Preventing Picky Eaters, Fostering Foodies

I need to share something brought on by a conversation I had with a fellow mother the other day. She was chatting with me about about how to cure a fussy eater, knowing that my kids are quite adventuresome little foodies.... but that they weren't always that way.

When I first started my family, I caught myself feeding my son the foods he "liked". While I did introduce new foods, if he seemed to not like them, I didn't push. He became the child of the limited palate, who only wanted cheese and bread and bananas, and the dreaded hot dogs. I had created a monster. 

Shocking, I know, but I believe that fussy eaters are created. They're not born that way. 

Yes, we each have personal preferences. But if we don't need to reach beyond our own preferences, we become (or stay) selfish. Yes, we may like one thing and dislike something else. But what happens if we only do the things that we like? Or eat the things that we like? 

We live in a first world country where we can spend our lives avoiding anything that is distasteful to us. We can become as insular and self-centred as we like, and go forth to disdain anyone or anything that we 'don't like.' That attitude extends beyond mere palate.
The sense of entitlement surrounds us; we've all seen the youth without work ethic who steer clear of things that personally challenge them.

I believe that starts at home. And I believe a right attitude of selflessness can start at the dining room table.

The way that we show respect to ourselves and to others from a very young age is something that needs to be reinforced in all areas of our lives. When a parent doesn't request that a child respect them for the meal they have made, it creates a small shift in the perspective of that tiny person. Collectively, those little attitude shifts that we learn in childhood are what shape us into an adult one day.

We won the life lottery, living in a first world where we can have such choice. As a parent, I believe it is my job to teach my children to extend beyond their own likes and dislikes. It is my hope that they might become thankful people. They might even learn to like something new. They might change! And one day, they might change the world. 

How to Cure a Fussy Eater

Around the time that Bean turned 2, we started changing the way we did things. I very politely, cheerfully and respectfully told my son that I was going to feed him just like a grownup, because I wanted him to be a very good and thankful grownup one day. 

He didn't appreciate my sudden shift. His peanut butter and jelly was replaced with oatmeal.... and he seemed to say, "I thought we established that I don't like oatmeal."

But when you wake up hungry in the morning, and oatmeal is what's for breakfast, you very quickly learn that you should probably eat the oatmeal. And maybe the next day breakfast will be something you like better. (Variety is key to making this not just seem to be punishment.)

We kindly but firmly began a no-argument policy about meals. We dished him up a plate of whatever it was that we were eating, and he could eat it, or not. If he ate it, well and good! If he didn't, well.... then that was what was for snack. (The magic of Tupperware is that you can save things for later.)

We were cheerful, we weren't mean and pushy, we just outlined our expectations and then lived by them. No more would we cater to the whims of a toddler. I wasn't trying to be a tyrant. I was trying to be a parent.  My child shouldn't be the one calling the shots. At the same time, I was careful to respect his dignity in the way I treated him while outlining what I expected of him.

Shortly after this, a catch phrase began, one that even now gets parroted around our table: "You don't have to like it, you just have to eat it." I can say this with a smile, not taking it personally that someone initially turned up their nose at my Moussaka. I will also often elabourate to them: "You sometimes have to try things a whole bunch of times before your taste buds send the right message to your brain. I didn't love avocado when I was a kid, but I kept eating it, and now it's one of my favourite foods! I would be so sad to know I missed out on loving something awesome just because I didn't eat it when I was younger."

Eating a variety of foods we don't like teaches us a few things.

1. It may teach us to appreciate a food we thought we didn't like or wouldn't like.

2. Importantly, it teaches us not to have a sense of entitlement. 

I knew my mother wasn't my personal caterer, growing up. There were foods I didn't like, but being the people pleaser I am, I ate them anyway. And I really do think that was good for me. I'm an adult who doesn't demand to be catered to. I appreciate when someone does something for me, even when it isn't the way I would have done it. I think that training my children to be open-minded diners can help them learn those character traits. 

From Fussy to Foodie

Too Many Cooks by Emily Franklin - I read this book and just loved it. I would say that this book was the catalyst for not only wanting un-fussy children, but wanting to cultivate little foodies!

Emily is a mom of four who doesn't want to lead her kids down the path of just eating off the "kids" menu in restaurants. The picky, unimaginative kind of eaters. So she cooks! She involves the kids. She dialogues with them and gets them excited. 

