Student Exchanges and Other Ways to Deal with Picky Eaters


Do you have a picky eater in your house?

How picky? Are they really picky?

How about a kid that wouldn't even eat pizza?

Believe it or not, that was me: I was a super picky eater. As a kid, I was so picky that when when my parents would take me to the local pizza joint around the corner from our house, I would only eat the croutons off the salad bar.

Now, I know I've shared this story a bunch of times in various places, but I think it bears repeating that not only have I grown to love pizza (and this particular pizza place still holds a very special place in my heart), but I've grown to love many other foods as well.

So, how was it that this very picky eater came to enjoy many other things? What was the secret sauce to my awakening to all things culinary?  

cookin' with kibby pictures from japan.JPG

nothing like a trip to the other side of the planet to change your taste in food!

That's easy: my parents sent me to Japan.

Okay, I'm kind of kidding, but it's true enough that it was one of the things that happened in my life to change me. I was a part of a short term Sister Cities exchange from my hometown of St Marys, Ohio, to a small town on a small island called Hokudan-cho (now Awaji-cho). During the 10 days that I was overseas on the other side of the planet, I was forced outside of my culinary comfort zone.

I will admit one thing: I did have McDonald's when I was in Japan. I believe was in Osaka that we went to McDonald's, or as the Japanese call it, Makudonarudozu. The experience I had at McDonald's was almost identical to every other experience I've had in McDonald's here in the United States, which you can look at as a wonderful thing or as a scary thing. I'll leave that up to you how you react to it. In any case, I did have at least one meal that tasted like home, but for the most part the rest of my experience was something new and different.

I remember having teriyaki chicken skewers right off of the grill (yakitori). I also remember having eggs at one of our host families, but with those eggs I remember having these pancakes that were made with cabbage and little pieces of octopus. It was a little chewy, as you might think, and I wasn't my favorite, but you know I tried it, and I can say that I had octopus pancakes. Not everybody can say that.

a picky situation

It's difficult to give a hard and fast rule for coping with a picky eater. In fact, many people grow up to be very successful adults without venturing outside of their culinary comfort zones. However, there are some cases where it can present a problem: either it becomes too big of a challenge to plan dinners around their limited choices, or the person doesn't get the proper nutrition they need to grow strong and healthy; in those cases, you may have to get a little creative.

Now I want to be clear here that I am not a dietitian.  I'm a chef, so I know a lot about food and food preparation.  However, I don't know the details for your particular situation.  Generally speaking, a little tough love and patience can go a long way. I can think of many a time I've had to tell my kiddos, “Well, that's what's for dinner; eat or don't. But this is what there is.”  I can tell you, they've never starved. We've never deprived them of having what it is they need to continue to grow and be healthy - having healthy snacks, like fresh fruit, yogurt, and even popcorn are really helpful and keeping them from from crashing.

If you take nothing else from this at all, just know that there is hope for a picky eater in your life. They may not grow up to be a trained chef, but hey, you never know.

One thing that being picky did deprive me of having is more first-hand knowledge of flavor combinations. Unlike my wife, who grew up in Spain.

Her parents were missionaries, and so she grew up overseas, spending a long time in Spain and also in Venezuela. She was not a very picky eater, so her parents were able to take her to places and give her experiences most foodies dream of having - and she had them before the age of 12.

I feel like that has been a real challenge for me as a chef - I've been able to pick up a whole lot when it comes to preparation techniques, but there's still so many flavors and flavor pairings that I haven't had the opportunity to try. The challenge to you this time around is this: if you have a picky eater in the house, keep trying new things; something will eventually click. If you don't have a picky eater, even better; encourage them to try new things as often as you can and get them to experience a wide variety of flavor combinations while their tastes are still developing.

Tastes do change as people grow older, and so take the opportunity to get them to try as many new things and different flavor combinations as possible. This could mean in your preparations at home or even taking them out to restaurants.

If you do have a picky eater. Let's talk about some, some practical things you can do.

Be patient

Like I said, tastes change as people grow and so, more likely than not, this pickiness is just a phase, and they will eventually grow out of it.

get creative

See this as an opportunity to challenge yourself to try new things. We live in a day and age where it is so much easier to find new recipes and to have access to just an almost unlimited amount of ingredients in order to create meals for yourself and for your family, so don't see this as a stumbling block or something that is hindering your family's ability to eat as a family; look at it as an opportunity to think outside the box and be creative and to stretch yourself.

beets yellow roasted.jpg

kids don’t like beets? i didn’t either, until i tried them a different way.

get them cookin’

Next, invite those picky eaters to help make dinner. There's a good chance that, if they've had a hand in preparing the food, they may be more likely to eat it. It gives them a vested interest to know that they helped make dinner, and so that might be the the motivation that it takes to get them to try something that normally they would not.

get them shoppin’

Another thing you can do is let them help with the shopping.  Take them around with with you in the grocery store and, when they see things that that spark their curiosity, you'll be right there to encourage them and to purchase it and find ways of utilizing it in your meals because, again, when they have a vested interest - whether it be in selecting the ingredient or preparing it in home - they may be more likely to eat it.

So what are your next steps going to be? Have you had a picky eater in your house that you've been able to do convert to a not-as-picky eater?  I would love to hear those as well to be able to encourage others in our home cooking community.

Again, leave a message in the comments section of this post or shoot me a message on Facebook or send me an email. I would love to hear what's working, or what you're hoping is going to work, in the days and weeks and months to come. Thank you so much for being a part of this community, and I will see you in the kitchen.