old wanted chicken nuggets, so I ordered them. €26 later, we had the same nuggets I buy at Tesco served on a china platter. This is why I don’t do kids menus. Your children can eat nuggets at home. Restaurants are for trying new and exciting things.

Due to my splendid lying capabilities, the girls now love plenty of things I have never once cooked at home: crab cakes (“Daddy’s favourite”), meatloaf (“Grandma’s recipe, shared with the restaurant”), calamari (no lies needed) and squid ink risotto. When in doubt, stick with the 3 bites rule. 

Over time, your children will develop real likes and dislikes. I honour those dislikes (our four year-old, for example, doesn’t eat scallops) for a few months at a time, then explain that tastes change as you grow and we try it again. So far so good. Two girls who eat most everything.

The only problem is that my food is now ripe for their picking.

Check out more from Susan’s blog on Smartly Momming here!


Tags: guest post

9 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Stacy Dill // Oct 8, 2014 at 12:10 pm

    I absolutely, positively agree with everything your girlfriend posted here! My children are nearly grown
    (and one is completely on his own in NYC) so I know! It does help if the family travels. It can transfer to other areas of outlook on the world as well. My daughter came home last night excited about a possible internship in Costa Rica! She was born to be a picky eater. The girl is cured! She absolutely despised all seafood, then gradually began to like shrimp. On Monday night, with Dad in Boston and her brother visiting grandparents, we went to a local sushi place and she ordered fish and shrimp and miso soup with enthusiasm! On tonight’s menu, Tikka Masala! Homemade!

  • 2 Katherine Moore // Oct 8, 2014 at 1:01 pm

    At a certain toddlery age and depending on the child, you might end up with a kid who has incredible stubbornness and willpower and will choose not to eat when hungry because s/he feels so strongly about the food choice. But a) biology will take over and the kid will eat eventually, b) you will not starve the child by refusing to capitulate (though you might be in for hours of yelling), and c) even within the stubbornness there is a lot of wiggle room, which Susan mentions here. You can lie or use other tactics to make a food more attractive. So in short, I completely agree with this post.

    One strategy we use is to start with the least desired food item (vegetables), them move to the 2nd choice item (e.g. chicken), and then to the final item (pasta). We also protect our children from unhealthy, processed, tasty/addicting foods as long as possible. Yes, our almost-4-yr-old eats sweets but for about 2 years he never had a cookie, candy, ice cream, or cake. The longer you can put off the kids eating crap the more they will get used to and prefer good, healthy foods.

  • 3 Lauren // Oct 8, 2014 at 4:43 pm

    ha, love this wackiness. Lie to your children about food or like the last commenter, yell at them for hours. All wonderful ways to teach your children to be responsible adults.

  • 4 Susan // Oct 9, 2014 at 8:53 am

    I don’t think Katherine was recommending screaming at your child for hours, just alerting of the possibility that you child might whine for a bit.
    Katherine, I totally agree that starting with a vegetable is a genius move. Our French babysitter taught me that.
    With respect to lying, generally I am above that with our children, but fibbing about whether a cousin eats crab cakes is harmless. And it works!

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