Both of my girls love to eat — and not just processed foods and sweets.
When my now-17-year-old was 7, she was eating salads as the main course at dinner. My 3-year-old recently passed over chips and guacamole for pretzels and hummus at a party.
Not all parents are this lucky.
Sue Bevens, of Walnut Creek, has bought every kids' cookbook she could put her hands on. Nothing she made tempted her 4-year-old daughter, Ava, to eat anything except pizza and toast with jelly. Then, out of desperation, she took Ava to Trader Joe's and gave her a child-size shopping cart. “You can buy whatever you want,” Bevens told Ava. “But whatever you buy, you have to try.”
Into the cart went apples, tomatoes, sliced cheese, pre-made burritos — and a package of cookies. The cookies helped Bevens to get Ava to try the other foods first. And it turned out that the apples, cheese and burritos were hits.
“Part of it was her need for control,” Bevens said, “but I also think shopping and, now, eating have become more like an adventure for her.”
That's also the mood I try to set with my 3-year-old, Carolyn. Every night, she drags her step stool into the kitchen to help me cook. As I slice and dice things, she always want to “try a little bit.” Self-discovery is how she got turned on to carrots, peas, green beans and every kind of fruit (except blueberries and raspberries, which she calls “funny tasting”).
Thousands of articles and blogs online, as well as hundreds of books, cater to families with “picky or finicky” eaters.
Christina Le Beau wishes that phrase could be banned from our language.
“'Picky eater' has become a crutch and an excuse to fall back on easy, so-called 'kid foods,' the notorious standards that everyone laments but too few seem willing to forgo,” says Le Beau, author of the blog “Spoon-fed: Raising Kids to Think About the Food They Eat.”
As she further explains, Happy Meals and Lunchables exist because that's the type of food adults think children want to eat.
Instead, Le Beau and professional organizations, from the Mayo Clinic to the American Academy of Pediatrics, suggest letting children make their own choices, while parents provide the right environment. The Mayo Clinic even offers 10 strategies for helping “picky eaters.” These include respecting a child's appetite (or lack of one), sticking to routines with meals and snacks, being patient with new foods, making it fun and being creative, letting children help, setting a good example, minimizing distractions, not offering dessert as a reward and not making a separate meal for children who reject the first option.
Jill Dorsett, of Gilroy, found that latter trick to be hard — but ultimately it was the way to success. She tried to make at least three different side dishes each night with her family's meals. Then she would pass the dishes to her four children and let them take what they wanted. Her youngest son, Sam, refused most of the dishes.
“Eventually, he realized this was all he'd get and he started trying a small spoonful of this and that,” Dorsett said. “Sam is now a sous-chef who has eaten things even I wouldn't want to try.”
Janet Burdick, of San Jose, opted for the creative route when her daughter, Zoe, refused to eat any green vegetables except frozen peas. Burdick came up with “green soup.”
“When I made a soup that contained green vegetables like broccoli, celery, cabbage and/or zucchini, Zoe would eat it happily if it contained potatoes and, most importantly, if I put it in the blender,” Burdick said. “It was the texture and sight of green vegetables that put her off. Now, at age 27, she makes her own versions of green soup regularly, and this soup has become a symbol of a way we discovered to work together despite differences.”
Margie Gilbrater, of Fremont, found her solution in a bowl of shredded cheese. She served her son the same meal as the rest of the family, then let him top everything with cheese.
“After about a year, he used less and less cheese,” Gilbrater said. “He realized the meats and veggies tasted fine by themselves.”
For all parents, patience, apparently, is the key.