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Monday, January 28, 2013

Stop Picky Eating at the Source!

Two weeks ago I was out shopping with my son. He isn't one of those die-hard picky eaters, but (like most toddlers) he's definitely zeroed in on the chicken nuggets and hot dogs as his favorite foods. So last week when he picked up a box of Sponge Bob shaped mac & cheese and begged me for it, my first reaction was to tell him no. Why? Because I've never seen him touch macaroni any of the times I've made it, and I didn't feel like buying food that he wasn't going to eat.

He persisted in asking me about it for another three or four aisles worth of grocery shopping, and he was being good, so before we went to check-out I grabbed it for him. When we got home I unloaded and put away the groceries and started getting ready to make lunch. Before I could decide what to make, 'Bubby' was in the kitchen with me, begging for his macaroni again. I thought he only wanted it because he didn't really know what it was. On the box, he could only see that it was Sponge Bob, and that's where the real appeal was for him. I figured that after I had it made it and he saw it, he wouldn't eat it... but I made it anyways.

I'm so very glad that I did. He stayed in the kitchen with me the whole time I made it, even asking if he could look in the pot while the pasta boiled. As soon as it had cooled enough for him to eat, he devoured it. And he ate the veggies I had made alongside it. I couldn't believe how well he had eaten! I wondered if the cause was the excitement and involvement he'd had about what he would eat. That's when I decided to experiment with it.

So I made him three meals one week and three identical meals the next week. The first meal was pasta with a butter sauce, salad and a slice of bread. The second meal was oatmeal, an egg, and three smokey links. The third meal was a chicken salad sandwich, a potato, and green beans. The only difference in the meals was that the first week, he had nothing to do with the food. He didn't come to the grocery with me, he didn't come into the kitchen while I was making the food, and he didn't help out. The second week, he went to the grocery with me, picked out foods that he wanted to try and put them in the cart, and helped in the kitchen with whatever he could. Here were the results from two exactly identical meals:

                      Week One                                                Week Two
1rst Meal:  Ate the bread                      1rst Meal:  Ate half the pasta, all of the bread, & three bites of salad
2nd Meal:  Ate the smokey links         2nd Meal:  Ate everything!
3rd Meal:   Ate nothing                         3rd Meal:  Ate 1/2 the sandwich, 1/2 the beans, and a bite of the potato

Not only did he eat more during the week that he helped, the things he didn't eat during the first week were things that he'd never liked to eat. That means he was feeling pretty darn curious during week two, or that my theory is correct: children like to eat what they had a part in. As a matter of fact, when I sat down to eat my chicken salad sandwich next to him, I said "This is good bubby!" and he quickly replied "You welcome!" I still can't get over the fact that he ate the chicken salad - it even had chunks of onion and celery in it!

Today we went to the grocery again. I was thrilled to see that he was pointing to things that he wanted to eat, and even reminded me that we are out of his macaroni. We got some more, which means we'll be having it for dinner tonight, it has gone from being the food he won't touch to the food he wants more of. As far as food goes, I couldn't ask for a better outcome from a toddler!

Picture taken by Alicia Figueroa for Master of Mom™, Inc.


  1. I wish I had thought to try that on my daughter when she was at that age. She turned into an even pickier adult :(
    Sherri Lewis

  2. Wow thats amazing news! Maybe i should try the same thing some time soon lol.My daughter eats almost everything except veggies but maybe buying her those Spongebob Mac & Cheese will help.My 2 year old loves Spongebob and i'm pretty sure she'll love to eat him too lol .

    Thank you for sharing the photo :)

  3. Ooh, that's a really good idea! Not only is it helping him get better nutrition now, but it will really help him when he's grown up, too! He'll both know how to select more nutritious foods (I have never heard of a toddler eating anything with an onion in it!), he'll know how to cook, as well!

  4. yes i personally think if they are involved with the preparation of the food ,they are more likely to eat it. it seems they like being a part of watching it become thier food,which they helped to make.

  5. I can totally relate- I have a 6 yo who is very picky. Thankfully he is starting to get a bit more adventurous, but for a while he ate next to nothing!

  6. I tried to keep picky eating at bay from the get-go by offering healthy, appropriate choices at every meal, serving a very wide range of foods, and also de-mystifying treats by offering those in moderation. I am lucky that my daughter has no sensorial issues with food. She eats things that many adults would balk at: eel, seaweed, pomegranates, plantains, ceviche!

  7. Thanks for the article. My son is a SUPER picky eater, but helping me perpare meals helps him overcome that alot.

  8. Awww how cute! I think when toddlers "help" mom shop at the store they are more likely to eat certain things :)

  9. It is great to have your children involved in the making of foods. These are memories that you and they will never forget. Plus: recipes that they like will pass from generation to generation. I always made my children at least take one bite of things, if they then didn't like it, I didn't make them eat it.

  10. Always loved encouraging the kids to help pick out what to eat and to help cook it. They are adults now and both love to cook.

  11. Thanks so much for this post! We have a REALLY hard time w/ our 5 year old. Getting her to try anything is nearly impossible unless it's cereal, popcorn shrimp, hot dogs, chicken nuggets or pizza or candy, ect.... (real nourishing, right?) I'm excited to get her more involved, especially in the kitchen with me.

  12. My son is super picky, but at 18m he isn't able to help much yet. My 5yo twins will eat ANYTHING though, we lucked out there. One of their favorite quick lunches is a can (or cooked from frozen) mixed veggies, a can of chicken (or reheated, shredded leftover chicken) and a single serving container of easy Mac, cooked. When baby sees the twins enjoying something he is more likely to try it. Ztarx3 (@) AOL.com

  13. lisanpa1 - We all have those days when it's just easier to throw something in the microwave than it is to put together a meal! My kid has had more than his fair share of fried-somethings, but at least this stage doesn't last forever!! Katie - That sounds like a nice quick meal idea, I'm going to have to try it tomorrow.

  14. Thanks for sharing this post! I find it terribly frustrating when I can not get my youngest to eat. My 2 older boys were/are willing to eat just about anything, but my youngest...no way. I actually had him on a nutritional supplement for a while as I was getting very concerned that he was not getting the proper nutrients. Thanks for the tips, I will definitely try them and see if I can get him eating better.

    1. Let us know if you have success Jeannette!

  15. What a wonderful idea. Not only does it help his eating habits, but later in life, I'll bet, he's going to have a great appreciation for food.
    michelletucker at baconnation dot net