My kids have both been picky eaters since they started on solids. I’ll never forget Mazzy’s face the first time I put a spoonful of mashed peas in her mouth. She grimaced like she had just licked my shoe.
Harlow was one of those kids who didn’t like to eat anything. The pediatrician told us to feed her butter and ice cream if necessary.
We’ve made a lot of progress on the eating front since their baby years, but both Mazzy and Harlow continue to like things plain and simple. Vegetables are only eaten raw, never cooked and never with dressing. For Mazzy, I’ve rinsed tomato sauce off meatballs. For Harlow, I’ve peeled the fried skin off fried chicken with my fingers and cut away the grill marks off grilled chicken with a knife so that she will eat it. She likes her pasta plain too. And by plain, I mean— DRY. No butter and no olive oil, which really confuses servers at restaurants. “Are you sure?” they ask. “Yes, I’m sure. If you serve it to me with even a hint of butter, I will be wiping it down with napkins while my daughter is in tears.”
Every year, I notice they get a little more adventurous at meal time. For instance, they’ve both recently discovered that they like Chicken and Broccoli from a Chinese restaurant. They call it “Sauce Chicken” because it’s the only thing they ever touch with sauce.
Harlow has also discovered that she likes pork after eating it a friend’s house. She calls it “chicken steak” and wants us to make it for her birthday.
A few years ago, Mazzy expanded from a diet that consisted solely of hot dogs to one that included salmon. That has been a major coup when eating out to eat because salmon is almost always on the menu. It does suck to veer off the kid’s menu and pay $26 for an adult entree that we ask them to prepare without sauce and substitutions for the sides, but at least Mazzy is happy and she eats it.
In full disclosure, Mazzy’s long time hot dog obsession was kind of our fault. Back when she shunned protein all together, I bought her a book called “The Runaway Dinner” in which a hot dog named Melvin escapes a little boy’s meal. From that point forward, she was cool with hot dogs as her main source of protein. Not ideal, but still better than nothing. We all called hot dogs “Melvin” for two solid years.
Ever since Mazzy’s Melvin obsession, I’ve intentionally brought other children’s books that feature food into our home, in hopes that it might encourage a little more experimentation when it comes to eating. Some of the books deal with picky eating head on, while others just let kids know that there is a very wide world of exciting food possibilities beyond chicken fingers and french fries. If and when they are ready.
by Allan Ahlberg and illustrated by Bruce Ingman
The Runaway Dinner is a really quirky read with tons of run-on sentences in which french fries, peas, plates and forks (all with first names just like Melvin) dash out of the house, down the street and escape into the park while Banjo (that’s the little boy’s name) chases after them. It’s a looooooong book, so to be honest, I used to skip whole paragraphs when I read it to the girls. Now that they are older and fully understand the book, we have a lot more fun reading the whole thing. Plus, in addition to Melvin, you can start calling peas “Peter, Percival and Paul.”
by Mo Willems
I Really Like Slop! is a Gerald and Piggie book, a series that never fails to crack the kids up while delivering important lessons. In this book, Piggie really wants Gerald (his best friend who also happens to be an elephant) to try “slop” which is his favorite food. Gerald doesn’t want to try “slop” but after eventually gives in. In the end, he doesn’t like it but he’s happy that he gave it a try. I love that the story makes experimentation a positive thing, while admitting that whatever your kids try might taste as awful as they think.
by Joshua David Stein and illustrated by Julia Rothman
Can I Eat That? was also listed as one of my family’s favorite books and never fails to make us laugh. It uses fun word play and interactive questions naming different foods on every page. My kids have learned about foods people eat in Japan, Mexico and France in this book. They’re favorite part is the last page which has pictures of thirty different items from pineapples to pine cones, asking children if they can or can’t eat each one.
by Joshua David Stein and illustrated by Julia Rothman
What’s Cooking? is the follow-up book to Can I Eat That? and just came out last week. I can’t even tell you how excited my girls were when I brought it home. Instead of naming different kinds of foods, What’s Cooking? talks more about all the different ways you can cook something (“Can you bake it? Can you blanch it?”), while still using the same amusing word play and engaging questions that made the first book so much fun for kids, like “Are frozen peas grown on frozen trees?” and “Is this an old grape or a new raisin?” I’ve always found that encouraging kids to cook is a surefire way to get them to try new foods.
