Guest Post: 5 Ingredients That Help Create Good Eaters |

Guest Post: 5 Ingredients That Help Create Good Eaters

admin August 24, 2011

Image by Paul Schultz

This is a Guest Post by Annie of Tunheim Family!

My brief disclaimer to this post is that I am well aware that every child is different and there are always some particular situations that can lead to disruptive eating patterns for children.  But some parents say that they are lucky that their kids are good eaters, or maybe one is and one isn’t, as if it’s simply luck of the draw.  It very well may be, but my husband and I have three boys (ages 8, 6, and 3) who are all adventurous eaters, so did we win the lottery?  Maybe so, but we have also worked hard to create a consistent structure that has clearly worked with our three guys.  Here is my unsolicited advice for what worked in our family; taking different parenting styles into account, I’m sure there is still something you can take away from this post to help instill healthy eating habits in your child—a desire that is the same no matter the culture or philosophical position.


1. Make Your Own Baby Food

It’s economical, more Earth-friendly (you’re not using all those jars), and the most healthy choice for your child.  I promise, it’s not nearly as daunting as it sounds—it’s actually really fun!  You won’t need any equipment you don’t already have in your kitchen except for a small food processor (the kind sold at drugstores works just fine).  There are a number of great recipe resources out there; I used Annabel Karmel’s book, First Meals.

You may be wondering how making your own baby food has anything to do with raising a child who ventures outside the mac and cheese, hot dogs, and pizza box.  As an experiment, close your eyes and try a variety of jarred baby foods vegetables, even the pricier organic brands—they are so bland it’s difficult to identify them!  How to easily make and store your baby foods is worth a separate post (or check out First Meals at your local library!), but by steaming and pureeing carrots, squash, peas or broccoli they retain a lovely flavor so a child’s palate becomes accustomed to flavor.  And once your baby moves beyond single foods, there are wonderful recipes out there that incorporate leeks (a wonderful, mild first onion for babies), spices and meats so your growing child doesn’t balk at textures and flavors.  All three of our boys loved Annabel Karmel’s Baby Bolognese, Potato Leek and Pea Puree; and even Fish with Carrots and Oranges!


2. Expose Them to All Kinds of Foods

When our first son was an infant, we’d go out to sushi for special occasions.  Our son would sit in his high chair and have miso soup in his sippy cup with rice on a plate.  The caveat to this, of course, is that now we can’t afford to go out for sushi because our 8-year old consumes more nigiri sushi than we do, eating pieces of raw fish, shrimp, octopus and eel like candy!  Like making your own baby food, simply exposing children to different cuisines at an early age develops their palate.  This early exposure also normalizes different foods so your child doesn’t perceive it as different or weird.


3. Avoid Vicious Cycle #1: Multiple Meals

It’s not uncommon for a mother to prepare one meal for herself and her husband, and one for her child (or heaven forbid, separate meals for each child!).  They’d rather their picky eater consume something rather than starve, and one child only eats white foods while the other will only eat peanut butter and jelly on bread (crusts cut off).  When it comes to the battle of the wills, don’t let children win!  There have been plenty of nights where my children are not necessarily pleased with what they are being served for dinner, but we’ve been consistent with the ‘this is dinner, so if you would like food in your stomach this is your only option’ lecture so there isn’t a lot of complaining. 


4. Avoid Vicious Cycle #2: ‘Hungry’ After Dinner

Sometimes mothers don’t make an extra meal at dinnertime, but their child barely touches his dinner and then complains of hunger an hour later.  Not wanting the child to go to bed hungry, they offer a yogurt, toast, or some other snack.  The child learns that he doesn’t need to eat what’s in front of him, because he’ll get a snack later.  I don’t mean to suggest that snacks are evil—our boys eat mid-morning snacks and after-school snacks, but after dinner eating does not happen in our household (apart from the occasional dessert, which of course only happens if their dinner has been eaten).

