Parents of picky eaters know that persuading persnickety progeny
to try something beyond a few favorites can be an exercise in
No amount of bargaining, negotiating or pleading will entice
some choosy kids to put healthy foods into their mouths. However,
including that child in the meal planning and preparation might
cause an attitude adjustment about what's tasty and what's not.
"My son Alex is the quintessential picky eater," says Elena
Marre, owner of The Kids' Table in Wicker Park and mother to
10-year-old Alex and 13-year-old Jacob. "He's actually recovering
in a lot of ways. He hated cherries until we went cherry picking
and he saw them dangling from the tree. He asked if he could cut
raw onions for me and because he was cutting them, he wanted to try
them and discovered he loved them."
Marre, who teaches kids' cooking classes at her establishment,
says that no matter their age, children can make contributions to
Kids as young as 2 and 3 can use their hands to wash vegetables,
tear lettuce, pinch ingredients and roll dough. They can cut leafy
greens by using safety scissors. Small hands can wield whisks
deftly. Plastic, serrated knives easily can cut softer produce.
Older kids can measure ingredients, grate vegetables, crack eggs
and mash ingredients. Teenagers, with guidance and lessons in
safety, are capable of doing just about anything adults can do.
"The great thing about cooking together is it becomes about
participation and they get a sense of pride because they helped
create it," Marre says. "And foods can seem less scary because if
they can see the parts come together it becomes less of an
Incorporating healthy alternatives into your child's diet is
even more important with the start of the school year, when little
minds and bodies need to stay fully fueled for hours away from
"When you eat refined carbohydrates, like sugary cereals, they
digest pretty quickly and when people talk about sugar crashes,
sugar spikes and low blood sugar-there is science behind it," says
Lara Field, a certified specialist in pediatric nutrition. "When
kids eat a low-protein breakfast and feel crummy, they're not
interested in learning."
In addition to preparing their food, helping grow and harvest
food or choosing items from the market will motivate kids to eat
new things, says Field, mother to 4-year-old and 1-year-old
"Going to the farmers market, the blueberry patch or apple
orchard where they've grown the food, or growing it at their own
house, that translates into more understanding of where the food
comes from," Field says. "Kids get very satisfied when they've
grown their own food-they want to taste the end product when
they've grown the food."
Kate Bradley, an Evergreen Park chef who teaches cooking classes
throughout the near south suburbs, says demonstrating how
alternate, healthier ingredients combine to make delicious foods
encourages children to try things they otherwise might avoid.
During a seminar in Chicago Ridge for a school district, she
converted a cookie recipe to make it healthy.
"...Once the kids tried it and saw that it tasted good they were
more apt to ask for a second one or the recipe," says Bradley, a
mother of two.
During the school year, it might not always be feasible to
include smaller children into making every meal, especially during
the morning rush. But with a little planning, a week's worth of
high-protein breakfast foods can be jointly prepared on the
For example, young children can help mix up a large batch of
granola-comprised of oats, honey, nuts, and dried fruit, or peel a
supply of hard-boiled eggs.
Likewise, preparing wholesome snack foods in advance will ensure
they get eaten, Field says. "When you buy vegetables or fruit, cut
them up as soon as you get home and have them in visible areas in
the fridge so they're going to be the first thing people gravitate
to and grab."
Good planning is half the battle when it comes to eating well,
according to Bradley, mother of 8-year-old Maureen and 14-year-old
Deliah. Which is why, once a week, the entire family discusses what
they'd like for dinner during the week.
"Usually the Sunday night dinner conversation is what the menu
is going to be for the week, so if they have a taste for something,
they can tell me," says Bradley. "And if they don't want something
that was planned for, say, Thursday, I tell them they should've
spoken up earlier."
Not only does the weekly menu save time by laying out what will
be served, but it's given Bradley relief from the age-old question,
"What's for dinner?"
"They used to ask me that 10 times a day, now I tell them to go
look at the menu-it's posted. It's the best thing I've ever
Robin Huiras is a mom and freelance writer living in
Robin Huiras is a freelance writer.
See more of Robin's stories here.
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