Accommodating picky eaters without losing your sanity or breaking the bank

By | November 30, 2013

Not one of my kids has ever touched a banana. Until this Thanksgiving, none of them had ever tried mashed potatoes (my 7-year-old is now mourning those wasted years). My oldest gags on Jello, and my middle child hates pasta. (Can anyone say “texture issues”?)

Despite these quirks, I know I have it pretty easy. I also know there’s a wide range of philosophies on how to handle picky eaters, all the way from “Let them starve!” to cooking entirely separate meals. I’ve always considered myself to fall somewhere in the middle. If they don’t want what the rest of us are having, they can eat cereal. But then I realized I make a lot of accommodations that are so easy I don’t even think about them, so I thought I’d share some of those ideas.

  • I have two kids and a husband who love pasta and rice dishes, plus one kid who won’t touch them. I’ve found that an easy way to keep everybody happy is to serve pasta and rice with thick, chunky sauces. Like a red sauce made from a pork loin that’s been simmered in the crockpot the whole day, or beef stroganoff. I just make the sauce substantial enough that my pasta-hater can eat it by itself. It’s a little bit harder with something like a risotto, but I just set aside a little of whatever meat I’m adding to it.
  • We all love Mexican food, but my husband likes tortillas, I hate them, and the kids fall somewhere in the middle. Making tacos with both hard and soft shells is a simple answer. And when it comes to enchiladas – the same gooeyness that everyone else loves makes me gag (that texture thing again) – I set aside some filling for myself.
  • My husband doesn’t like meat by itself (unless it’s a steak), but the kids love it. That’s easy to fix: Just slap his on a pile of rice or pasta and top it with any kind of sauce.
  • There are some things I can get the kids to tolerate for one meal, but they resort to wailing and gnashing their teeth if I try to bring it back out the next night. That’s where repurposing and outright trickery come in. The beef stroganoff that one kid ate by itself the first night can become sandwich filling the next (why it’s OK on bread but not pasta, I’ll never understand). The steak that’s deemed “too much work to chew” by two kids can, the next night, be chopped up and stirred into scrambled eggs. Meatballs can be crumbled up to make taco or quesadilla filling.

Sometimes I think I should be more hardcore about making my kids choose between eating what I cook and going hungry. But then I imagine trying to choke down a forkful of ooey, gooey enchiladas (I feel queasy just thinking about it), and I feel like a big hypocrite. I won’t cook custom, made-to-order meals, but I also won’t force them to eat something they hate just on principle if there’s an easy workaround. And if that fails, there’s always cereal.

For more on feeding your family without losing your mind, check out my post on freezer cooking.

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