How To Make Your Kid A Foodie
Musings

How To Make Your Kid A Foodie

Kids are picky eaters by nature. There’s a science behind why they prefer sweet over bitter; it’s potentially evolutionary.

Having said that, I’ve come to realize that my kids aren’t as picky as some other elementary school-ers I’ve gotten to know.

Obviously cooking’s a “thing” in our house, and dinners are mostly (but not always) prepared from scratch. Now that our children are a little older, and not going to bed before 7 p.m., we all eat together, or at least the same meal if we’re not physically at the table together.

Short-order cook, I am not.

But what if you have kids who refuse anything other than buttery noodles and hot dogs? (I actually like buttery noodles and hot dogs, myself. But catering to kids that ONLY eat buttery noodles and hot dogs would drive me bananas.)

How To Make Your Kid A Foodie

The biggest joke of all, of course, is that if you try and make your kid do anything, it’s going to fail miserably. So, as a parent, you have to be sly. And cunning. And devious.

My kids are game for trying just about anything once. This happens to be a rule at our house, by the way: You have to try something before declaring, “I HATE IT.”

This doesn’t mean they love every single bite they try. But, it does mean that they don’t fear new tastes and textures.

How about a few other tips?

How To Make Your Kid A Foodie: 10 Tips

1. Don’t be a picky grown-up.

Above all, this one bothers me the most. There’s nothing worse than an adult who refuses to eat a variety of foods because he’s afraid (yes, I believe you’re afraid), or because she’s stubborn and immature (yes, you appear that way). I’m reminded of the Seinfeld episode where his girlfriend won’t eat the pie (even though she does end up eating a slice in the end):

JERRY: Here we go… apple pie! Best apple pie in the city. (Jerry starts eating) Delicious. I’m not waiting for you. Take some.

AUDREY: No thanks.

JERRY: You’re not gonna have any?

AUDREY: No (with a disgusted face)

JERRY: Do you not like apple pie?

AUDREY: No, it’s not that.

JERRY: Well, at least taste it.

AUDREY: No (a resolute “no”)

JERRY: You won’t even taste it?

AUDREY: No.

JERRY: Come on, try it! (Audrey shakes her head doing “no”) A little taste! (still shaking) Come on! (still shaking)

My husband was a picky eater when I met him. “Meat and potatoes only,” he’d request. Since I’ve developed my passion for food and cooking, and forced encouraged him to try new things, he’s come a loooooonnnnnngggg way in the food (dare I say, foodie) department. And my kids have benefited, for sure!

2. Allow your kids to have big food experiences.

Sometimes I think we tend to underestimate our kids’ palates and behavior. If you haven’t already watched this SUPER cute video of 2nd graders enjoying a fine dining invitation in New York City, you must. (And if you have already watched it, do it again!) Immerse your children in experiences beyond your own dinner table, and you might be surprised at their willingness to try new things!

3. Tell them, “You can’t have that. It’s only for grown-ups.”

I can’t take credit for this one. Alton Brown mentioned to Alex Guarnaschelli on a podcast that in order to encourage his daughter to try new things, he’d say (I’m paraphrasing here), “Oh, no, honey. You can’t have that. It’s only for the grown-ups.”

When his daughter would inevitably continue begging for, let’s say, roasted Brussels sprouts, he’d eventually let her have some. And because she made such a stink about being “big enough” to handle the grown-up food, she never spoke up if she didn’t end up liking it. Or, maybe she did like it. Who knows? Problem. Solved.

Well done, Alton. Well done.

4. Don’t be a short-order cook.

When my kids were toddlers, I would serve up hodge-podge meals of leftover chicken, or quick pasta, for them to eat early in the evening, right after I got home from work. They’d go to bed by 7 p.m., and then my husband and I would enjoy dinner together later. This makes sense.

Now that they’re older, I cook one meal for all of us. Not everyone loves every part of every meal, but they deal. They have to try at least one bite. AND? See number 5.

5. Set them up for success.

If I’m going to spring something new on my kids, I try to make the rest of the meal something they already enjoy. Planning to serve roasted potatoes with squash? I’ll make sure that they accompany my oven-fried chicken thighs with crispy skin, which are a family favorite.

6. Let them help you cook.

I’m horrible with this because I like to be alone in the kitchen. But, it’s true. When my kids help make something, they are definitely more likely to eat whatever it is. Get them interested in cooking! Introduce them to shows like Rachael vs. Guy: Kids Cook-Off on Food Network, where they can see children in the act and enjoying so many unique foods, tastes and techniques. Have fun with them!

7. Have your kids plan one dinner during the week.

Give your kids the responsibility of planning at least one dinner every week. You can create the parameters (i.e. must include a meat, veggie and starch), and then let them have free reign over your cookbooks, or online recipe sources (like, a-hem, me). You can also sign up for my weekly eNewsletter, which includes a weekly dinner meal plan to help inspire you (or them)!

8. Expose them to a variety of flavors, spices and textures.

If I’d never given my daughter the opportunity to try, then I’d never know she was capable of loving things like: cardamom, mushrooms, shrimp, spicy sauce, refried beans, etc.

Having said that, my son has had the opportunity to try many of the same things, and his reactions are a little less diverse (although we keep trying). For example, he has a hard time with refried beans and mashed potatoes because of their texture. We’ve gone from gagging (age 3) to eating a few bites without trouble (age 6). But only because I kept offering!