I read this book in 2009, when I had three kids and my eldest was 6.  have found myself not only really relating to this book, but looking for new ways to happily introduce all manners of healthy food into the life of my family.

The best part of Emily's book? The end of every chapter includes the recipes for whatever she made and mentioned in that chapter. So if you want to TRY the roasted broccoli, you CAN. The recipes are pretty much all family-friendly (as in, don't take ALL DAY to cook!), and healthy. Whole wheat flour and minimal sugar in her baking, and lean meat, good cheese, good olive oil, and lots of veggies in the cooking. (If you're interested in purchasing a copy of Too Many Cooks, you may do so at my affiliate link, here.)

My kids definitely are more willing to try new things if they get to be a part of the process of procuring it, growing it, buying it, or preparing it. Or some combination of the above. 

Here's a journal entry from 6 years ago:

Bean decided that we should buy a turnip when we were in the grocery store the other day. Had he tried turnip before? No. Is he an adventuresome eater? Absolutely not. But he thought that turnip looked cool. I decided not to decide FOR him whether he would eat it or not.

We bought it (a HUGE one, I might add). He helped me peel it, and he also peeled some carrots for me. Then I cut it up, cut up carrots, and boiled it until tender. We mashed it all together with some butter and salt and pepper.

Now, normally? A pale orange mystery veg on the table would be suspect. To Bean. And by default, to the other two, who follow what their big brother says and does like monks read the saints.

So, when Bean dolloped a big pile of the glop onto his plate, and proceeded to not only taste it, but devour it? I got myself a house full of mashed-turnip-and-carrot-eating-children. I watched Bean's face as he took that first bite. I can tell you right now, that if he had not been involved in every step of the process of getting it onto that plate, he would not have liked it. He would have turned up his nose, turned on that gag reflex, and that would be that. But as it went, we've bought several since, on his suggestion.

I'm pretty happy with the way things turned out in the Case Of The Turnip, and plan to get my kids more involved in the goings on of my little kitchen.

This has really paid off. My kids eat what is prepared for them, and are genuinely excited to try new things.

'Fostering Foodies' Rulebook In Short

  • Offer a variety of foods. Change things up, often!
  • Eat together. Family meals reinforce that we all eat the same meal, together.
  • Cook together. Kids get very interested in foods that they are invested in. Being proud of making it 'themselves', or being Mama or Daddy's helper, will make them want to try their creation.
  • Offer healthy snacks and avoid the processed sugary ones. Snacking between meals isn't strictly necessary. If they're hungry, they will eat the cucumbers and carrots you cut up. If they pass on that, they'll actually be hungry at lunch time when you present a healthy lunch. Conversely, if they've filled up on 'fruit' snacks, they can afford to be extra picky during lunch (and maybe hope for the next snack).
  • They're not going to starve. Even if they push back and skip a meal, they're not going to waste away. You don't need to make them sit at the table til it's gone - they can come back to it when they're hungry.
  • Set ground rules, and stick with them. Ours is that you don't have to eat everything on your plate. However, you can't have seconds until you've finished your firsts. When you have rules, you're not the bad guy - the rule is the rule, and you can shrug and smile and say, that's how it is
  • Don't take it personally. Keep your attitude positive. Don't make the family table a battleground, or it will have negative repercussions instead of positive ones. 
  • Model foodie behaviour. Being a creative cook and adventuresome eater yourself will let your kids know that we are happy when we eat a variety of good foods!
The kids help make parchment paper packages for a super supper. To make, place raw shrimp, green beans, garlic and chillies, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper, in parchment paper. Fold up and bake at 400 for 12-15 minutes. Open packets, and sprinkle with flat-leaf parsley to serve.

I hope this helps your family make little changes on the journey to the love of food, or at least gives you the encouragement you need to keep doing what you're doing! Here's to many happy family meals!


I must add a caveat: if your child has food allergies or genuine sensory processing difficulties, you might need to try some different tactics. 

If a food makes your child feel ill, they may seem to be 'turning up their nose' at something when they really are just listening to their bodies. Stomach aches, attitude anomalies, difficulty sleeping, skin irritation, and unhealthy bowel movements are all indications that there's more going on than just a fussy eater.  

Sensory processing difficulties can mean that a new texture takes a really long time to get used to. We've come a long way with one of our kiddos - she can eat just about any texture now, even if she still can't stand to touch it at any other time. 

You know your child best! 


  1. Love this article. It will be my go to for sure. Thanks for this!!!!!!


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