My middle son went through a period where he barely ate dinner—he’d stoke his fire early with a huge breakfast of homemade oatmeal and fruit and a bowl of cereal afterwards.  He’d eat a good lunch, and then almost nothing for dinner.  He never complained of hunger, though, and has since shifted to a more steady meal consumption.


5. Hire a Kitchen Assistant

Not a personal chef—ha!  That would be nice, but clearly a pipe dream for most families.  When time permits (because of course it slows things down a bit), I invite one of my guys to help me in the kitchen.  Even a child as young as 18 months can help scoop or pour into bowls, as long as you are standing away from a hot stove.  Aside from developing math skills and manual dexterity, allowing them to taste different ingredients and involving them in the process of cooking will make them much more invested in the meal that will be served on the table.  

Don’t get me wrong–our mealtimes still have plenty of the usual canyoupleaseuseautensiltoeatyoursalad, fooddoesn’tbelonginyourwaterglass, youneedtositonyourbottom, and ishouldn’tseeyourkneeswhenyou’resittingatthetable.  I often wonder if our boys will have proper manners by the time they are eating dinner at a girlfriend’s house for the first time (hopefully many, many years from now!).  But I know the healthy eating habits we’ve instilled in them will stick with them, despite the requisite Ramen Noodle-Mountain Dew-and-Twinkie phase that they will surely go through when they first leave our nest. 

This has worked for us; what has worked well with your family, or what struggles have you experienced, in your quest to establish good eating habits? 

Annie is a wife, a mother of three young boys, and an attorney with a virtual intellectual property law practice (  She lives in a 100-year old home near downtown Denver, although she and her family will embark on a year-long adventure to Australia in December while her husband participates in a teacher exchange program.  Read about mindful parenting, home renovation, and family adventures on Annie’s blog at

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  1. Great post. I have seven kids and we did pretty much as you described. However we didn't introduce a wide enough variety of vegetables at an early age. I only have one VERY picky eater, but she still has to eat what the family eats. She just takes a little longer sometimes.


  2. I have two daughters, and one of them is a "super sensor", meaning she senses everything much more than the average human being. Yet, she LOVES foods – and prefers a veggie tray to a sickeningly sweet dessert. Both of my girls enjoy foods of all kinds, from all around the world.

    I didn't buy baby food from the store except when traveling away from home for a few days when they were fairly young and couldn't eat our food very easily. I couldn't afford to buy baby food! And making my own and freezing the pureed food into ice cube trays was so simple. I'd just pop out the frozen food cubes into a zip bag or freezer container, and meals would be ready to eat, very simply.

    I never thought about the blandness of jarred baby foods, and this being maybe why so many children are such picky eaters, but it makes sense to me.

    I purposed to introduce a wide range of foods in our home, and not just stick to the "kid friendly" meals. I think that has helped a lot – my girls have always been willing to try anything, to at least give it a try!

    When I've taught Latin classes in my home to homeschoolers, I will often provide a snack or food from ancient Roman times, or at least something similar. It's amazing how many youth will refuse to eat anything different at home, but would come to my classes and be willing to try new foods – and like them! (or at least, for the most part).

    Sadly, even though my children aren't really overweight, we've noticed that the other girls and boys who are super skinny pretty much stick to the mac 'n cheese – hot dogs – ramen noodles diet and are nice and thin, and don't really eat much food. Our girls eat healthy meals most of the time, but aren't skinny like the other kids. My girls aren't chunky, but don't have their ribs sticking out like their friends. I think it's discouraging a little bit to them that their friends who eat the worst have the "best" body shape according to our world's standards of what is considered "beautiful." We don't talk about that, really; I don't make it a big deal at all, but they have noticed this and have complained that it "isn't fair." Yup. Life isn't fair. But at least my girls are able to eat almost anything without complaining.



  3. Very helpful – thanks! I have a 16 month old and I've definitely fallen into the trap of feeding him something I know he will eat at dinner, just so he will have something in his belly. Did you start enforcing the "this is what's for dinner" rule from the get go? Or did you wait until a certain age?


