I get this a lot from parents. “My child is such a picky eater, the only thing they will ever eat is chicken nuggets, chicken strips and never a vegetable unless it is fried and drenched in ketchup!” Sound familiar? Working as a food service manager and having the task of feeding 350 plus children each day, ages 18 months to 13, I have seen it all. I knew the answer to this dilemma, but I also knew the real battle was not with the kids, but the parents.
Food can never be a power issue. The moment it is the parent has lost, guaranteed. Children will dig their heels in and any other part of their bodies that are necessary. So relax. The other struggle parents have is that they think their child may starve. Last time I checked, no child had ever starved in a house that provided food. Really….they will eat…eventually.
I took my beliefs and put them into action. I started a cooking class at our school. First, it was for home-schooled children. Then the school where I work asked me to have a class for our 7th & 8th graders. The glove had been thrown and I was ready to prove to parents that kids will eat and try new things.
I had two simple rules: you did not have to try anything we cooked, and you could not make disparaging remarks about the food we made. Those two rules removed the power struggle from the entire issue. We were off and running with 12 middle school students.
We made “Sizzling Beef with Scallions and Black Bean Sauce” from Jamie Oliver’s cookbook “Food Revolution.” Here are some of the ingredients: fresh ginger, garlic, fresh red chile, cilantro, sesame oil and black bean sauce. It smelled wonderful while cooking it. The kids learned knife skills and how to chop and dice. Then, they ate it….all of it!!!
Next was Jamie’s Crunchy Garlic Chicken, homemade chicken nuggets with lemon. They wanted more. My biggest surprise was when we made Classic Green Curry. We used lemon grass, coconut milk, curry paste, and cilantro. As we whirled it in the food processor, I was not sure if I would eat this. But we put it all together with beef and chicken and they scarfed it down. I mean, they inhaled it and were disappointed that we did not make more! Every student tried it; one or two did not care for it, but they tried it!
So the old adage that if you include your child in the shopping, prepping and cooking of a dish, the more than likely they will try it, works. Give them some control over the food and it becomes an adventure, not a struggle. Let them make it and give them the opportunity to try it or walk away. They will come back, I promise.
I have a daughter who has been, since the age of 2, the picky eater in our family. I mean picky! She is 18 now and, as I look back, I thought she would never try anything. But I did not make her different food at dinner. Often she would go to bed having eaten fruit and bread…oh well. Now she is actually trying out new things. She is still picky (she will pick out every pea, carrot and piece of onion out of her fried rice), but she is more willing to try things now after years of effort. So I know what it is to have a picky eater.
Parents keep up the good fight and persevere. Your kids won’t starve and you might end up having some fun in the kitchen. Try some new and interesting foods, let the kids help out and you might find yourself very surprised at what they will eat.
Rachael Warrington is a Food Service Manager at a school in Kansas and the mother of three. Her blog is Headcook and BottleWasher.