Buttoned Up: Dealing with a picky eater

Sarah Welch and Alicia Rockmore

When you have a picky eater at home, whether 2 or 42, it makes getting a meal on the table each night a colossal headache.

Often it means whomever does the cooking will end up preparing two meals or surrendering to the fact that the picky eater will eat nothing and then beg for junk and snacks later.

We both have difficult-to-please eaters on our hands: Alicia's 10-year-old daughter and Sarah's 2-year-old son. Since we both struggle with this issue every day, we are always on the lookout for solutions that might just work.

During one of our searches, we came across Sasha Martin's website, GlobalTableAdventure.com. Martin, a longtime foodie and world traveler, is married to a picky eater, and the two of them have a young daughter, Ava. When Ava was an infant, Martin worried that she, too, would be a finicky eater and devised an ingenious plan to gradually expand her family's dinner repertoire.

She calls it eating her way around the world. One night a week, she prepares a dinner based on cuisine from a different country. She documents each meal and the recipes she uses on her blog, so busy moms like us can follow in her footsteps without having to reinvent the wheel.

Alicia and I loved the fact that Martin's adventure gave us a radically different way to think about our daily dinner battles. Rather than focusing on trying to please sensitive individual palates, why not turn dinner on its head and make it an adventure? We reached out to her to see what she has learned about getting picky eaters to try new things.

Buttoned Up: A lot of moms really struggle to get their kids to eat anything other than white food: pasta, mac and cheese, chicken, etc. Did you start your daughter on this cuisine when she just started eating solids or did you make a switch?

Martin: Our global adventure began right when Ava just started eating solid foods. She will have sampled cuisines from 195 countries by the time she's 5! So, in a sense, I never let her become a persnickety eater. That said, she's a totally normal kid. There's a video montage of her on the site showing her trying lots of different foods –– many of which she didn't like and promptly spit out.

Buttoned Up: What do you do when your daughter doesn't want to eat one of the dishes you've prepared?

Martin: There are many places in the world where children have only one option for dinner and they are grateful for the dish of food in front of them. Even though we live in a country where it is possible to have multiple options for dinner, there's no real reason to do so. When my daughter was a baby, I'd offer her the food I cooked, and if she didn't want it, she could still nurse. Now that she's strictly on solid foods, I allow her to have a banana instead of what I have cooked. While she likes bananas, she usually will end up trying what I've prepared.

Buttoned Up: How did you get your picky husband to try new dishes?

Martin: My husband has truly adapted really well. I have to admit, he wasn't super excited to do this, but he has been a great sport about it. In the early days, I had to invite friends over to eat the world cuisine with us so that he'd have some peer pressure to at least try what I made. As we got further into the adventure, he began to get more interested in how the food came together, asking things like, "What is it that I taste in there?" (Before long,) I noticed that he wasn't nearly as picky as he had once been. Even if he doesn't love the dish, he's realized it's not going to kill him to try it.

Buttoned Up: How would you advise moms with picky eaters to broaden their repertoire?

Martin: I've found the main reason someone thinks they don't like a dish is because of the texture of the ingredients. Play around with different ways to prepare things so that offending textures become minimized. For example, my husband claims to hate mushrooms. But when I chop them up finely, he loves the flavor they add to dishes. Experiment with chopped versus whole ingredients. Play around with roasting versus boiling, and you may find your picky eater doesn't really hate the ingredient at all.

Another really important thing for children: involve them in the process. Put them in front of a mixing bowl and let them do something. Involving them in the preparation makes a massive difference. And if you have even 1 square foot of space to grow something, like a tomato plant, do it. My daughter hated tomatoes... until she saw one grow in our backyard. Now I have a hard time keeping her hands off of them.

Buttoned Up: How has your adventure made getting dinner on the table easier?

Martin: It's really easy to get stuck in a rut, especially with vegetables. It turns out there are lots of interesting and delicious ways I never would have thought of to prepare them. For example, take green beans: in one country, they steam them; in another, they put cloves in them; in another; they chop them up and put them in a rice casserole; and in another, they puree them to make a green-bean soup. It's neat to have lots of different ways to prepare the same thing!


Do you have picky eaters at home? What have you tried to expand their repertoires? We'd love to hear.

The writers are co-founders of Buttoned Up, a company dedicated to helping stressed women get organized. Send ideas and questions to yourlife@getbuttonedup.com.