Hungry Monkey

April 25, 2013

By Raleigh-Elizabeth. Image via Mila’s Daydreams.

Because I am a writer and I work from home, I’m afforded some great luxuries. Chief among these is that I get to define my hours to a certain extent, and lately, because I’m 32 weeks pregnant with our first child and have no reason not to, I’ve taken to eating breakfast in a warm bath with Morning Edition in the background, a cup of tea, and a good book at my side.

If you want to really hate me, I’ll elaborate that I’ve been eating fresh berries with croissants made by my mother, and I have two every morning — chocolate and almond. I figure this is going to be the last time in my life where I have some peace of mind in the morning, and I’m going to make the most of it.

(Since we’re friends, I’ll admit: my work schedule does make un-luxurious demands in other, cruel ways. I just don’t like to think about them when things are still peachy-keen in the morning.)

But for the last few days, this sleepy little ritual has been interrupted by the high-pitched sound of snorting. A very unladylike, ungracious snort, and one or two times there has even been some tea coming out of my nose while I erupt in hyena-like laughter. I can’t help it. I’m reading Hungry Monkey.

Given to me by my stepmother (my sole inspiration and role-model when it comes to all things food and whose great wedding present of a curated cookbook collection you read about here) this past weekend at my baby shower, Hungry Monkey is sub-titled “A Food-Loving Father’s Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater.” I accepted the present greedily, like a recovering addict would take to their formerly beloved drug, because all through this pregnancy, I’ve eaten like a stereotypical four year old. I like things that are white and yellow. I want nothing to do with green. Chicken fingers and plain white cupcakes with plain white frosting (or Funfetti, if we’re feeling really adventurous) have constituted their own food groups.

As someone who has lived her whole adult life on spicy curry soups, brussels sprouts tossed with mustard and capers, and Ethiopian injera, this has been moderately terrifying on a good day and depression-making on the worst. Is this kid so picky I can’t even tolerate any decent food pregnant? Are we going to be resigned to dinners of plain cheese pizza and pasta-with-butter-no-sauce for the next 18 years and eight weeks?

Is it okay to start crying now?

Matthew Amster-Burton, Hungry Monkey‘s author and resident foodie dad, reacted the same way when he found out they were having a baby. Don’t get me wrong, I was elated. We want this baby more than I can ever remember wanting anything in my whole life. But the second most-wanted thing in my life is a really good salami sandwich made with some stinky salami and even more stinky unpasteurized cheese, and I’ve been craving it for 32 weeks. At this point, I’m going to be merely surviving the next eight weeks until I can have it. (We aren’t talking “push presents” in our house. We are talking “push sandwiches.”)

I got to tell my husband, Bill, about our little miracle one Sunday this fall via Skype. He was doing pre-deployment training out in Twentynine Palms, California, where there is miraculously a Starbucks and it miraculously had free Wi-Fi that was miraculously working and he miraculously had some time off to be able to Skype home. (See the miracles happening here?) He was enjoying something Venti Delicious when I relayed the good news, and as soon as we signed off, I found myself on the back porch, head in my hands and recovering from my first bout of morning sickness because my mother had just opened a bottle of V8 juice in the next room. And with that, food miracles in our house came to a screeching halt.

I have had to cook some during this pregnancy (including a very festive and very ambitious Thanksgiving-Christmas mashup with all of Bill’s favorite holiday foods made by me and feeding a crowd of 15), but the last time I attempted to cook anything ended with me calling my mom at work and begging her to come home and turn off the soup I started on the stove, because I didn’t think I could even make it back into the kitchen to turn off the burner without getting violently ill again. Our bun-in-the-oven son, Hunter, wanted nothing to do with soup. Especially with the previously delicious pasta e fagioli I was trying to make. He’s absolutely fine with Chic-Fil-A, white bread, and cream cheese though. And oatmeal, as long as there’s nothing too complicated or colorful in it.

Cue the hysteria of someone who writes about food for a living: How are we going to survive the next two decades? Let alone make a small human who also loves food like we do? Or maybe just loves food that isn’t white and yellow?

It’s this wisdom I’ve been peppering friends and family for over the last few months. My mother reminded me dinner didn’t come with choices, just forks. My stepmother said our only options were what was on our plates or a yogurt. My dad remembers giving us a big helping of Doritos on the sly, but driving a hard bargain when it came to the actual table: there were no bargains. (My dad’s approach to child-rearing, I should explain, is that all children are terrorists. And you do not negotiate with terrorists. Take from that what you will.) I don’t recall dinner being very dramatic, and I do recall having to taste almost everything. I remember falling in love with leg of lamb, broccolini, and steak tartare as a child. I regularly attribute my love of food today to the food put before me growing up. But the mystery remains: How do I do this for my own kid?

In the event I felt alone in this, it’s clear from the body of works available on Amazon that everybody has worried about feeding their brood at one point or another. I will be honest and tell you nearly all of these books intimidate me. But Hungry Monkey (and a few other notable exceptions) isn’t one of them. It makes me laugh. It makes me cry (out of laughter). It makes me snort my tea in my otherwise very ladylike morning bathtub routine. And most of all, it gives me hope.

His big secret? There are no big secrets. Kids are picky. Adults still want adult food. These things all happen and kids survive and become eaters all the same. (He was apparently among the pickiest eaters out there growing up and now writes about food for a living. Hope!) But he’s also pretty fearless with what he gives his daughter to try — everything from the Szechuan staple Ants on a Tree (a fairly spicy noodle dish) to Pad Thai to shrimp and grits with bacon. He keeps cooking, she keeps resisting or stops eating or stops resisting or starts eating, and the world continues to turn on its axis.

This foodie — the one who is thinking it’s chicken fingers for lunch, yet again — sighs with relief.

So I turn to you: You’ve been there, done that. What tricks do you have for getting your kids to eat? Or for at least staying sane while they didn’t?

