My friend paused to take a breath, then went on to tell me that her family didn't really like lean ground pork, which is what she had thawed,
Because I'm creative in the kitchen- I like to play with combining non-traditional ingredients together- and I'm the only professional meal planner she knows, I was a good person to ask. I rattled off a list of the usual things I make with ground pork, and each answer was met with "my husband doesn't like that" or "my son won't eat that" or "my son and husband like that, but not my daughter", or some other variation along that theme. I suggested she try gradually getting them into ground pork by combining it with lean ground beef, to get them used to the flavour a little at a time, which is an option she'll definitely explore. Eventually she picked a random recipe from a cookbook because it sounded delicious. I bet almost everyone reading this can relate to the outcome- she liked it, but her family was more "meh".
Show of hands! Does this sound like a familiar story in your house? You're not alone. It happens in my house too, maybe not everyday, but often. My biggest critic is my second son, who at age 6 likes the idea of being an adventurous eater, but isn't so keen on putting it into practice.
As main meal makers, our job, to put it simply, is to decide what to make for dinner, and it's the job of your people to decide if they'll eat it or not. And that's it. We tend to feel responsible for the choices our people make. If they don't eat it, they'll be hungry...or they won't be healthy...or they'll binge on less than desirable options- but that's not on you, Meal Maker. That's on them.
Admittedly, it's hard to let go of that guilt. It's hard not to take it personally. As meal makers, we spend a ridiculous amount of time pondering the "what's for dinner" question. We agonize over which vegetable to serve or what protein to cook or if there are too many carbs in the meal. Is it nutritious enough? Or too processed? Will I be judged if I pop in a frozen pizza for my son's birthday party? It's hard to plan a meal, let alone a week or a month's worth of meals, without feeling the stress of that "but what if they don't like it?". There will be a few practical suggestions on dealing with this further along.
Sometimes not eating is an issue, especially when there are health related diagnoses in play. Both of my boys have been really, really picky, but it was my second son that had a health-related issue exacerbated by his refusal to eat. It wasn't a situation where "tough, then you'll be hungry" came into play, because that approach would have impacted his health more than just having a hungry tummy. In his case, we had to make sure there was a bedtime snack every night without fail. I made sure there was something on our dinner plates he liked eating, so he could enjoy eating dinner with us, and I would encourage him to try whatever it was that he was avoiding, but I didn't make a big deal out of it. One of the biggest lessons I've learned in parenting a couple of picky kids and being married to a somewhat picky husband is that food shouldn't be a fight. I grew up with food issues- I don't want my boys to be saddled with those same issues as adults.
Back to my friend. She's in a different place than I am. Her youngest child is the same age as my oldest, and her husband is substantially pickier than mine. But there are a few standard rules that always apply, no matter what the situation. Even when there are health related issues at play!
Picky kids are one thing, and I have a lot of sympathy for them. They are just beginning to learn about flavours and textures, what things feel like and taste like. I've got texture issues, myself. But picky adults are something else entirely- it's our job to demonstrate bravery and fortitude to the little people in our lives. A willingness to try new things expands far beyond our meal choices. Adults can decide to make changes to their food habits, too. It begins with a decision, and continues with conscious effort.
For example, before I was a mom, I wouldn't eat bananas that had freckles on them. Then I had a kid, and realized it was time to change that attitude. And freckled bananas are just fine, really. It took me a while to get used to them being a little softer and sweeter than I liked, but I didn't want a lifetime ahead of kids who wouldn't eat fruit if there was a little imperfection. Certain foods I know I don't like I actually keep trying periodically, such as blue cheese. I don't hate it as much as I used to. In fact, it's delicious when paired with certain foods...like steak- blue cheese butter with steak is amazing.
Another adult example for you, this time using my husband. I've been trying for the last 18 years to get him to eat eggs. There's a strong flavour in cooked eggs that he is hypersensitive to, and it's been hard for him to get over that. But in the interest of eating better and demonstrating to the kids that eggs aren't all bad, he's been working through that, trying them in different ways to see what he can handle eating. And I'm excited and delighted to tell you that last week he ate eggs for breakfast twice.
Bottom line, be patient with your picky people. Ultimately they need to decide they are willing to make that effort, but it probably wouldn't hurt if you lay it out for them with a conversation (not a lecture) about what it would mean to you. If you talk to your kids about food, lay it out in terms of nutrition, rather than "good" or "bad" foods. My feeling about food is "everything in moderation" - it's better to not assign labels to foods. Too much of a "good" food is still too much, and do we want our people to feel guilty for indulging in something we've assigned "bad" to?
One of the best ways to meal plan with picky people is to make it a family affair. Sit down with your family, and give them a list of what you want to get out of a meal- whether it's a variety of colourful fruit and vegetables, or whole grains rather than processed, or an assortment of proteins- and let them plan the meals with you. By engaging them in the process, they're taking ownership, and are more likely to actually eat what you prepare.
Another option is to sit down with your people and the family calendar, and assign everyone a night to be in charge of the meal. If they come up with pancakes, bacon, and fruit salad every time it's their turn, at least it's relatively balanced, you freed up your time to do something important for you, and there won't be any fights over what's on the dinner table.
You could also hire a meal planner, such as myself. My service includes a comprehensive questionnaire about food related goals, likes and dislikes, health issues, and so on. The stress of planning around picky eaters falls on my shoulders, rather than yours. I even include all the recipes and a grocery list- all you have to do is shop off the list and cook the meals I suggest.
What stresses you out in the kitchen? What service could I provide that would help you out the most? Do you have any suggestions to share that helped in a picky eater situation? Please feel free to comment!
If you enjoyed this post, please share it with your friends! You may also enjoy this post about body image, or this post about talking nutrition with kids.
And by the way, dinner tonight at my house is lean ground pork meatloaf muffins (doubling the recipe to stock my freezer), homemade vegetable soup, and (gasp) Kraft dinner. My kids have been asking for it, and I'm not opposed to shortcut meals from time to time.
It's been a pleasure, friends. All the best today,