by Russell Hoban and illustrated by Lillian Hoban
Bread and Jam for Frances is about a picky eating badger who decides she only wants to eat bread and jam. She wants it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Her parents play along until eventually Frances starts to get sick of bread and jam and sad that her parents have stopped trying to convince her to eat anything else. Mazzy and Harlow’s favorite part of the book is when she happily describes her very elaborately packed lunch at the end.
by Terry Border
Peanut Butter & Cupcake uses real photos of food to help depict the story of a slice of bread with peanut butter who can’t find any friends to play with. He asks a burger to play, then a cupcake, then a french fry, but nobody is interested. Finally, he meets a slice of bread with jelly who wants to play and they have so much fun together that all the other foods join in to play with them too. The book uses all kid-friendly foods that will not introduce anything new to eat, but as a parent with kids who don’t like their foods to touch, I love how to shows that foods together are more exciting than foods alone.
by Lauren Child
I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato is a book about a brother and sister named Charlie and Lola, who you might recognize from their show on Netflix. Charlie is tasked with feeding his little sister, which proves difficult because she is so picky. He ends up making up alternative names for foods and pretending vegetables are from outer space to entice her to eat them. It works a little too well to be realistic, in my opinion (Lola eats and loves everything including tomatoes by the end) but the main point is valid. When Mazzy was little, she refused to eat steak, but happily ate “yummy meat.” And I remember from my Picky Eaters Club series that there were quite a few kids who would eat foods based solely on the name change, like the kid who would only eat chicken if his parents called it “Dragon Meat.”
by Victoria Kann and Elizabeth Kann
Pinkalicious is about a girl who eats so many pink cupcakes that she turns pink and needs to eat a steady diet of green vegetables to go back to normal. This book is a little controversial because I know many parents (including myself) don’t like that the word “yuck” is associated with green foods. Pinkalicious only eats her vegetables reluctantly and out of necessity. My kids love the book and I’ve always just removed the word “yuck” when I read it and then replaced a few of the vegetable descriptors with my own words. The crux of the story is the same and still enjoyable— as much as you might want to, you can’t just eat dessert.
by Kelly DiPucchio and illustrated by Eric Wight
Everyone Loves Bacon is a book about a piece of bacon who is so popular that it goes to his head. He forgets what is important like his family and friends (i.e. the other foods in the fridge like a piece of depressed broccoli sitting alone on a shelf). Ultimately, his popularity is his demise. He gets eaten because, yep! Everyone loves bacon! This book is a lot of fun with great illustrations, a good message and a surprise ending. Plus, it might just get your kids to feel bad for the other less popular foods and give them a try. Could a sympathy vote get your kid to eat broccoli? Anything is worth a shot.
by Dr. Seuss
I don’t know if I need to go into great detail about Green Eggs and Ham since most of us probably read this Dr. Suess classic when we were kids ourselves. It’s the perfect picky eating story because it’s about a kid who insists he does not like green eggs and ham, over and over and over again, until he actually tries them. Surprise! He likes them.
by Josh Funk and illustrated by Brendan Kearney
Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast is a rhyming book that takes place entirely inside a refrigerator. There is one drop of syrup left and Lade Pancake and Sir French Toast race against each other to see who can get to it first. What my kids love most is all the playful ways the other foods in the fridge get involved as they encounter them during their race. Lettuce leaves are used as parachutes, someone dives into a jar of tomato sauce, etc. In the end, they are both foiled by a waffle, but learn to share.
by Adam Rubin and illustrated by Daniel Salmieri
Dragons Love Tacos is everyone’s favorite book about…dragons and tacos. Dragons love tacos but they can’t have spicy tacos because—I don’t want to spoil it for you, but let’s just say a dragon taco party ends in a big disaster. I just bought this book recently and my hope is that one day, if my kids love to read it enough, they will be totally on board with testing out Taco Tuesday. At the moment, tacos are still on the “No Eat” list.
Do you have any books that have encouraged your kids to try new foods? Tell me about them in the comments below!