How to Nurture a Picky Eater
Some kids will eat anything — as long as it's mac and cheese. So what do you do with a child whose food preferences run the gamut from A to A? We asked a psychologist, a nutritionist, and a Gourmet mom.
Elizabeth D. Capaldi, Ph.D., psychologist and editor of Why We Eat What We Eat:
"Babies eat their mother's milk or what their mother gives them because it's safe. Then around age 2, they are no longer willing to eat new foods and the parent assumes that means they don't like them. Really it means they're unfamiliar.
"If you want a child to learn to eat something, mix it in a food she likes. The taste of the familiar food makes the other palatable — then you can introduce the new thing alone. So if you want a child to eat peas, and she likes yogurt, put the peas in the yogurt."
Marion Nestle, Ph.D., nutritionist and author of What to Eat:
"Research shows that some kids have to see a food 10 or 15 times before agreeing to taste it. That takes parental persistence. To ensure kids get the right nutrients, offer only healthy foods. They may fuss about some of them, but the foods they are willing to eat will be good ones. I'd postpone feeding sugary foods to kids as long as you can get away with it. Yogurts, breakfast cereals, and fruit-flavored drinks designed for kids are desserts and should be treated as such."
Ruth Reichl, mom and editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine:
"Until my son Nick was 9, he ate only white foods — like chicken breast or rice. Nick had to sit with us and watch us eating, but he didn't have to eat anything he didn't like. We didn't want a battle, and we were hopeful he would see how much pleasure we got out of food and it would just kick in. A magical thing happened at a sushi bar. I asked the sushi guy, 'Why don't you drizzle some eel sauce on his rice?' Nick liked it, so he tried eel. Then we had a kid who liked white foods and eel. Slowly, he started eating more foods. It was really about trust; he trusted that we wouldn't impose something upon him that he didn't like."