And if you’re like me, and you need a laugh over how stressful all of that can be (or how stressful it seems to this newbie mama), pick up a copy of Hungry Monkey. You will laugh. You will cry. You will consider moving to Seattle just to go to his local pizza place (they make a pie with sliced pears, walnuts, and blue cheese). You might lose tea through your nose. And if nothing else, you will find camaraderie with the sheer knowledge that if you, too, are serving up another slice of cheese pizza for dinner, you’re not alone. And really, it’s not that bad after all.

Share your wisdom. And if nothing else, please, tell me: Will my kid ever eat brussels sprouts and love them like I do? (Maybe if I cut them into really cute shapes there’s some hope.)

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1 Heidi April 25, 2013 at 7:23 am

Have hope! With my first 2 kids, I’m afraid I succumbed to “feeding down”: chicken fingers, mac & cheese (and not the yummy ones with gorgonzola either), fish sticks and steamed veggies. In my defense, my husband traveled all the time, I was exhausted and there’s kind of a witching hour with little kids that happens right around the time you’d be trying to make dinner. By the time I had my 3rd and 4th kids I was back in the culinary saddle-and making “real” food, ethnic dishes-and everyone just kind of eats it. Plus with 4, and the nightly chaos of activities, car pools and homework, I don’t have the energy/inclination to have battles over dinner. I make what I make, and you eat it-or if you can find a healthy leftover in the fridge from last night’s meal: it’s all yours. Each of my kids have foods they don’t love, but in general, they’re “good eaters”.


2 Raleigh-Elizabeth April 25, 2013 at 8:08 am

That’s all I can hope for, right? That eventually, in the end, they’ll become good eaters!


3 SusanC April 25, 2013 at 7:29 am

I took the same philosphy as your mother…no choices. I simply gave both my boys what the adults were eating for dinner. My oldest son did not like baby food and when I tasted it I understood why, bland and boring. I asked our pediatrician what to do and he laughed and said, what do you think they did before beechnut? Feed him what you eat, just mash it. So we did. I have one rule, you must taste everything, if you do not like it, say no thank you and you do not have to eat anymore. But, act like you are going to throw up, faint or gag and you get another bite, and so on. It took once of this before they took their bite and said no thank you. Now both boys eat pretty much everything. My youngest has eaten raw oysters since he three (asked to eat one and we took bets how fast it would come out but he swallowed it and asked for and both adore snails and ask for them for birthday dinners. We built a pizza oven in the backyard (anniversary present to each other) and they love making dough, rolling it out and picking their toppings, if they want pizza, make it good pizza! We tell them regularly that the world is an adventure and food is a part of that, we watch multiple cooking shows with them and they love the show Bizarre Foods. Of course they have friends who won’t eat anything but a chicken nugget and mine just laugh and say good, more for us.


4 Raleigh-Elizabeth April 25, 2013 at 8:09 am

I’m glad to know that your kids turned out eaters, too, because otherwise I was going to have to talk to my mom about her “no options here, boss” philosophy. (Right now, I’m just leaning towards copying it!)


5 Lynn April 25, 2013 at 7:30 am

Don’t fret!

I have a six year old and an 8 mth old and they nibble a little of everything but the six year old definitely has her ups and downs. We just try to aim for balanced meals but we cook what we’re going to cook (My husband is Colombian, I’m Korean and we both worked as chefs). And then there are the days you just eats crackers and pb&jelly and call it a day.

PS: Are you a North Carolinian? We’re in Carrboro NC :)


6 Raleigh-Elizabeth April 25, 2013 at 8:04 am

I am! We live between Wilmington and Jacksonville, right on the water by Topsail Island. Y’all want to come play chef at our house? You’re totally welcome to… We offer palm trees and sand…


7 Kaytee April 25, 2013 at 7:31 am

You can do it! My 2.5 year old LOVES Brussels sprouts. And broccoli. And sushi. And curry and stir fry, and hummus, and spanikopita, and mango lassi at the Indian buffet place with tandoori chicken and saag paneer. He’s a total foodie. Why? Because of Baby Led Weaning. I’m sure of it. And the next one (I’m 24 weeks) will be raised the same way. No purees, no force-feeding, no fuss. Just fun watching them discover the world of food!! Read about it. Book by Gil Rapley. You’ll love it and kiddo will too!


8 Raleigh-Elizabeth April 25, 2013 at 9:45 am

Okay, so Baby Led Weaning seems to be getting the thumbs up from this crowd. What’s the magic? Does it really work? Has anyone had NO luck with it?


9 Kristen April 29, 2013 at 9:16 am

Kaytee describes my 29 month old daughter, precisely. I too suggest it has a lot to do with baby led weaning. I am 10 weeks with number two and would never consider mashing a thing now. I won’t have the time any way. Our grandparents did not eat pureed baby food, it was invented to use up extra factory capacity after the second world war. There’s no magic, it’s the way it was and is done all over the world, a baby will reach and gnaw when they are ready. My daughter eats everything we eat because in line with your mom – there are no other choices. I am convinced kids will emulate what they see. We offered her healthy, whole foods and that is what she loves. She has been offered chicken nuggets at parties and pushes them away.


10 Gia April 25, 2013 at 7:39 am

I wouldn’t think forcing a child would be good. I know my brothers and I were able to choose one thing we wouldn’t eat as kids. Mine was meatloaf! Other than that one thing, we pretty much had to eat what was served. Worked well actually! My brothers was broccoli, but he happened to love salads so it worked out.


