Picky Palates or When Grown-ups Act Like Toddlers

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Dear Home-Ec 101,

I have so many questions, but the main one is about food. As a stay-at-home-mom of 1 (yeah, she’s enough for now, I don’t want more…yet) I do most of the cleaning and cooking around the house. Since I actually do have an inordinate amount of time on my hands, I try to make as much of our food from scratch as I can. That said, I have an issue with the Dear Husband. He won’t eat his vegetables. I don’t know exactly why this is, but he has an aversion to all things fruit and vegetable or otherwise touched by chlorophyll. He also grew up with a mom who took to the convenient canned-food kick of the fifties. The problem is – I adore cooking with vegetables. At least 90% of my recipes start with the trinity of veggies, with the remaining 10% using some variation with different veggies. I am constantly scraping any larger chunks of vegetables off his plate when I do the dishes. I’m not the best chopper at times, especially if the little angel is underfoot or cranky, so this tends to be more often than not. My staple pantry items are flash frozen veggies like corn and carrots and peas for when I can’t get them fresh, and spaghetti sauce since I don’t make and can my own ( I have time, not a garden and eons).

I don’t know how to broach the vegetable conversation with my husband. It concerns me that our 3 year old sees this (if I ask him to please eat some of the vegetables that I made, he flat-out refuses) and then emulates this behavior because she thinks it’s funny, and because pushing my buttons is what she does for a living. It’s a waste of money to prepare this food and then have some of it go to waste because he won’t eat it and I can’t eat it all. When we’re alone my daughter will eat some vegetables, but when Daddy is there she won’t touch them. I’m at my wit’s end with this and other things: he insists on eating canned food (chili, Cream of X soups, etc), prepackaged foods (the HEB near us has packaged pre-marinated fajitas), and other junk. He doesn’t believe me that if he went a week without his energy drinks, he’d feel better on his rotating shifts.

It’s already hard enough to be stuck at home with the toddler, trying to get into some kind of a cleaning schedule so that we’re not always going to the neighbors for play-time instead of inviting them here, and trying to stay sane. The only thing I haven’t done is talked to a doctor about all the other crap going on. My only consolation is that he takes a vitamin, so I know he’s getting what he needs. I just don’t want this to hurt our daughter as much as I’m pretty sure that it will.

Mother of 1, but feel like 2 

Heather says:

First of all I’m going to let you know that I am not, nor do I pretend to be, a marital counselor or licensed therapist, take any and all advice with a grain or 1lb box of salt -I prefer kosher.

Next take a few deep breaths.

Remember that you cannot make a person change, no matter how much you want to -and this is not a healthy impulse, I’m aware of that- shake some sense into them, you cannot make a person change.

As a parent who spends all day with a very young child it is quite easy to slip into the mode where we forget and start acting bossy. It’s what we do all day long, even if that’s disguised in phrases like, “Do you want to please put away toy a or toy b?”

Spouses are grown ups -even when they don’t act like them. Telling him to eat his vegetables likely gets on his nerves just as much as his not eating them gets on yours.

This is a conflict to be settled out of the sight and hearing of your child.

And if he, a grown up, decides that no, he won’t eat his vegetables, it’s up to you to decide how you will respond. (When it comes down to it, is not eating his vegetables actually the problem or is it his appearing to undermine your authority?) If he doesn’t eat his vegetables, don’t put any on his plate. Don’t call attention to this fact, just let it be.

For what it’s worth you can tell your child that when she is a parent, she can decide whether or not to eat her vegetables, but at this time she doesn’t get that choice. Continue serving her vegetables and be the good example. Also remember that preschooler serving sizes are quite small.

As far as menu variety, quit waiting for permission and begin adding new things to the rotation. Notice I’m not saying create a meal where he hates every item. Just add one new side or entree a week. If he doesn’t like dinner, he’s a grown man, he can handle making himself a sandwich after the kidlet has gone to bed. Ask for his input when you make a meal plan. If he shrugs and says whatever, I’d ask one more time -unless he’s involved in something- and then make whatever.

Finally I just want to sympathize with rotating shifts, they are hard on a family with young children who need structure. Hang in there.

Okay Home-Eccers, what would you tell this Stay at Home Mom?

