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It goes like this: Kids are picky eaters. They won’t eat food that’s green, brown or good for them. They are strong-willed little creatures who cannot be swayed. We must give up, give in, and feed them nothing but juice, crackers and white-bread sandwiches with the crusts cut off.

Sigh. Is anyone else as tired of the term “picky eater” as I am?

To be clear: I understand that many children have serious food allergies or sensory issues that make them painfully averse to certain foods. But that’s something else entirely. And even then, I’d argue that calling them “picky eaters” diminishes these children’s very real challenges.

It’s a phrase that has been overused to the point of cliche, becoming a catch-all and crutch whenever a child refuses something new or a parent is too tired to argue (been there) or when a fast-food stop or children’s menu is the quickest path to appeasement. Food manufacturers and cookbook publishers have gotten rich persuading parents to sate kids’ picky appetites by feeding them vitamin-fortified junk or hiding spinach in their brownies.

But I just can’t get on board with that. Real, whole foods (not jacked-up semblances) are the best source of nutrients. And if you want to put veggies in your baked goods, go for it. Maybe even hold off on the truth if you really think your kid will balk at tasting it. But then fess up and point out why spinach is a good thing even when it’s not in a brownie.

Young children go on strikes (refusing certain foods) and jags (eating only certain foods). Older kids have the added influence of marketing and friends. And all kids — and adults — have foods they just don’t like. I get that. I also understand that it sometimes takes finessing to get kids to embrace good food. But that starts with educating kids, not labeling them “picky” and throwing up our hands.

To that end, I’d like to highlight a few cooking/eating resources that I think get it right:

  • Food with Kid Appeal, a blog written by Jenna Pepper, a mother of two, is spot-on in its message that kids should be taught how food affects their bodies. Jenna offers really good, low-fuss recipes, but her real strength is the companion advice that relates each recipe’s ingredients to how kids grow and develop. This mushroom post is a great example. (Though how ironic that when I went to check these links, I saw she’d just written a post about… picky eaters. At least it’s about “recovering” picky eaters.)
  • This Eat Real round-up from Liz Snyder, a mom and food activist, is one of the smartest and most useful pieces I’ve seen on raising healthy eaters. I’m not sure how active or updated the rest of her site is, but this list is timeless. It’s long, but worth the read.
  • Everyone talks about how letting kids help in the kitchen will turn them into lifelong foodies. Sounds great, but we all know the reality can be messy and frustrating. That’s why I like this short post from Jamie Martin at Steady Mom. (One tip: When baking, give your child her own bowl and small amounts of each ingredient. Genius.)
  • Speaking of cooking, ChopChop, a new magazine founded by cookbook author Sally Sampson, packages healthy recipes and food facts in an appealing, readable quarterly aimed at kids ages 5-12. I have a few quibbles, notably the recommendation to use canola oil (which is almost always genetically modified and not nearly as healthful as olive oil, which the magazine also suggests), and the emphasis on skim milk (junk food, not saturated fat, is the problem). But the debut issue also features an interview with Orren Fox, the young chicken farmer I mentioned in a post last month. (It helps that Orren is interviewed by Susan Orlean, one of my favorite writers, and apparently a chicken farmer herself.) Overall the magazine is a great resource sending the right message: Kids will eat real food.

What do you think about this picky-eater business? Time to retire that tired phrase? Any other resources to recommend?

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