11 Dee Wilcox April 25, 2013 at 7:51 am

I have… a very picky eater. She’s 2 1/2, sweet as can be, but as stubborn as her mother. We always offer her what we are eating, but it’s 50/50 as to whether or not she will actually eat it, or eat a full meal of it. Sometimes she’ll try it, and we’ll supplement with a side of Annie’s Organic mac & cheese. Most of the time, when she doesn’t want to try something, it’s because it looks weird to her, or it’s hard to eat — so raw baby carrots that she can dip go over better than steamed or roasted carrots. I also offer her a wide variety of options. She’s a snacker, so I try to make sure she gets a little bit of a lot of healthy things. Getting her to eat good and healthy things is a huge priority for me, so I sometimes bend the rules a little and let her sit in my lap and eat with me. She usually wants to try or do whatever Mama is doing. We get her involved in the cooking, too — she loves to eat something that she made! Homemade tortillas, pasta, pizza — they’re all winners at our house.


12 Angela April 25, 2013 at 7:58 am

I too laughed through”Hungry Monkey.” But I both laughed because the author is a really funny writer and because he suffered from the classic “I have one kid who at 3 eats everything, therefore I am awesome” syndrome. I definitely suffered from that myself. My eldest ate everything at 3 and I was sure it was because I was the best parent ever. And then at 4, she decided that she wanted more control over her life and decided to find that control at the dinner table. Kids are unpredictable and each one is different.

The best you can do is offer a wide variety of foods and hope for the best. My kids definitely went through picky periods, but as they get older they get more adventurous. My personal philosophy has always been to insist that they taste everything on their plate, but they don’t have to eat it all. I also try to make sure the meal has at least one thing I know they’ll eat. So if today lasagna is a form of torture, eat one bite then have bread and salad for the rest of your meal. Tomorrow when fish becomes your mortal enemy, eat a bite and then eat the apples and green beans. So long as by the end of the week they have had a mostly balanced diet, it is good enough for me.

I also serve fairly deconstructed meals. For example, if we are having pasta, I’ll put a bowl of pasta on the table with a separate bowl of sauce next to it. That way my child who doesn’t believe in sauce can have her pasta plain and my other child who would drink tomato sauce straight from the pot if she could can have as much as she wants. I’m too tired at the end of the day to fight about dinner. If serving dressing on the side means my kids will eat their salad in peace, so be it.


13 Raleigh-Elizabeth April 25, 2013 at 9:47 am

All of this is great advice.


14 JennyM April 25, 2013 at 8:05 am

I adore this book. The author Matthew and Molly Weizenberg also have a podcast called “Spilled Milk” which is hysterical. He also just released a new Kindle book about the month he and his family (wife and daughter) spent in Japan.

Not related to him :) just a fan!


15 Raleigh-Elizabeth April 25, 2013 at 9:48 am

I saw that! I think we need to all read it asap and have a mini-foodie-bookclub about it : )


16 Martha April 25, 2013 at 8:06 am

My husband and I have a rule that “you have to try it”. People remark how great of an eater our three year old is, but it does take work!


17 Raleigh-Elizabeth April 25, 2013 at 9:48 am

Did you have the try it rule growing up, too? Do you think we’re mostly just repeating what our parents did to us? (And thus my inclination to not my head vigorously to the “there are no options, only forks” mentality?)


18 Alicia W. April 25, 2013 at 8:07 am

We have a 2 bite rule…our kids are obligated to try 2 bites of everything on their plates. Sometimes it’s a battle, sometimes it’s not. My husband and I are emerging foodies, so we are loving to try making new things for dinner. We do try to even things out a bit by balancing a new main dish out with side dishes that are tried and true favorites, but my 6 year old does complain about asparagus. All three kids love broccoli, so that is a staple for us. Our 17 month old will eat just about anything…I think it is because he got to eat “real” food a bit earlier than his sisters did. He’s much more adventurous with eating. One last thing we do is involve our kids in our menu making process. That way they know that there will be at least one meal during the week that is their favorite.


19 Raleigh-Elizabeth April 25, 2013 at 9:49 am

I like that. One of our commenters said something about that during our Plated post, I think! Something about how she involves her kids in the menu planning, so everyone feels some ownership over a given meal… completely brilliant. I love your idea!


20 Rachael April 25, 2013 at 8:09 am

At a recent dinner, my 7-yr-old and 5-yr-old got in an argument over who got to finish off the last of the brussels sprouts (roasted with grapes and walnuts). So don’t give up hope!

I’ve found a couple of things that work well for me:

1) Make sure there is at least one thing on the table that the kids are happy to eat (even if it’s just fresh homemade whole-wheat bread).
2) Serve “real” food from the beginning, especially to new eaters, who will try anything!
3) Accept that from about 3-6 years old, kids are going to be more picky. They’ll get over it. Just don’t cater to it too much.
4) “Eat your age” if the kid hates something–for instance, if you’re five, you only have to eat five bites of a food you really really dislike.


21 Raleigh-Elizabeth April 25, 2013 at 9:50 am

I LOVE the eat your age thing. Totally brillig. This works in your house?


22 Zoe - SlowMama April 25, 2013 at 8:13 am

I’ve read that what you eat when you’re pregnant affects your child’s tolerance for spices, textures, and flavors. Not sure if that plays out in any consistent way — I can’t remember where I read the research — but the theory is interesting. And it also means you’ve got 4-6 weeks or so to start going nuts. Ha.

This book is now on my list. My husband and I adopted two 4.5 year olds last fall and when they came home (from Ethiopia), they ate five things (and I literally mean five things): boiled eggs, bananas, bread, oranges, and certain kinds of meat. (And Ethiopian food, of course, but I’ve yet to master injera and could only pull off about 2-3 authentic-tasting Ethiopian dishes.)

Could have been worse, I realize, but after weeks of them polishing off a loaf of bread and eight bananas (each) a day and refusing apples, yogurt, all green foods, cheese, macaroni, and all the things you feed kids when you’re desperate, I was beginning to lose my mind.

Cut to six months later: They’re eating whole apples; they starting eating raw spinach (with vinaigrette) two weeks ago; they’re eating broccoli; one has eaten roasted brussels sprouts and beets and cauliflower. Every single time they eat a colored food, I feel like I’m witnessing a miracle.