Previous posts you may find relevant:

Avoid Creating a Picky Eater (remember Ivy? She wrote this one)

And this ancient post from 2007: Picky Picky

Meal Plan Primer

Send your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com

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21 thoughts on “Picky Palates or When Grown-ups Act Like Toddlers”

  1. I would add that a great time to set the example for your toddler are the meals when your husband is not with you. If veggies are an issue at dinner then eat them with her at breakfast and lunch. Nothing says those delicious, lively colors can only be enjoyed at the end of the day.  Then at dinner you can serve fruit salads.

  2. I have another friend who had a similar issue, though I don’t think it was quite at the same level. Her solution? She and her husband agreed that he would put the veggies on his plate. During the meal she would finish her small portion then ask Dad if he would be willing to share. He gave her his portion as a nice gesture. The illusion, of course, was that everyone had some.

  3. Heather what a great response – as are the comments – I have nothing more in particular to share.  At MY house where Dad doesn’t off eat dinner with us, he eats by different rules when he does – he works out a tremendous amount, so his metabolism is generally very high, and he often misses meals during the day because he’s too busy working – my kids have accepted that just because he may dump a bucketful of cheese on everything he eats, or decides to skip the salad, or have JUST the salad, or whatever, it’s because everyone is different and he’s got different needs than they do.  It helps set the stage for other differences, such as big sister, who is taller than mommy, gets a grown up sized portion and it is ‘fair’ even if little sister gets a much smaller one – as it’s what her body needs.  Brother can eat all day long and burns it all off because he’s just more active than the girls.  Plus he’s growing the most right now.  So it’s not the same rules for anyone – I feel this helps them learn what reasons there are for reducing or increasing intake over their future years too. 

  4. ” If he doesn’t eat his vegetables, don’t put any on his plate. Don’t call attention to this fact, just let it be.”
    This is really as plain and simple as it needs to be.  “Feeling like a Mother of 2” is a 2 way street and Heather really hit it right on the button again when she said, “Telling him to eat his vegetables likely gets on his nerves just as much as his not eating them gets on yours.”  You are not his mother, which is what he almost invariably thinks when you “tell him” to eat some of his vegetables.  And as stubborn as most people are with such things, even if he was inclined to maybe “give it a try,” the second you *tell* him to, then he will automatically go 180 degrees in the other direction.
    He is not creating the “problem” Mom is by “trying to get him to eat them,” when she already knows well enough that he has no intention of doing so, and thus creates the situation that the daughter than “emulates.”
    As far as the “wasting money is concerned,” stop putting out vegetables you know aren’t going to be eaten, and cook less of them.  
    Finally, there is more than one way to skin a melon (didn’t want to say cat), and talk to him separately about it.  Perhaps look at another way to prepare vegetables that might be more interesting to him.  From personal experience, this has come up a few times between my wife and I.  Although I do eat vegetables, there are simply some that the way she prepares them, I do not like.  I do not like some vegetables that are “nearly raw.”  With us, this is a simple resolution, since we share cooking, but since you don’t, perhaps look for a different method of preparation.  Maybe something like a zucchinni  quiche, mini vegetable pot-pie, or eggplant parmigiana.  
    There are plenty of resolutoions, but none are going to work in a power struggle.  You are a mom of 1, don’t act like a mom of 2, and you won’t feel like one.

    •  @JayMonster I think this is is excellent advice. One thing I’ve learned is that you have to be respectful of your husband. He is not a child and there is no way he will respond well to being treated like one. I know that my husband is not always in love with vegetables or other foods I make, but we have a cooperation between us. He doesn’t “dis” them to our 4YO and I don’t force them on him. My son, so far, hasn’t noticed that dad doesn’t like all of the things he has learned to like, which is great, in my opinion. Anyway, people are different. Also, I’ve done what JayMonster suggests, and it has worked pretty well. I tend to roast vegetables a lot because that seems to make almost everybody happy. I got my husband to admit that both brussels sprouts and broccoli are pretty good that way and my son doesn’t even get why people would not like vegetables because he likes them–cooked and in salads.
      Also, I love Heather’s advice all around. It’s fair, kind, and respectful. Letting your spouse have the respect of making his or her own choices is essential.

