The ABCs of Overcoming Picky Eaters

WeForum 2018 logo - Chef Marcy Ragan talks picky eaters

The ABCs of Overcoming Picking Eaters (hint: they are the smallest members of your household)

I have a friend whose son eats only three things. Just three. No substitutions. He eats pasta. He eats chicken nuggets. He eats bread, white bread.  That list never changes and those items have been all that’s on the menu for him for seven or eight years. He’s 12. This makes shopping a breeze, of course, but that’s hardly the point and it’s far from ideal. He’s underweight and his parents find the entire exercise of dinnertime to be defeating and anticlimactic. I know other contemporaries with kids who tried sushi at a young age and loved it. My own kids don’t necessarily care for everything that challenges the palate and that is fine with me, there’s a lot of food out there to try. One day, my son declares no more orange food and the next he’s going on about the satisfying taste of a kumquat. Children are changeable and they’re growing and that’s important – most especially the latter.

I’m not kidding when I tell you that my family usually eats together, with fun, positive meals that everyone eats.  We’ve had to work at it to get where we are, so I understand the struggle – played out first hand. And we’ve all seen the ads with parents pushing plates of greens at their kids, followed by a refusal and finally the happy resolution of covering the veggies with Velveeta.  Problem solved, until the next mealtime when there are more tears and frustration. These dinner dramas have only one winner and it’s Big Food.

I am bringing what I know about getting picky kids to eat healthy (or just eat at all…) to the WEForum Health and Wellness Conference on November 14th.  When you love what you do, you like talking about it, and when I get a chance to intersect my knowledge and passion for eating well with an actual demonstration, I’m in! At this all-things-food jubilee, I’ll be cooking, sharing my tips and tricks, and showing parents how to stay nimble without the frustration. I want the parents out there to know that they can not only stay sane but actually help everyone in their family enjoy meal time again.

Kids are picky – we get it. And – we schedule their every waking minute so that when it’s time to eat, they exert what little autonomy they feel they have by refusing to eat certain foods or try new ones. Parents tell me routinely their tales of woe about what happens around the dinner table. You gotta pick your battles and what your kids eat may not feel like the proverbial Hill to Die On, but healthy eating habits start young and create behaviors that last a lifetime.

The only real solution I’ve found is two-fold: 1) understand that you gotta roll with it and 2) keep it creative with a little flexibility and my ABCs – a creative and engaging method I developed to shake you out of your mealtime battleground.

A- Adaptable
Everyone has a different diet these days, albeit because of allergies and modern preferences. Be adaptable to include everyone at the table. Having tacos? Have a vegetarian in the house? Make sure to have sautéed jackfruit or a lot of beans in addition to the ground turkey or beef.

B- Build on what you have
If a kid eats one thing, see if you can extrapolate that acceptance of a particular veggie into another.  My son always ate broccoli, but then I tried to introduce cauliflower. Cauliflower sounds weird, and he wouldn’t eat it. It occurred to me instead to call it “ghost broccoli.” Looks like broccoli, but BOO! You get the idea. It sounds silly right up until it works and they’re eating it.

C- Creativity
You now know about “ghost broccoli.” Be creative with shapes as well as names. If there’s a buckwheat pancake shaped like a dinosaur – go for it!  A smiley face in a salad – sure! Little things to break up the mealtime doldrums and create positivity always bring a smile. You get the idea?

I hope to see you at this conference. WEForum’s aim is to provide education and empowerment to individuals and communities in the arenas of health and wellness. Pretty easy to get behind, right? Join me and others who will be sharing their expertise so that we’re not only eating better, but living better.

And if you don’t want to see me at this conference (sigh) because you already know my schtick – attend anyway.  There are so many wonderful speakers coming to Monmouth County. Get tickets!