We just keep presenting and re-presenting food. Some things have been wasted as I make dishes I was *sure* they’d like (or that they liked last week but suddenly hate this week), but we have come SUCH A LONG WAY. I simply refused to accept that we were going to have daughters who didn’t love food. Poor things, they just didn’t stand a chance.

Thanks for such an enjoyable post!


23 Raleigh-Elizabeth April 25, 2013 at 9:53 am

Oh no, I’m doomed. Maybe I’ll be saved by the fact that for a few weeks all I could eat WAS spicy stuff? This kid is going to have a real taste for chick fil a and ice cream, otherwise, and he’ll be in for a sad awakening when he realizes it’s daddy’s ragu with polenta or nothing.
And by “nothing” I mean more ragu with polenta.

Do you have any local Ethiopian restos nearby where you could take the kids? What an adventure!


24 Zoe - SlowMama April 25, 2013 at 1:24 pm

Yes, we do, thankfully — and we took them there. Problem is, they can eat an entire combo platter by themselves so we could never get out of there for under $60, which meant we couldn’t go every day :-)


25 ck April 25, 2013 at 8:13 am

I too was appalled by my pregnant body’s food choices. I was sick the whole pregnancy and nauseated by everything I loved. White bread, American cheese, plain potato chips, and popsicles were my staples. But these things did not translate to my daughter, who is a totally adventurous eater. The trick that works for me (she’s 3) is not to offer it to her. We just eat and moan over how good something is until she says, “Can I have some?” Then we’re like, “Oh, I guess so, if you insist.” And my body bounced right back to its normal food taste once she was out. And dreams of stinky cheese and a really good whiskey got me through labor.


26 Raleigh-Elizabeth April 25, 2013 at 10:44 am

I am on board with all of this. Especially the labor-dreams.


27 Amy April 25, 2013 at 8:17 am

Like Angela, I planned meals when my kids were little so that everyone had at least one food (preferably two) that they liked. And, I also agree with her that it’s easy to have a toddler who eats everything. It can get more difficult as kids decide they are the boss of their food. And, you know what? They are. So no games, no hiding healthy food in kiddie food, no bribery, no punishments. Just put the same food in front of them that everyone else is eating and go on from there. Now that my kids are teens, they will forage for leftovers or make a sandwich if they don’t like what we’re having. But the rule is, when we’re all home, we all eat together.


28 Marianne Skarupa April 25, 2013 at 8:20 am

While pregnant we travelled to Italy and stayed with family. I witnessed a cousins teenage daughters and 8 yr. old eat everything put before them. I told her that my similarly aged nephews in America wouldn’t touch this food. How did she do it? She said she cooks whatever she and Michael (her husband – American) want. If the girls don’t want it she lets them make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich – she figured that was reasonably healthy. They rarely eat the sandwich and the parents don’t fuss over it. We resolved to do the same thing. Avocado was one of my son’s first foods. He likes eggplant parmigiana stuff between Italian bread as a sandwich at school. Yes, he loves pizza, hot dogs etc. I also told him that taste buds rarely like anything – that it takes them 15 tries to even begin to like something. So, a no-thank-you-bite is always a good idea. That means : take a bite and if you don’t care for it you can say, “no thank you” to more. I’ve also never talked about food as if it were the enemy. When we talk about food it’s about how much fun it is and how cooking with love and good ingredients make a difference. Now he nags his exceedingly picky friend to TRY things.


29 Gia April 25, 2013 at 8:28 am

Yes to brussels sprouts. They are a favorite around here, especially when cooked with crispy bacon and some hard, salty cheese sprinkled over the top.
We have three children and they all have likes and dislikes. Our hardest trouble is that most things are always in flux. One day green beans are the preferred vegetable and the next they sit uneaten, except for the one required bite, on the plate.
Our food philosophy sounds pretty similar to the Hungry Monkey author. Give it a try, keep eating what you love. Plus, we are a bit old school in the no special dinners, no special treatment. After our kids could eat pretty much everything we don’t make special allowances. If we’re having something that isn’t their favorite thing they suffer through. The only time someone gets to decide is on their birthday and usually my kids choose sushi – because we’re from San Francisco and seaweed is the preferred snack of choice among those under age 12.
My best trick is: don’t stress about it. It is super unlikely your child won’t grow. It’s also super unlikely that your child won’t be abundantly smart. Feed them when they are ready, offer them foods you love, figure out what works for your family. If you end up at a drive through on a road trip, starving and crying because you can’t believe you’re about to feed your lovely child french fries as a meal, take a deep breath and relax. Your child will survive and so will you. The intention is more important and getting through the picky phases will happen.
My mother, who self-admittingly was the most picky eater as a child (she actually had a lot of food fears – like being scared of broccoli) now is a wonderful, adventurous eater. She’ll crow with joy at liver and onions on a menu and pick up every leafy green she can find.

PS. My 10 year old son was just reading over my shoulder and he said his food trick is to put bacon on everything. “If they can put bacon on a donut, you can put bacon on ANYTHING!”


30 Raleigh-Elizabeth April 25, 2013 at 10:46 am

hahahahahaha this was fantastic.


31 v in maine April 25, 2013 at 8:29 am

Thank you for the book recommendation!

Meanwhile, do keep in mind that if you’re breastfeeding, there will be months of you not being horrendously nauseated and your child getting tastes of the food you’re eating. That is a wonderful time to revisit stinky cheeses and salami (or, in my case stinky cheeses and ALL THE RAW FISH A PERSON CAN EAT).

Otherwise, I’m going to defer to the parents of older kids who have commented. I know I was a very picky eater, and my mum employed a combination of trying to make things that I would like, requiring that I tasted everything, and absolutely not making multiple meals. Ultimately, I just grew out of it.


32 Raleigh-Elizabeth April 25, 2013 at 10:47 am

you eat raw fish. i will eat salami. together we will make up for pregnancy.


