The other day I was reading “Oliver’s Fruit Salad” to hungry tot-chefs in my kindergarten Books-for-Cooks class at Franklin Elementary School. The story is about a boy named Oliver, who, having recently helped his grandpa harvest juicy grapes and delicate pears from a backyard garden, refuses to eat the fruit his mom serves for breakfast. Nothing from a can, thank you very much. No jams either. And please, no juice.
So off Oliver and his mom go to the supermarket, where they ooh and ahh at fresh fruit from pineapples and melons to oranges and apples. At home, mom empties the grocery bags onto the kitchen table.
“Now,” Mom said. “You can eat an apple. Or a pear. Or a plum. It’s not in a jar or a can. It’s all fresh, so help yourself.”
Oliver shook his head. “No thank you,” he said. “I just helped Grandpa. I didn’t eat any of the fruit. I don’t like fruit.”
Sound familiar? Sure. The very particular mandates and quid-pro-quos of a picky eater.
Perhaps you know one. Perhaps she prefers her noodles plain with a touch of butter and as much cheese as you’ll allow. No sauce, ever! He likely prefers his carrots raw and please don’t let them touch the chicken fingers! Perhaps she’ll begrudgingly eat her peas, but only with a side of promise of chocolate decadence cupcakes and vanilla ice cream. Your picky eater might even prefer, in fact demand, frozen dino nuggets over your labor intensive, free range, organic, perfectly cooked famous chicken dish.
That afternoon I asked the kids in my class if they happened to know any “picky eaters” like Oliver. Lacey — who just last week meticulously removed every trace of vegetable from her Wild Things Bagel Creature — thoroughly contemplated the question with a scrunched up forehead and proclaimed, “I’ve heard that word before but I can’t remember what it means.”
Yeah, right. I bet you’ve heard it. And I bet you know exactly what it means.
That’s because “picky eater” has become a variety of diet. There are vegetarians, vegans, locavores, and now, picky eaters. Google “picky eater” and you’ll get results from the Mayo Clinic, support groups for adult picky eaters, parenting sites offering tips from Dr. Sears, and endless books on Amazon.com. I talk to plenty of moms each day who tell me right off the bat, “my son is a very picky eater” and then divulge the numerous ways Jonny shows-off his habit as if it were a badge of honor.
Since when did being a picky eater become a legitimate way to describe someone’s food habits? Are we too accepting of this “condition?” Do parents enable the behavior by becoming the preferred caterer for the Picky Eater Club?
I’m not suggesting children everywhere should be happy eating tuna casserole for dessert and Brussels sprouts from their lunch box. But I do think at some point we crossed the line in how we view and embrace children’s eating habits. Picky eating is very likely an acceptable phase in a toddler’s development. Sometime after the age of 2 or 3 kids may even decide the foods they once loved, often the very same food their parents eat, now make them kick and scream and gag at the table — even foods they’ve never even tried. But by the time the child is going to school, picky eating should become a diet meant to be broken.
The best ways to wean a picky eater?
1. Cook with your kids. Get them involved in the process and they’ll crave the product.
2. Offer choice. Choice is empowering, so give your kids options rather than forceful mandates.
3. Choose healthy, colorful ingredients with tasty preparations. Think roasting, homemade vinaigrettes, stir-fries, and veggie-art.
4. Set a good example. Why would your daughter ever eat tofu if you won’t try it, either?
OK, back to Oliver and his fruit salad. As the title suggests, the story ends with Mom, Grandpa, and Oliver slicing and dicing all sorts of wonderful fruit for fruit salad. And of course, a surprised Oliver proclaims, “I like fruit salad!” And after three helpings … “Yummy!” he says.
So I asked the kids if there was a moral to this story. Without any prompting, 5-year-old Lacey perked right up:
“It’s like when you don’t like a food, but your mom makes you try it. And then you actually like it after all, but you don’t want your parents to know. So you make a face.”
Hmmm … just what I thought.
Samantha Barnes is the founder of Kitchen Kid, a culinary school for kids and families in Santa Monica. She would love to learn about your “picky eater.” Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit Kitchen Kid online at www.KitchenKid.com. You can also read Samantha’s blog at www.GrowingUpGourmet.com
Fruit Salad Pops
Assorted in-season and washed fruits such as:
1 cup low-fat Greek yogurt
1 tbs. honey
Steps for Kitchen Kids:
1. Using a plastic safety knife carefully cut the fruit into bite-sized pieces.
2. Carefully push fruit onto wooden popsicle sticks.
3. Mix the yogurt, honey, and cinnamon together in a small bowl.
4. Dip the pops into the yogurt dip and enjoy!