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Helping picky eaters try a bite

Is your child a picky eater? Use that pride of handiwork to your best advantage to help win over your child in his or her reluctance to eat certain foods or to try new foods.

The methodology is simple: Ask him or her, “How would you like to help me in the kitchen?” (Alternate phraseology for younger kids: “How would you like to be a big-girl [big-boy] cook and help Mommy cook tonight’s dinner?”) Almost certainly he or she—and I’m going to use “he” and “she” alternatively from here on out, but I assure you the ploy is equally applicable to both genders—will want to be of help, not seeing cooking as a chore but as a privilege.

Exactly what you’ll have him do will depend on both the recipe and the child’s age. Most 10-year-olds can handle a sharp knife responsibly; a 5-year-old assuredly cannot. But there are still tasks a 5-year-old can take on safely, with a greater or lesser amount of guidance and help: adding water to a saucepan, perhaps counting out four potatoes, maybe grinding pepper from a peppermill if it’s not too stiff—under careful supervision, lest she overdo it. She can surely put a lid on a saucepan, add a pre-measured tablespoon of flour to a skillet, and do other simple tasks.

She may need your watchful eye and guiding hand. He may need you to lift him up so he can reach the kitchen sink or the stove. Her “help” may actually slow you down rather than making your work easier. But keep your eyes on the prize: This is all about getting him to take pride in his work—and to taste it at the table.

When you serve dinner, be sure to point out to Dad (and any other family members) that “We’re having chicken à la king tonight—and Pat helped me cook it.” Then ask, “Pat, do you want to have the first taste and see how well you did?”

If pride of workmanship doesn’t motivate Pat, curiosity almost surely will. Only the most steadfast, hidebound picky eaters will refuse a taste of their own creations. He may not be able to crow, “I did it all myself!” but he can surely boast, “I helped Mommy make it!” And that’s a powerful incentive for tasting it—and then, hopefully, continuing to eat it.


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