33 Lisa April 25, 2013 at 8:43 am

This is my first time reading and I love your blog already. While I don’t have kids quite yet, this is something I think about all the time … how to encourage your child to be an adventurous eater. But you know, I think of myself as a 5-6 yr old… We would frequent Chinese restaurants and you know what I would eat? White rice. ONLY white rice… who knows how food became such a passion!


34 Clare Barrera April 25, 2013 at 8:45 am

Starting when she was 8 months old, anything I could chop up or mash or puree off of my plate, that’s what she was most interested in. She loved my pad thai, my Russian meat pies and spicy enchiladas. I thought, “I’ve got an adventurous eater on my hands. I’ve got nothing to worry about.” What I didn’t know is that kids aren’t born picky, but they become picky. Somewhere between 2 and 3 Iris was no longer interested in spicy things or green vegetables.


35 Cecilia April 25, 2013 at 9:07 am

Like you I lived on bland, sick food when I was pregnant but it didn’t make my son into a poor eater. My son eats mostly everything, to the astonishment of most of our friends. He’s now 12 and his favorites are South Indian and sushi. We never made special meals; I do try to make the best, freshest, most interesting and flavorful food I can for my family. We lived in Italy when he was a baby and there was very little “baby food” available in the stores. I pureed my own, the Italians gave him heels of bread to gnaw on in restaurants, tiny pasta in brodo. There are no children’s menus there, something I think about often.

To echo another comment, one of the things we have always said to him is, “What if this is the yummiest thing you’ll have ever eaten and you’re missing it?”

That said, in my informal research among friends and family, parents who were picky eaters as children (even if they had grown out of it as adults) were likely to have picky-eater offspring. True! My husband and I were never picky eaters—though our siblings were. And guess what? All my nieces and nephews are in the picky-eater category. And their parents make special food for them. So I’d say, proceed with the plan to raise an adventurous eater but realize that genetics may play a part. Nurture and nature, as always!


36 the emily April 25, 2013 at 9:27 am

My oldest is still the pickiest eater I’ve ever known. So picky, in fact, that we are working with the doctor because he is MALNOURISHED. Seriously. My second son eats anything and everything. He was sitting on the counter with me while I chopped tomatoes when he was about a year old and he ate the entire tomato. I would chop, he would eat. A plain tomato. I don’t even like tomatoes. So I think it depends a bit on the kid, but also I think it helps that I just pile his plate and he tries it. Some things he doesn’t like (no potatoes), but most things he does–he’s been known to ask for “more esophagus and bikini, please.” (asparagus and zucchini). Good luck!


37 Raleigh-Elizabeth April 25, 2013 at 10:49 am

Best of luck with the older one! And the younger one sounds hilarious.


38 Jane April 25, 2013 at 9:34 am

My son is 11 months. We were in Jamaica last month, and he tried curried goat & jerk chicken. He loved both! He rarely refuses any food. I think part of the reason is that we never did purees but went to real food right away using the Baby-Led Weaning method. We started with naturally soft things (bananas, avocado, pears) and went on to cooked (mostly steamed or roasted) vegetables, then poultry, fish, eggs, dairy. We don’t have any allergies in the family, but we still took it pretty slowly.

Another thing is that we try very hard to always eat breakfast and dinner together. (On vacation, we ate all three meals together, which was wonderful for a sense of family & community.) Babies love to imitate, so when our son sees us chewing, using the fork, knife & spoon, he wants to do the same thing.


39 Raleigh-Elizabeth April 25, 2013 at 10:50 am

Another vote for baby led! Does anyone else want to weigh in on this? Should I get this book? (I assume it’s a book in an addition to a way of life?) Or should I just wait and cross this bridge when I come to it? (On that note, I lost my copy of Confident Baby Care. I’m not sure what that says for my baby care confidence.)


40 Kristin April 25, 2013 at 10:13 am

You are so funny. I always look forward to your posts. I have a 6 year old son who has always eaten anything happily. We pretty much thought we were the best parents ever. Then we had our daughter. Who survives on pb&j, most fruits and some meat. She was expose to all of the same foods, same parenting philosophy, and it is like night and day with them.
My advice is that every child is different and you shouldn’t stress about food or have any hard rules. You can’t make a child eat and you will go crazy trying. We cook what we want to eat and I often offer her a deconstructed version of it. If she won’t eat it she gets yogurt or abanana or pb&j.


41 Raleigh-Elizabeth April 25, 2013 at 10:55 am

I’m so glad you find my posts funny. Bill (my husband) says reading them is just like listening to me talk… I guess that means I yap on and on. But I yap on and on about food stuffs! So it can’t be that bad!

I appreciate your wisdom, too. I think I’m just going to steam forward and stress not. Or, as little as humanly possible for a very neurotic, stress-prone person. (Me.)


42 Martha April 25, 2013 at 10:14 am

In the nicest way possible I would say you are overreacting. I totally understand the overreacting, I’m 33 weeks with baby 4 and sometimes want to take a shotgun to the saltine isle of the local store. That being said, my kids are food lovers! Their favorites are Indian food and home made turkey pot pie. Have no fear, food will soon be your friend again!


43 Raleigh-Elizabeth April 25, 2013 at 10:56 am

Hah! Hooray!


44 Melinda George April 25, 2013 at 10:18 am

A sophisticated palette is developed, inherited and expanded over a lifetime. I as a grandparent am still trying new and interesting foods, cooking and sharing with those who are brave enough to try. Are you afraid of your food I ask the kids? My grandson tried seaweed yesterday, and he laughed, and took a second bite.


