Today I want to spend a little time on the ‘creative’ side of things, in particular how to come up with interesting food to eat when you’re faced with a picky eater. As with so many things, prevention is better than cure, but I think my methods can help reduce friction and frustration whatever stage you’re at. It all comes back to planning.
Number one, involve the family in the menu planning. I first started doing this in about 1985, with two toddlers in the house. I would be working on the week’s menu ahead of grocery shopping (a friend’s suggestion to help with the bills), and run out of ideas. So I asked the kids for help. ‘Name a food you want to eat this week.’ There was nothing formal about it; they offered up a dish, whether a main dish or a side, and it triggered thoughts in me of what could go with it. Sometimes they had more ideas than there were days. And there was never any trouble with them eating what they had suggested.
Number two, involve the family in food preparation. Properly supervised little ones (and I mean little!) can stir the macaroni and cheese just as well as licking the bowl from the cookie dough. Older children can help clean and cut up fruit and veg. Young teens can follow a recipe and make a main dish on their own, and eventually a whole meal (preferably one they planned). The chef always wants to eat their own work.
Number three, really listen to complaints. See if you can figure out what’s behind them, and be prepared to compromise. For example, one day my daughter aged about 6 wanted to know if we had to eat meat every day. She ate meat dutifully enough, but was very slow and inefficient at it, so I wasn’t too surprised. (Turns out there was a problem with her teeth, but that’s another story.) So I said, no, we had to eat protein every day, but there were other sources. I started looking for alternatives in my cookbooks, and asking advice from vegetarian friends. By limiting meat dishes to not more than half the week, the grocery money stretched further, my daughter was happier, and we increased the variety of foods in our diet.
The flip side of ‘compromise’ is that we only ever make one meal, and everybody eats it. If it’s not somebody’s favorite one day, it will be another. (Obviously if there’s a food allergy or similar, this might not work. See previous paragraph!)
Finally, you don’t have to be a slave to your menu. If activities get in the way of the food plan for the day, be willing to swap things around. Just don’t let those leftovers go off before you get to eat them!