Tuesday, August 7, 2012

On Pickiness and Similar Flavors Chart

I have such  little tolerance for picky eaters that I ensured that this was one of the topics of conversation on my first date with my future husband. I really liked the fellow but could not abide a life with a picky eater. Happily, he answered that he was an adventurous eater due to his mother's cooking style, and we were married nine months later.

Of course, life with three little kiddos has presented many opportunities for me to address pickiness. One day a certain food is acceptable and the next day it is despised (not hyperbole in this case!). Or, suddenly anything with chunks in it is horrendous. And why is it that toddlers are incapable of picking out of a dish the things that they do not like? These are my frequent frustrations with pickiness.

Cooking for my children has been such an emotional roller coaster that I must include my own thoughts on the subject for anyone who is struggling with this issue. Children’s palates are naturally finicky. Perhaps this is so that they can avoid consuming potentially dangerous substances (although my children seem to love dirt and turn up their noses at the fresh tomatoes that grow in it). Perhaps it is just to help their parents develop patience. Whatever the reason, most children seem to regard at least fifty percent of the food they encounter with a great deal of trepidation.

While cooking for children can be unbelievably frustrating and sometimes unpredictable, you must persevere and have a backbone when it comes to encouraging your children to try new foods. Catering to pickiness simply encourages pickiness. Holding your ground and consistently presenting your children with the very food that they find so objectionable is an important step toward developing a more tolerant eater.

I find that my children’s willingness to try new things negatively correlates with their consumption of the food they refer to as “snacks” (i.e. sweets, pretzels, crackers, etc.). When I provide fruit and vegetable or whole-grain snacks, my children seem more willing to try a broader spectrum of foods. When I cave and give them the "snacks" that are less nourishing but more stimulating due to high salt and sugar content, my childrens' willingness to try new things seems to fade. In my own unproven, unscientific opinion, the difference lies in the fact that “snacks” somehow change the palate’s sensitivity.

So, try, try, try again. Eventually your children will likely try the foods that you offer. They may even surprise themselves by liking them. Here are some tactics that I have found helpful.

Try to keep meals relatively familiar to your children. Limit totally new recipes to once a week or so.

Ferret out the issues your child has with food. For example, once I realized that my daughter’s extremely frustrating aversion to “sauce,” by which she meant red sauce, stemmed from the chunks in many tomato based sauces, I was able to tailor the food to her preferences without fundamentally changing the dish itself.

Channel your high school literature teacher and describe what the food tastes like. My children are often more willing to try new things if they have an idea of what to expect. My son, who loves strawberries, discovered that kiwis were very satisfactory because I was able to describe to him that, although they look very different from the strawberry, kiwis share many similarities in taste and texture.

Be willing to try new things yourself and model responsible eating behaviors. Children’s eating techniques are directly learned from observations of those with whom they break their bread. If you express dislike when faced with vegetables, it is likely that your children’s natural aversions will be heightened and they will assume that they share your dislikes. Common sense argues that a child who sees an adult snacking in the half-hour before dinner is more likely to ask for snacks and spoil his appetite.

If your family likes...                                            You should try...
Scrambled eggs and toast                                         Quiche
Hamburgers                                                            Meatloaf and baked potatoes/oven fries
Spaghetti with tomato sauce                                     Lasagne
Chicken nuggets                                                     Chicken parmesan
Chicken noodle soup                                               Chicken tortilla soup
Chicken and rice/Hawaiian haystacks                        Risotto
Pancakes with sausage/bacon                                   Crepes with savory filling
Blue-box macaroni & cheese                                    Baked macaroni and cheese
Bacon                                                                    Proscuitto
Tacos                                                                    Enchiladas
Breakfast foods                                                      Hot Breakfast for dinner

1 comment:

  1. Amen, Sister! :) I totally agree with your sentiments here. Our philosophy has always been to never make food a fight - I refuse to battle wills over food. Eat it or don't eat it, whatever, but it's what we're having. And our other philosophy has been simply exposure. I have also found the blessed new discovery that my son will eat ANYTHING (even beet greens!!!) if he knows it was grown in his great-grandparents' garden. He feels some sort of ownership there and if it came from them, it MUST be good - very Pollan-esque.
    Another interesting sensory note: my son (N) has a condition where he was born with weak muscles. It's a long story, but basically it subtly affects all aspects of his life - including his food preferences. He has a bunch of textural food issues. His physical therapist actually told me that more physical exercise and muscle stimulation actually reduces kids' textural intolerances. I do find that on days when he is more active, he is more hungry and far less picky. An interesting and not necessarily obvious connection, no?