45 Terri April 25, 2013 at 11:06 am

My first child would eat everything, did not like sweets, and ate a lot. Pretty much a dream. Along came my second one and she was the opposite. She was a very picky eater, loved everything sweet and did not want to eat much. During that “picky eater – not eating much of anything” stage I had some other moms over for a book club, during which, I asked them about what I should do. Should I cave and start feeding her differently than the rest of the family? I just wanted her to eat! Eat anything! The overwhelming response in the room (at the same time) was “NO! Don’t do it!” Each one of them had done it with at least one of their children and regretted it. That was enough to keep me on the track of feeding my picky eater the same food we ate- and I am so glad I did! She came through that time and now eats everything and enjoys trying new things.


46 Diana April 25, 2013 at 11:21 am

With my oldest I was a short order cook. I made my husband and I our dinner then made her something she would eat. I did not due any favors by doing this. She is still my pickiest eater. After we had our second daughter and then our third I only made one dinner and they had t try a, ‘no thank you’ serving of everything on the table. I did let them have a few exceptions once they had tried it once they and really didn’t like it they didn’t have to endure it over and over. Like tomatoes or mushrooms or onions. My two younger daughters will eat almost anything now.


47 Diana April 25, 2013 at 11:21 am

oops ** do not due!!!


48 mommio April 25, 2013 at 1:59 pm

I am thinking it is all going to turn out fine. Our rule was you had to taste everything at some point, but not at every meal. Our three kids all had some kind of weird food predilections at one time or another, and, as adults, two out of the three are now great adventuresome eaters, and the one who’s not “adventuresome” is still a great eater – concerned about nutrition, healthy food and serving her child the same – she’s just not interested in foods outside of what most people would call “normal” food (for instance she loves brussel sprouts, chinese take out, mojitos; prefers not to eat elk, sushi, or ethnic foods she can’t identify. That kind of “normal.”) Everyone’s taste is different. We also have one who hates bananas, and always has, even from early infancy. We have another who is that way about green beans. And in both cases, I find it weird those are the two things there are objections to, because of the great variety of things they do eat. Like I said, I think it will all work out fine. Don’t burn another calorie worrying about it.


49 Erin April 25, 2013 at 2:09 pm

Don’t fret too much, my 3 children are growing into great eaters…sometimes it just takes a while. I just kept offering, chose rarely to dumb down dinner, and have found that many food dislikes are being outgrown.

PS: I live in NC too.


50 Raleigh-Elizabeth April 25, 2013 at 5:14 pm

The Great North State rocks the internet! Or something like that.


51 Laura April 25, 2013 at 2:37 pm

I haven’t read all the comments (toddler’s up from the nap yelling at me from the other room) but I have managed to have three good eaters by simply not making eating a big deal. If it becomes a battle of wills, you’ve already lost. Some children will use food intake to assert their independence if they see that it’s important to you, and since you can’t FORCE them to put it in their mouth you’re going to lose. So no hovering, counting bites or making different meals. Kind of like your mom, “there’s no choices, only forks” but then you let them decide what they put in their mouth. No child has willingly starved themselves to death, so if the only choices are good ones, eventually they will learn to eat what’s there. I try to teach my kids to listen to their bodies, and if they aren’t that hungry they don’t have to eat, just make sure they are not sneaking cookies an hour later! I do allow my children one food that they don’t like, since, hey, no one makes me eat eggplant if I don’t like it, so they are allowed one food that they do not ever have to eat or be served, but everything else is fair game. It gives them some control and keeps it from ever becoming a battle. Good luck!


52 Chris April 25, 2013 at 3:24 pm

Just read your comment Laura, and totally agree with you.


53 Raleigh-Elizabeth April 25, 2013 at 5:13 pm

this approach seems so sane to me. thank you : )


54 Chris April 25, 2013 at 3:23 pm

The best piece of advice about kids and food was given to me by our wonderful midwife (and friend), said said she had never heard of a child starving itself. So, as long as there is food there, they will eat it! It’s just the parents patience that gets sorely tested in the process. Our three kids are fairly good eaters, and have improved so much as they’ve gotten older; particularly as we have learnt to offer fewer choices, and try and live by the dictum they won’t starve themselves. We have a couple of not negoitables every meal and they are always: vegetables. And they don’t have to finish everything on their plate. But if they don’t: well that’s it. You’re not hungry, so no apples, toast, dessert….blah blah. Man, feeding kids can be a tedious deal, especially when they are young. Don’t panic, as with (almost) everything, they do grow out if it!


55 Yvette April 25, 2013 at 4:56 pm

“Man, feeding kids can be a tedious deal,” so very very true. Nothing teaches me patience more than feeding my 20-month old dinner. And you can’t use negotiations like “You have to try one bite” on a 20-month old. Tedious is right. :)


56 Yvette April 25, 2013 at 4:59 pm

Also, my 20-old may not starve himself to death, but he will starve himself enough to wake up at 2 am too hungry to go back to sleep! *sigh* Time to go try to coax him into some chicken parm.


57 Raleigh-Elizabeth April 25, 2013 at 5:15 pm

You all are making me feel so confident. It might be naive on my part, but I’m running with. My kid won’t starve himself! HOORAY! (No sarcasm intended. Really, this is a big deal.)


58 jovana April 25, 2013 at 4:51 pm

ha! we were talking about push sandwiches too! in serbian hospitals they don’t let you eat or drink during labour and for a couple hours afterwards (i understand this is not the case in some other countries), so i was telling my husband not to come visit me unless he brings me a giant sandwich (and a berry cream tart, which i resisted for 9 months). i ended up labouring for 19 hours and then having emergency c-section and wasn’t allowed to eat anything but mashed potatoes and yogurt for five days. (not to mention berry tarts aren’t exactly recommended when breastfeeding)

as for feeding kids, my 9 month old seems perfectly happy to taste everything that we eat, even things we’d never expect him to like at all – we let him suck on a raw onion once and basically had to pull him away, he was gnawing on it so hard. just imagine a four month old with onion breath! when he shows curiosity we encourage him and let him taste anything that’s safe for him. before he had teeth we let him lick things and he was equally happy to lick chocolate as he was to lick a burger. he doesn’t seem too crazy about meat+veg purees though, but recently he has been a lot more willing to eat them separately as finger food. sometimes all it takes is a different texture. but as someone said, don’t make a big deal out of it. he’ll squirm sometimes or something will distract him but he’ll eventually turn back to me and ask for more – i give him about 20 minutes per meal, if he loses interest that’s fine, he’ll make up for it next meal. i don’t add fruit to his vegetables to trick him into eating them or anything like that, and i just stay cool.

good luck!


