We're all too familiar with picky eaters. The kids that love a meal one day and loathe it the next. The kids that won't eat anything with the faintest hint of green or the scent of veggies. The kids that would rather have a plain bowl of undercooked pasta than our savory homemade bolognese sauce.
Below, Katie Workman offers ways to convince picky eaters to try new foods. As the mom of two boys — Jack, age 11, and Charlie, age 8 — Workman published The Mom 100 Cookbook and founded Cookstr.com, a website dedicated to the recipes of well-known chefs and cookbook authors.
P&C: If we opened your fridge right now, what would we find?
Katie Workman: Dijon mustard, butter, milk, eggs, homemade vinaigrette, and Sriracha sauce (a type of Thai hot sauce). There are also always leftovers, like pasta salad or brisket. My pantry is filled with canned tomatoes, canned beans, and lots of vinegars, kosher salts, and olive oils.
P&C: What’s the best meal you’ve ever eaten?
Workman: I love sushi — I could eat it every day. But I especially love when someone cooks for me. It’s very personal, very touching.
P&C: What do you typically pack for school lunches?
Workman: My kids are good eaters, so I’ll often give them dinner leftovers at room temperature, like steak kebabs or chicken teriyaki. They also love when I pack them grilled cheese, even though it’s not hot and crispy after sitting in their lunch bags. I’ll also pack simple sandwiches, like regular tuna salad, versions of an Italian sub, and turkey in pitas.
P&C: Your favorite after-school snacks for your kids are . . .
Workman: Pita chips, edamame, lots of fruit. We eat stovetop-popped popcorn every day — I buy the kernels in bulk! My kids are also fans of my chickpea poppers, which are simply chickpeas roasted with salt, garlic, olive oil, cumin, and chili pepper. I’ll make a big batch and leave half unseasoned. I call that my “Fork in the Road” approach, when I set apart a portion of the recipe and leave it plainer.
P&C: How do you convince your boys to eat fruit and veggies as after-school snacks?
Workman: Don’t wait until they’re hungry. Put out a plate of sliced peppers while your kids are working or playing in order to anticipate that 5 p.m. hunger. Negotiations don’t have to be fierce.
P&C: Do your sons cook with you in the kitchen?
Workman: My younger son, Charlie (see right), who is almost 9, loves to get in the kitchen and invent recipes. At age 4, he came up with Charlie’s Olive Percenter, which is scrambled eggs with chopped green olives and thinly sliced raw cucumbers. We still eat it sometimes.
P&C: What are your tips for cooking with children?
Workman: Get them involved in savory cooking, not just baking. Their tastes will continue to change, but don’t get frustrated. Don’t let them see how much it gets to you if they don’t like something you make — it’s all about the control. Introduce new foods early; at ages 3 and 4, they’re in good shape. But by 8 or 10, they’re picky. Tell them to take a bite and try everything. If they don’t like one type of fish, try another type.
P&C: List a few of your kids’ all-time favorite eats.
Workman: Charlie loves anything with beans, like chili. Both Charlie and Jack, age 11, love pickled ginger, olives, and pickles. They’re salt freaks. If I give them a jar of pickles, you’d think they had died and gone to heaven. They love sharp vinaigrettes, so I tend to mix different vinegars — like balsamic and red wine, or lemon juice and rice wine, or sherry and red wine.
Download our iPad app, Parent & Child PLUS, for Katie Workman's tasty Taco Night recipe and how the kids can help out with it. "If you’re looking for a dinner to counterbalance a cranky day, tacos is the one," Workman says. For more, visit TheMom100.com.
Megan Hess is the digital editor for Parent & Child.
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Photos: Todd Coleman