For a year and a half, I lived with a friend and her two teen daughters. I did most of the cooking, which I thought would give me an opportunity to improve their diets beyond the pasta and cheese that formed the staples of their meals. The family is vegetarian, so I thought I'd have a great time introducing some of my favorite bean and veggie dishes. Imagine my disappointment when the girls turned up their noses at my best recipes, including tamale pie and mushroom-lentil stroganoff. They preferred their pasta, thank you very much.
Eventually I found a few new recipes that everyone liked. I also found ways to tweak my existing recipes to suit their tastes. Here are my top six tips for dealing with picky eaters, whether they are kids or adults:
1. Ask that they at least try a bite of each new dish, and only a bite. I asked the girls to take a small amount of each new food and put it on their plate to try it. This avoids wasting food.
2. Find healthy recipes that everyone in the family likes, and serve them often. Our family favorite was a root vegetable pie with polenta crust. Everyone loved it, and it made the kids more willing to try other new recipes.
3. Include elements of their favorite foods in new dishes. The girls didn't like beans, but they loved polenta and cornbread. This made the tamale pie with cornbread crust more palatable.
4. Tweak the seasoning. When I used less chili powder and cumin in the tamale pie, the girls liked it better. Often, different seasonings will get kids to eat things like beans that they otherwise can't stand.
5. Continue to serve their old favorites occasionally. I liked to plan one dinner a week around each girl's tastes. This meant one night was pasta, applesauce and cauliflower night, and another was quiche night.
6. Accept that they won't like everything you make. Keep ingredients for easy-to-prepare entrees in the kitchen and let the kids know that if they truly can't stand what you prepared, they are welcome to make themselves a PB&J, grilled cheese sandwich or soy hot dog.