  5. I’m so glad you asked this question because I have the same problem.  Tack on the fact that my husband prefers highly processed meats above all else and our husbands could be brothers.  After three years of fighting it, capitulating to it, grousing about it, and agonizing over it, I came to the conclusion that, as our illustrious Heather says, I couldn’t change 36 years of conditioning…. certainly not overnight, and maybe not ever. I haven’t exactly given up, but I don’t stress myself over it either.  
    I do ask him to put veggies on his plate and I am now going to try the trick that Melanie suggested (thanks, Melanie!), for our son’s benefit.  I also encourage my son to eat veggies when Daddy isn’t home.  However, I also just cook what I want to cook. Even he says, “Well, I’ll either eat it or I won’t.”  So far, he has eaten everything I give him, even if he does pick out a few peppers here and there. He will eat some veggies, like peas, green beans and corn (canned only — go figure!), so I try to make sure that one of those is on the table each night, along with my delicious parmesan asparagus or patty-pan squash saute.  On the other hand, my husband has a legitimate dislike of cooked carrots, so I just don’t make those for him.   And, for my own piece of mind, I sneak veggies into sauces and meatloaves and such, just like they tell us to do for all picky children. (I use a cheap electric chopper.  The pieces aren’t as uniform as I would like, but it is a real help when Kiddo is putting up a fuss.)  If all else fails, I dump a small can of low sodium V8 juice in the casserole or what-have-you instead of water.  Then I hide the empty can from my Big Baby.
    Good luck!  And remember that your husband is not the only role model.  Your kiddo is looking at what you do as well, so maybe it’s just a wash, and your sweet pea will just have to decide for herself if she’s going to eat like a mommy or like a daddy when she grows up.

  6. I think you need to talk to your husband about this, sometime when you’re alone and not eating. Talk about it in terms of food in general and the eating habits you’d both like your family to have: the ability to try new foods, the ability to eat what’s provided, a cheerful time for catching-up on the day, etc. Then talk about how you could achieve them. What can he do, what can you do. Maybe he could pick a few specific fruits/veggies that he would promise to eat at least one bite whenever you serve them. Even one would be a good start. Then also let him pick a few veggies that you promise he never has to eat. For my husband it’s brussel sprouts. For me it’s cantaloupe. And you can promise not to bring attention to what he’s eating or not. But this isn’t about him or you, it’s about your family and the habits and traditions you want at the table. Then add your daughter into the conversation and talk about your plans and her role, foods you like and foods you don’t like, eating habits, etc. Have a piece of paper handy and start planning a menu right there based on what people are saying. Write some rules if you want. But walk away from that conversation with a plan and hopefully a week’s worth of foods.
    I really like the advice of Ellyn Satter, a well known nutritionist. She advocates a division of responsibility where it is your job to put a balanced meal on the table at a regular time and once that meal is on the table your job is done. Then everyone is responsible for their own appetites and can say what and how much they can eat. I really think her advice would help you relax and step back. She has 2 books I strongly recommend:  “Child of Mine” is very a very detailed description of feeding at all ages (of childhood) and the challenges you might encounter, “Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family” has shorter descriptions of her advice and also recipes and tips on menu planning.
    You could also take the list of fruits and veggies people will eat and create what I call a rut. Come up with say 5 veggies and 2 ways to prepare each and rotate those things until you can cook them in your sleep. Then gradually start adding foods and recipes. Another thing you can do is look at all the junk food your husband likes and start serving home made versions of it at home. Junk food, love it or hate it, is in our world and the best place to learn how to eat it is at the family table.

  7. I like your advice. My husband is also a picky eater. he will not eat ANY veggies or fruit except canned peas, and some mashed potatoes. Onions make him throw up. Litterally. So every recipe with even onion powder in it is out the door. He grew up with this character trait, and has told me the ONE thing he hates is when people try to make him feel bad about not eating something, or make him do it. I’m a stay at home mom as well so I cook the food. I can sympathise with the askee.  My husband also hates new things usually. And I get tired of eating pizza all the time. He’s been nice enough to try things I make at least and gives them a fair shot. Most likely because he knows I wont make him eat veggies, or sneak any onion powder in like his family used to do to him. I love him the way he is, and this is part of him. I can’t, and dont want to change him. He’s always nice and say’s “its good babe” but I know if he actually likes it. I watch and see if he goes for seconds, and if he does, I take note and make more at some point. If not, I strike it off the menu, or keep it in the recipe box if I like it and maybe make smaller portions of it as a side or something. But not every night is something new. I be sure to stick to making things he likes at least 3 or 4 times a week. And when I get lucky and find something new he likes, and add it to the list, then the list grows and I dont end up eating all the same things all the time that i get tired of.