59 Raleigh-Elizabeth April 25, 2013 at 5:17 pm

i think i may need to paint this on my forehead so every time i look in the mirror i remember it : stay cool.

i really will try : )


60 sarah April 25, 2013 at 6:22 pm

Dear Raleigh-Elizabeth,

Congratulations!! What an exciting time in your life. Here’s my advice: get thee a copy of “Dinner: a Love Story” by Jenny Rosenstrach as soon as possible!! (And check out her website: It’s all about feeding kids and their parents, and it’s BRILLIANT.

Best of luck to you!


61 Jennifer April 25, 2013 at 6:27 pm

Thanks for being honest with us! With three boys 6,4, and 18 months. I try to balance out what we make. most nights it’s what my husband and I like and I give in 1 or 2 nights a week to homemade pizza. But they are learning to love pad Thai and classic bolognese. I will make my children foodies and they will know how to cook when they leave our home.


62 C-Joy April 26, 2013 at 4:59 am

I use these words on a daily basis -at home & at school (I work with 3-6 year olds): You don’t have to like it in order to eat it. Generally, they will eat at least a bites of whatever food they are claiming to dislike :)


63 Jimmy April 26, 2013 at 6:10 am

This was great. Your tub routine sounds wonderful, and you shouldn’t feel bad about it. You’ve earned it. And your dad is right in his view of children. Do not negotiate.

Mine are 2.5 y/o and 10 months old, and are (so far) excellent eaters – to the point that it constantly surprises me, and at the same time nothing surprises me. Much to my southern father’s great joy, my toddler will eat bowls full of his spicy shrimp grits. My youngest’s new favorite food? Roasted eggplant cubes (skin on!).

My rule for the sometimes wanna-be-picky toddler: he can have whatever he wants, but only AFTER he eats what we’ve given him for his meal. For the little one, we just constantly introduce new foods to her. Otherwise, we’re a rather foodie-minded household – we all cook, we all love to eat. and we eat together.


64 Raleigh-Elizabeth April 26, 2013 at 9:02 am

I love this. And I will continue to unabashedly love my breakfast bathtub routine. For the next eight weeks, at least : )


65 Ann (the stepmother) April 26, 2013 at 7:34 am

As I confessed to you, I acquired this book LONG after I had kids of “that age” because Amster-Burton’s adventures are timeless and hilarious. The other cool “trick” with feeding kids by the way is to make food in small kid-sized packages (muffin-tin meatloaves, empanadas, mini pancakes, tiny sandwiches, etc.). With a few tricks, and an oft-repeated mantra (“this too shall pass, this too shall pass”), all mostly works out in the end. But one more neat trick: name your meals some “engaging” names. For example, Raleigh-oli Casseroli, anyone?


66 Raleigh-Elizabeth April 26, 2013 at 9:01 am

This has to win as my favorite comment — y’all! the stepmother! this is mine! The one who started my whole food-love thing to begin with! And Raleigh-oli Casseroli was really the best meal ever.


67 Anna April 26, 2013 at 9:21 am

Ooh… I hated red food. Any red food, from KoolAid to spaghetti sauce (I once ordered lasagna with white sauce and they accidentally brought red, and I couldn’t eat it. I did try.) Chinese or Indian takeaway 3+ years later… On an even more amusing note, family story says that my grandmother’s trigger was her wedding shoes. She *had* to get married. I wonder if there was a connection…


68 Anna April 26, 2013 at 9:30 am

Also, just remember how many more years’ experience you have at stubbornness than your child. Staying cool is definitely the key.


69 Stella April 26, 2013 at 9:32 am

I was a pretty picky eater as a child. Whenever we went out to eat, no matter how fancy or how unique the cuisine was, I *always* ordered chicken fingers. Seriously. My parents are serious foodies, and they would literally cringe when I would ask the waiter, “Do you have chicken fingers?” The good news is that somewhere during my teenage years I grew out of it. So… this is just to say that if you do have picky eaters as young children, they’ll probably get over it eventually. :)


70 sophie-anne April 27, 2013 at 9:05 am

Involving our kids has been key for us. We shop, cook, garden together and, therefore, they want to try the food we prepare. Otherwise, our eldest, now 3, at least has to try what’s offered to her.

Also, what I think made a world of a difference to us is that our children stay at tha table with us while we eat together. There’s no getting up after 2 bites to go play around here. I find that if they stay around the table, they are more prone to eat the food that’s there…


71 April @ Occupational Therapy Philadelphia April 27, 2013 at 6:17 pm

Baby food was never invented thousands of years ago but personally I feed my baby mashed food of basically what I eat – potatoes, rice, some veggies and fish. Just little tiny bits of it. I sometimes use the blender to put in little slices of meat like chicken when he was around 6 to 8 months along with oatmeal topped with sugar and full-cream powdered which my little boy loved a lot. I just give him what I eat mostly. I’m into healthy food so I believe that baby food does carry preservatives no matter how they keep saying that it doesn’t. Natural food is still the best way for babies, at least in my opinion.


72 Brandy @ The Prudent Homemaker April 28, 2013 at 4:04 pm

I have 7 children, and my pickiestis my oldest. She likes bland foods. I let her choose what to eat. I won’t do that again!

My 6th child is 3 now and likes bell peppers, goat cheese, and spicy food. She is my most adventurous eater.