  4. Great tips! I think doing all of these things contributed to our great eaters. They are super adventurous and out-eat me (at ages 5, 3, and 1).

    Another tip I once heard (from the book Simplicity Parenting) was that if you simplify your child's environment and schedule that pickiness in eating will virtually disappear. Purely from observation this seems to be at least somewhat true. My friends that complain about having picky eaters also are usually living very busy lives. For us personally, when I read this I cleared out over half of their toys, pared down our 'outside home' commitments, and implemented a flexible routine. The few foods the boys really disliked disappeared. They pretty much eat anything without complaint now, even if it's something they admit is "not a favorite."


  5. We've been doing those things for a while and our son is finally eating well! Took months of 'eat the food you're given' but he does very well now. We did have some things that we didn't feed him because they were consistent problems. I know I have foods I really dislike and I thought it was fine if we have 3 or 4 foods we avoided feeding him.


  6. Elizabeth–thanks for commenting! We started the 'this is what's for dinner' from the get-go. Our first two boys were 19 months apart and i was in law school, so I didn't have the time/energy to fix separate meals–but I also knew I didn't want to get into that whole deal. With those early (but major) parenting choices, my husband and I definitely consciously made decisions that weren't necessarily the easiest but we knew it was best longterm. With meals, I figured it would be less annoying longterm to establish this rule and deal with some whining in the beginning than to make separate meals for however many kids we ended up having. We always waited until we were emotionally ready, as well, because it's the worst when you do something and then back down–then they know you won't always stick to what you say and if they whine enough, they'll get what they want.
    It's never too late to start the one dinner rule, and your little one at 16 months is young enough that it shouldn't be too terrible to change your routine. Good luck!


  7. Julieanne, one of my guys is sensitive to sweeter foods like that as well, and will turn something down because it's too sweet (something I've never done!). Interestingly, he is also incredibly ticklish and has the softest skin I've ever felt. Much more so than my other boys. I've always wondered if those things were correlated.
    I've never noticed the thinner/thicker dynamic as it relates to children's diets–my boys don't bring it up but I'd bet girls are much more in tune with that sort of thing than boys, even at such an early age! My sensitive boy is built more like his dad and has a leaner torso than my other two, but I can see that it is just a matter of body type.
    Thanks for commenting!


  8. Very good post! My 3 1/2 year-old knows that she doesn't have to eat a meal (we don't have a "clean your plate" rule), but if she doesn't eat ANY of her meals, then the next time she says she's hungry, she will be offered that same meal. She loves all breakfast food, so that's never a problem, but if she doesn't eat lunch, in the fridge it goes. Usually by mid-afternoon, she will chow down and LOVE it. 🙂 She hardly ever refuses anything, though, because we have done pretty much all of the tips in this article. The other day we went out to a nice Chinese restaurant and the sweet old man that runs the place was shocked that a little American kid was ordering "real" chinese food! 🙂 That happens at the Mexican restaurant, too. I mean, really, hamburgers on a Mexican restaurant menu?! That's so sad!


  9. @Brittany–the simplicity idea is intriguing. We don't have a lot of stuff, our boys only do one sport at a time, and we all sit down to a family meal every night. Family meals are important to me for many reasons, but this may be just another reason why they contribute to a healthy family!

    @Debra–I agree; I despise bananas. When my youngest pushes aside his tomatoes but eats the rest of his salad, I have no problem with it.

    @Justyn–I hear you on the restaurant thing!


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Hi, I’m Kate.  I love medical freedom, sharing natural remedies, developing real food recipes, and gentle parenting. My goal is to teach you how to live your life free from Big Pharma, Big Food, and Big Government by learning about herbs, cooking, and sustainable practices.

I’m the author of Natural Remedies for Kids and the owner and lead herbalist at EarthleyI hope you’ll join me on the journey to a free and healthy life!

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