  8. I confess, I’ve never understood why parents cater to children’s food pickiness. In our house, dinner is dinner (or lunch, or breakfast) and that’s what there is to eat. There’s no discussion about it, and we don’t worry about whether our children are eating it or not. If they don’t eat it, well, then there’s another meal or snack coming soon. I don’t offer alternatives to what’s on the table. Now, having said that, I do try to be aware of when a child has a definite dislike for something. For example, one doesn’t like eggs. Doesn’t matter how–scrambled, hard-boiled, whatever, she can’t stand them. It’s not a food allergy, and in baked items, they’re fine. So, I make them once in a while, and have her try a small amount to see if she still doesn’t like them. After all, food tastes do change. I offer enough other food so that she doesn’t feel that it’s eggs or nothing for that meal. Also, I will occasionally offer a preparation choice; such as, “Do you want burrito or tuna sandwich for lunch?” I believe that offering a variety of healthful foods, and then not making a big deal of it, is the key.
    As for your husband, I agree with Heather’s advice. He’s a grownup, and grownups tend to be stubborn. 😉 So, I would just ask him not to make a fuss over vegetables in front of your daughter and leave it at that. I suggest continuing to make vegetables for yourself to enjoy. Your daughter will see what you eat, and if you’re not having the vegie struggle at dinner, she may stop pushing your buttons on this issue. Of course, she’ll find an entirely new issue in which to push your buttons.

  9. The problem might be the amount of work you put into the veggies.
    I have allergies, so the chance that a veggie dish will be bad for me increases with the amount of ingredients in it. If one of the ingredients is bad for me , the dish is bad.
    My allergies allow me to be more aware of bad stuff. I think others have this ability also, but disable it with spices, sugars, and other strong flavors.
    I’m best off with my veggies cooked as simply as possible, and separate from others. While I know potatoes are OK for me, they’re not OK if they haven’t been peeled or “poked” thoroughly. Mixing potatoes like that with other veggies, even if they’re known good, makes the entire combination bad.
    I’m sure there are some veggies the husband would like – especially if he just gets as much of them as the 3 year-old gets.

  10. my mother has a plaque hanging above the kitchen table that says ‘try it you’ll like it’. That was always the rule growning up – we all had to at least try what she made and if we didn’t like it well then we could make our own dinner or be hungry. Now that all her kids are grown she is a little more flexible, when we all visit she only makes things that she knows everyone will eat. For example my brother does not like seafood, so if we grill fish for dinner, he gets a burger. My niece is only 18 months so I dont’ know how much she pays attention to what the grownups eat, but she will eat pretty much anything you put in front of her and often throws a fit if someone has something that she does not.

    I agree that this is a discussion that you and your husband need to have privately and these are all good suggestions below as to how to allow him not to eat veggies while still encouraging your child too.

    •  @bookchick We had the “three bite” rule in our house growing up. We had to eat at least three bites of anything new.

  11. I can relate! What I found works best in our house is to cater slightly to everyone’s preferences, but provide meals that are well balanced and include things I know everyone will eat. I found out early on my husband prefers fresh veggies and fruit, so I make every effort to put a fresh salad on the table every night, and try to keep a good amount of fruit on hand. So while my kids don’t prefer cooked veggies they will eat fresh stuff like it’s going out of style. As a former picky eater some may say I cater a bit too much, but I’ve seen it work with my husband’s expanded palate, and my older kids who eat anything. I now adore to eat all kinds of food, but still have my preferences. I save my adventurous eating for dinners out with friends, travel, and meals I make for just me. I’ll also add that making lifestyle changes can be tough, and if you are pushing those on your spouse (IE giving up energy drinks) it’s likely he’ll resist if for no other reason than the approach. It’s tough, but discussing your concerns with him may help…or not. It’s up to him as an adult to make his own decisions.