I read French Kids Eat Everything and that changed my perspective. I saw what I had done wrong with my 2 oldest, but I also saw what I had done right with the others. I also saw room for improvment when I read in there about a 9-month-old eating blue cheese. Something clicked for me then and I realized that all of my babies have reached for the food on MY plate, but I wouldn’t let them eat it, insisting they eat their own. With our 7th, I serve her from my plate, and she tries it all. Her favorite food is broccoli (she’s loved it since she was 9 months old; she’s 1 now and she just polished off about 2/3 of a cup of broccoli the other day); I steam it really soft and give it to her with a little salt and margarine—just like I like it. The funny thing is that she won’t take a bit of new things unless she sees one of us take a bit first. Then, once she sees us eat it, she tries everything.

Don’t buy baby food. Just wait until they are old enough to sit up and eat, and then they will try things–bean soups, swiss chard soup, sweet peas with a little butter and salt, broccoli, beans (a much better finger food than cereal!), etc.


73 Erin May 3, 2013 at 8:13 am

My son is particular, but we’re very lucky in his eating habits. Avocado is his favorite food. He’ll eat sushi and vietnamese springs rolls and smoked salmon. He’ll eat things that I didn’t try until I was an adult. I think that this is about 75% luck and 25% parenting. Part of it is getting him to put the food in his mouth and the rest is whether his palette enjoys that food or thinks it’s disgusting.

My tips come from my place as a reformed super picky eater myself. I was a weird kid who ate tons of vegetables (brussels sprouts are my favorite too), but they were all served with butter, salt and pepper. For me, many things were just a matter of having the idea of the taste in my mind before I tried them. By relating a new food to something my son already likes, we can get him to try new things willingly. Quinoa? It’s just “tiny rice”. Multi-grain blend? It’s “easter rice” (because of the colors). He tried pork tenderloin for the first time because we said it was like sausage, before it was turned into sausage. “What’s it taste like mommy?” – It’s salty or sweet or similar to something he already likes. Keep it simple. He also gets a lot of praise for just trying something new and we just say, maybe you’ll like it next time you try it.

As with most parenting questions, advice can be helpful but you really need to see how it plays out with your own kid. Parent the kid that you have.


74 Erin May 3, 2013 at 8:15 am

Oh – and to second your stepmother on the cute packaging – many new foods were introduced as samples at the grocery store. Kid will eat anything with a toothpick in it (including roasted beets – though he was not a fan).


75 Delphine May 8, 2013 at 12:25 am

You might be interested to know that on the first months they usually only drink milk.
Just kidding.

My grandmother was a pediatrician . She raised 7 sons. She used to say that she never saw a child letting himself die of starvation ( unless severe trauma) . I stopped stressing . She had rules : children should serve themselves from the serving dishes, but they had to finish their plates . What a child doesn’t want he had to taste. We had free access to bread and fruits. I wasn’t a picky eater at all as a girl, eating cassoulet or saucisson with delight, and asking for artichoke as a treat. But my brothers were picky. My son is picky. He is the pickiest. I just make sure he has his favorite fruits and veggies, a lot of lean proteins and then I let go. It’ s his plate, not mine. We eat together and when something looks yummy on my plate he tries. I don’t care! He is a healthy boy, tall and strong. Trying to give him adult habits as a boy is just plain silly.

Annoter thing to know is that in a world were kids are carried from a point to another on a strict schedule with no room or space to express themselves, saying no to food is their only way to be heard.


76 Caryn May 8, 2013 at 8:30 pm

I don’t know if you’ll actually see this comment considering I’m woefully behind on my reading posts considering our first child had a birthday a week ago and life has been full of family. But, when I read this (and loved it of course!) I had to mention that you should read French Kids Eat Everything. Awesome book with great tips. We are a year into it with our first and so far everything is going well. Excellent eater and we are optimistic for the future. :)


77 Dee Wilcox May 15, 2013 at 12:38 pm

I picked this one up at the library today. I remembered your review and couldn’t resist. I’m looking forward to reading it! :)


78 Gayletrini July 12, 2013 at 4:58 pm

Raleigh congratulations on the birth of your new baby!!
If it is any consolation I ate wonderfully healthy with my twins, my diet was chuck-filled with fruits and vegetables, I juiced, ate salads I was a shining example of all that is good and clean and guess what my kiddies will eat nothing but junk now and even in the beginning there is no exploration or desire to be healthy! LOL
So what I am saying is it really doesn’t matter what they eat invitro but how good you are at introducing and reintroducing the good stuff.
Enjoy enjoy your munchkin because they do grow soooo fast!


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81 Jess. November 7, 2013 at 10:01 am

Ha! I tell my kids regularly that I do not negotiate with terrorists! Whining is not an appropriate negotiation tactic at our house.

My kids came into my life at the ages of 2 1/2 (only ate chicken and ketchup at the time, no joke) and 6. At first, it was a daily battle of green-things-on-your-plate-but-you-don’t-have-to-eat-them. One day, I had time on my hands, and I waged the Great Oatmeal War. I cleaned the entire house and he spent 3 hours sitting at the table with his steadily-congealing opponent. While I absolutely commiserate with people with picky eaters, I also think there’s something to be said for, as a parent, drawing a line in the sand. You don’t have to eat what’s for dinner, but the option is not eating dinner. It sounds dictatorial, but my kids do get to choose one food [at a time] that they do not have to eat. For my oldest, that was carrots for a while, until he realized how delicious they were. For me, it was my mom’s cream of broccoli soup (ugh; so milky and oniony and gross).

And we do try to make food fun/beautiful. Broccoli was hard-won, and I ate a lot of tiny trees with my lips puckered strangely and my eyes crossed, saying I was a baby giraffe. The payoff came, however, with my once-picky kindergarten student shoveling it into his mouth and telling me fervently that “home bloccolis is much lummier than school bloccolis!”



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