Stop Saying “Picky Eater”, Please

We’ve all heard the expression “every child is different” when it comes to anything that has to do with child development – potty training, school performance, basketball skills, learning to walk and talk.

Eating and trying new foods is no exception.  According to a USDA website, it takes some kids up to a dozen tries before accepting new foods.

When I hear someone describe a child as a “picky eater”, it’s like nails on a chalkboard.  It’s an excuse.  It’s justification to stop trying.  It’s a negative label.  Children begin to make conscious decisions about what they like and don’t like from the moment they are born.  Children also hear what their parents are saying.  I witnessed a child reaching for carrots at a party and his mom said, “Oh, you aren’t gonna like those.”  I cringed.

My 2-year-old triplets are proof that every child is different – especially when it comes to food.  I’m amazed at how differently each of them eats because I know that they’ve been presented with the same exact food the same exact number of times throughout their 2 years of being exposed to food.  When we eat together as a family of 5, the kids eat what my husband and I eat. Ever since they started eating solid food at about 4 months old, I made a mental note not to become a short-order cook in my own kitchen.

My daughter, “H” (the oldest triplet…by a minute), is my most adventurous eater.  I really can’t think of anything she won’t try.  She eats grapes and apples like they’re going out of style.  She loves shrimp and carrots (I think she’ll be my first sushi eater).  She’s also obsessed with Food Network and loves helping me in the kitchen.

My son, “M” (the middle triplet), is a fruit fanatic.  He devours strawberries, blueberries, oranges, grapes, apples.  He requests burgers for dinner and won’t pass up a bowl of pasta either.  Guacamole is an everyday request, too.  Sometimes he’ll gobble down multiple servings of broccoli and other times turns his nose up at it.

My son, “D” (the youngest triplet), can be described as my meat eater.  He loves chicken, salmon, steak, mahi mahi.  Oh, and hummus.  This boy loves hummus.  The only whole fruit he’ll eat, though, is bananas.  He loves applesauce, but not apples. I’m pretty sure he could win a sweet potato-eating contest if we entered him in one.

My point here?  Every child is different – not picky.  Even though odds are that D won’t devour broccoli like M – he still gets a serving of it on his plate because maybe today’s the day he will.  What’s that old basketball saying?  “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”.  In food terms, if a food isn’t offered to a child – they can’t eat it.

Maybe there are other positive terms that could be used instead of “picky eater”.  Selective eater?  Meticulous eater?  Or how about we just don’t label them as anything at all.

It’s never too late to try new foods with a child.  Yes, the older they get the harder it is to get them to try it.  That’s when it’s time to get creative.

Here are some tips for getting a child involved in food, cooking, and eating:

  • Take them grocery shopping with you and talk to them about the foods you’re selecting.
  • Let them choose a new fruit or vegetable to try each week.
  • Thumb through some cookbooks with your child and let them choose a recipe that they can make with you.
  • Present foods in a fun way.  Not all the time, though.  Kids need to understand that fruit can be eaten even if it’s not presented in the shape of a rainbow.  Here are some ideas on Pinterest.
  • Be honest about what they’re eating.  My husband and I have never lied to our kids when they ask what’s in a dish.  Or we’ll tell them that they’re eating mahi mahi, but it tastes a lot like chicken.  That’s better than lying to them and telling them they’re eating chicken.
  • Involve them in the kitchen.  I don’t have any scientific proof that involving a child in the kitchen will get him or her to eat it, but it seems to work in our household.  I’m not gonna lie and say I involve them in every meal I prepare, but I do it as much as possible.  Even if it’s just letting them sit at the table while they watch me cook and I explain what I’m doing – that’s a big part of getting a child to appreciate food.
  • Tell them they don’t have to like it, but they have to try it.  I learned this from one of my favorite books, French Kids Eat Everything.  After they try it, ask them to describe it to you and what they liked or didn’t like about it.
  • Let them have input in small decisions about dinner, too.  Should we prepare broccoli or green beans tonight?  Rice or potatoes?  When a child takes ownership of a decision, they’re probably more likely to follow through on eating it.
  • Invest in a few children’s books about food.  The triplets received one for their 1st birthday, and it is one of their favorites even to this day.  When a food appears on their plate that is also in the book they exclaim, “Hey, like in my book!”.
  • Try to relax and enjoy mealtime.  This one is hard for me sometimes because it’s easy to rush through the meal and move on to clean-up.  When I am able to forget about the mess that lies ahead, mealtime is much more enjoyable.

Whatever you do, just don’t give up on presenting different foods to your child.  Every child is different and has different palates and opinions.  Embrace it and keep trying new things.

The one item H always requests from the grocery store: hummus.

The one item H always requests from the grocery store: hummus.

Fun in the kitchen!

Fun in the kitchen!

M always provides comic relief during mealtime

M always provides comic relief during mealtime.

D eating hummus and crackers at his 2nd birthday party.  This kid loves hummus.

D eating hummus and crackers at his 2nd birthday party. Have I mentioned how much my kids love hummus?

Pancakes for breakfast?  All in favor, say "aye"!

Let kids have some input about the menu. Pancakes for breakfast? All in favor, say “aye”!


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