Feeding Picky Children without Wasting Food

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An old friend sent me the following email:

Hi! I love the blog – I have been reading it faithfully every day – it’s such a great balance of short and simple common sense things that are real and work and are doable!

That is a big compliment, coming from a mother of eight like yourself.

You wrote that your mother served dinner with individual plates of food for each person, with a great ability to place an appropriate healthy serving on the plate. My immediate reactions was that I admire that a lot, but I don’t really feel able to do that myself, though I wish I could.

It’s easiest to start when your kids are very young.

Then you wrote that the attitude at the meal was very low key — no one was forced to eat, no one pushed seconds, if the food wasn’t wanted then they could always have a peanut butter sandwich. This is actually something that we do also, more or less. But what did your mother do with the plates of food? What if the food was tasted or partially eaten?

I’m not sure, but I think she would have given small portions to try. I know that food that had been partially eaten by the family was sometimes saved. She would be sure to heat it completely—to kill bacteria—and use it by the next day or so.

I sort of have a hybrid approach. I serve the food from the kitchen, which is also where we eat, and then I ask each person do you want this? that? the other? and give a small serving of each item that they say they want and then give them that plate. But this also means that something unfamiliar is usually not tried at all, at least at first, unless I really urge it, which I don’t usually do.What do you think?

I suggest adding one spoonful of the new food to the plate. They may not eat it the first or even the fourth time. Just having it on the plate will get them used to the idea. You don’t have to keep this up forever, but you can try again from time to time. Good luck!

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  1. I find it interesting that so many parents allow their children not to eat what is served at dinner. My mother also served dinned with individual plates of food for each person (very healthy/lean portions) and you were required to eat all of the food on your plate. If a child decided not to eat what was on his or her plate, my mother would wrap the plate in plastic wrap and serve it to you for breakfast. As punishment, you went to bed hungry. She also refused to re-heat the plate in the morning. However, I would wake up so ravenous that I was grateful for the cold leftovers. It sound harsh, but with the method, all of the children in my family quickly learned to eat and appreciate what my mother prepared for dinner. Going to bed hungry is not fun & we all learned our lesson after one or two times.

    • Cecilia, thanks for your reply. It reminds me of a story from the series One of a Kind Family. The family grew up on the Lower East Side, and one day one of the sisters decides she doesn’t want soup. She ends up not eating until lunch the next day when she decides to eat the soup after all. I don’t think there is anything wrong with your mother’s method, I just couldn’t follow through with it myself.

  2. I have to say that I distinctly remember being on the other side of a situation like that once when I was six. I was never a picky eater. I’d say that 95+% of what crossed my plate was eaten without complaint.

    One night, my dad served ONLY big bowls of okra stew. I tried it. I gagged on it. He refused to allow me to eat anything until it was eaten. I tried to eat it 3-4 times and gagged on it because it was so bad. It was a personal vendetta for him because he’d made it. My mother finally kept shalom bayit by telling him I’d eaten it when he was out of the house (and dumping it).

    (She also admitted that it was really bad, but she was able to get it down)

    A child has a right to dislike one or two foods. To this day, I don’t eat okra or eggplant. Other than that, I eat pretty much everything that’s put on my plate. I wonder if I would have been willing to try okra again if I hadn’t been traumatized as a child (I’ve tried eggplant a few times over the years, but the flavor is very strong and I don’t care for it).

  3. Cecilia, we were just not allowed to leave the table till we’d eaten all from our plate. My mother’s a lousy cook, which didn’t help. Even now (age 43) I don’t like red meat, a lot to do with her cooking. And I remember it used to take me so long to eat cos I was forced to eat it – even at school lunches by the time I’d finished eating, the canteen was empty. And my parents never took into account that maybe some of the time I wasn’t that hungry.


  1. […] Hannah (@mominisrael) from A Mother In Israel writes about food at Cooking Manager. A couple of years ago, she wrote a post on preventing food issues, which detailed her mother’s approach to feeding their family. She followed it up with a second post, answering a reader’s questions, on feeding picky children without wasting food. […]