9. Eliminate the “clean plate” rule.

Aside from having to try at least one bite of something before declaring, “I HATE IT!,” we don’t have any rules about finishing a plate of food before getting up from the table. The kids may not be allowed to have dessert or snacks after dinner if the meal wasn’t finished (at least mostly, anyway), and I’ll save their unfinished plate on the counter for a while afterwards, in case a rumbling tummy decides to suddenly appear 30 minutes later:

“Oh, you are hungry? I’ve saved your dinner for you!” Mom wins.

Plus, I’m not into making dinner a miserable experience. That’s no fun for anyone. “CLEAN YOUR PLATE,” institutes bad feelings, and potential for kids to not learn the signs of feeling full.

10. Praise them.

Just like it’s important to tell your kids you enjoy watching them play sports, dance in competitions, or succeed in school, it’s also critical that you not only observe when they make food improvements, you also tell them you’ve been noticing – and that you’re impressed!

Once Your Kid’s A Foodie….

My daughter and I are going to New York in June to visit my sister in Brooklyn for a girls’ weekend. I’m SUPER excited that she’ll be able to enjoy the foodie scene in the city with us, rather than having it be a burden because she’ll only eat buttery noodles and hot dogs.

Although, don’t get me wrong. A great NYC hot dog just might make its way onto our cheap eats list of things to find!

Hi, I'm Liza, a self-proclaimed word-nerd who loves getting sucked into whimsical stories and epic movies. I have laid-back, practical attitude towards life, and as a foodie at heart, I relish the chance to both cook and eat. (No picky-eater here!) I'm always on the hunt for the perfect mojito, inspiration for another tattoo and time to finish my novel.

27 Comments

  • Janine Huldie

    Some great tips here and I do have both the picky eater with one of my daughters and the other that will eat and try anything. I am also a reformed picky eater, when I was a kid, but still you are so right about not being a short order cook. I did do that for my picky eater for so long and now I am struggling to gain back control, but still I do appreciate all the help I can get. So, thank you for sharing this today 🙂

    • (a)Musing Foodie

      It’s never as simple as “Do these things and your kid will transform immediately,” but I also don’t think, “Once a picky eater, always a picky eater!” You and my husbands are examples of that.

  • Marci

    My twins were each 3 lbs when they were born and had a lot of feeding issues. Now at 4 they love to cook with me and I find that it makes them more adventurous eaters. Great post!

  • Kathy Radigan

    Great tips. My parents always fed us a very wide variety of foods and we grew up loving to experiment and enjoy food. I have done the same with my kids and they are pretty open to trying most everything. It does make going out a lot easier!! Have fun in New York! Can’t wait to read all about it!

  • Rabia @TheLiebers

    These are awesome tips! We do almost all of them. My two older kids are great eaters, but the youngest is not…yet. One fun tip we use at our house is to let him choose his utensils. Something about eating dinner with an ice cream scoop or a serving fork is just more fun. I am more successful at getting him to try something new when he gets to eat it in a silly way.

  • Kendra Frampton

    My biggest problem is that I am a picky grown up! I really try not to be but with the almost inedible food that mom used to cook for us I have certain flavors that I can’t go back to.

    I really am trying with my kids though! They will eat a lot of foods that I won’t touch!

    • (a)Musing Foodie

      You bring up a very good point, Kendra. I believe a lot of grown-up picky eaters stem from having to eat foods as a child that weren’t prepared well!

  • Julia

    I love these tips. We are really struggling with getting my 4 year old to venture beyond the “kid” foods. I’m going to have to try some of these out. I admit I like being in the kitchen by myself too, so I do need to incorporate him more.

  • Jack

    Excellent tips. I have a teenager who is very picky but I have found half the problem lies in family members who have tried to force him to try food.

    They turn it into a battle and it is one of the few areas in his life he has real control over so he simply refuses to eat.

    But when I don’t make it a zero sum game he’ll usually sample it.

  • Betty Wojnar

    I think too many parents are falling victim to being short order cooks. I myself became a victim because it was easy with one child…now I have three. Things have changed but it has taken a lot of time to correct my mistakes. I love your article and I’m adding it to my printouts for future reference so I don’t fail my kids!

  • WriterMom Angela

    I have two children, my oldest is a huge foodie, loves all kinds of creative and unique things. Begged for broccoli as a toddler and tried Sushi before she was a teenager. My son would exist on chicken nuggets and hawaiian punch if I let him and refuses to try anything ‘new’ ever!! 🙂

  • Suzanne Reese

    I love it! It’s been interesting as a grandma watching how much the little ones are influenced by their parent’s attitudes toward certain foods. It’s a lot more clear than it was when I was the one doing the influencing. (I just figured that OF COURSE they wouldn’t like that icky food.) =) But when mama loves it and eats it, it’s amazing how often they’ll give it a go.

  • Naomi Teeter

    I’m sending this blog post to one of my health coaching clients! She’s been struggling with one of her sons not eating what the family eats. I think maybe some of these ides could trick him into eating healthier with the family! Thank you!!

  • Anna

    This list is fantastic – my daughter is two and we live in NYC, with SO many food options. Your post gives me hope that I will someday retire my short order cook apron and we can actually enjoy a family meal, we try on Sundays for now!

  • Kara @ Yaya Recommended

    Great post! My nephew is 2 and everyone always comments on what a good eater is. We don’t make separate meals for him, so he eats whatever is being served during mealtime! My siblings and I grew up knowing that refusing to eat meant going to bed hungry. I also LOVED helping my mom cook. Doing the dishes–now that’s another story, haha.

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