  12. I was reading a special-needs cookbook and it mentioned that a deficiency of zinc can actually cause many vegetables to taste nasty.  Likely not the usual suspect, but thought I would toss it in! 🙂

  13. Great advice Heather!!  My husband doesn’t always like drinking milk, but I try not to give him a hard time about it.  It’s so important that we don’t undermine each other in front of our son, and even though he’s only an infant now, it’s a good habit for us to start!

  14. You need to de-stress.  I am the mother of four, all starting out eating fruits and veggies as a ‘good mother’ would have them eat.  Now, my 18 yr old and 10 yr old only eat raw fruits and veggies; my 17yr old eats like a health nut; and my 13yr old doesn’t touch ANY fruit or veggies at all.   I have been especially worried about my 13 year old and have cried in frustration.  The best advice I have received is the knowledge and acceptance of the fact that she WILL be okay and since people’s tastes do change she may end up being as healthy as my 17 yr old health nut (who used to be very chubby as a boy). 
    As for your husband, imagine the foods you hate and then imagine someone picking on you to eat them every night.  He’s not a bad role model, he’s just an adult who was made to eat canned veggies as a child – yuk.  Just do your best to offer things your child likes (without becoming a short order chef) and rest peacefully knowing you are building a good relationship instead of building a wall. 

  15. We have a similar situation where my husband does not –er, detests most of the vegetables I like. I think it did used to annoy me, but now I just try to make sure and use one of the three he likes at least once a week.  
    Annnnd sadly, I grew up on canned and frozen and there are just some canned veggies I prefer over fresh, not most, but some.  It is what it is.
    My husband did give me the Jessica Seinfield Deceptively Delicious cookbook for Christmas one year and I have incorporated some of the veggie purees into our chili (red bell peppers for instance) and carrot puree into taco salad.  None of us could taste a difference. 
    Some of the recipes are a little “out there” but I like it  Good luck!

  16. A book I’ve read mentioned that, dinner is not just about food and nutrition but also family time. The author suggests to have a little bit of everyone’s favorite in every meal to facilitate the mood of the dinner. I am a mother of 3 kids and one of them has multiple allergies. I may not be able to do that in every meal but I do try my best to balance that over the week. I find that when they have a favorite dish on the table, they are also more willing try a new food or something they didn’t like the last time.
    Most men prefer big chunks of meat than veggies, at least, it is true with my peer group of friends. If your husband is like that, bake him a chicken leg or something in the toaster oven and just let him have very little of the veggies. It is good for him to know that you care about his feelings towards food too. And it is probably better for your girl *not* to see his dad eat his veggies than for her to see him *fight* against eating it, IMHO.
    I also found adult’s food taste change over time too. I remember when we first got married, one night, I only have enough time to make a dish of stir fried beef with onions to go with rice and felt sorry for not being able to put a dish of veggies on the table. My husband kindly said “onions are veggies”. But now, he could go with a table of dishes with almost no meat at all. Unless there is health issue, it might be okay to let time do its job.

  17. I’d take a slightly different tack, myself. Not because Heather’s wrong – far from it. I’m a big believer in not, under 99% of all circumstances, telling your partner what to do, because most of the time, it just creates resentment. 
    But to me you have two problems here.  The first is that he’s feeding himself junk. The second is that he is undermining your authority. 
    The second can mostly be solved by what Heather is saying – avoid the conflict at the table. But this, in my opinion, is temporary. The kiddo’s gonna notice eventually. Talk to him about how important it is to you to make sure she eats well, and how parents eat is the biggest predictor of how kids will eat. Let him know you’d appreciate his thinking on this and perhaps helping you come up with some ideas, besides the ones noted above, that can help with this.
    The other thing, which concerns me even more in some ways, is that he has some serious food issues that are very dangerous for him long-term (and from what you’re saying, it’s long-term). This is a much trickier conversation, and should be handled separately. You could go about it in any number of ways, but I’d probably try to keep it really short and simple and nonjudgmental. Maybe start with something like, “Honey, I want to talk to you something. Do you have a few minutes?” (Time it right!) “Ok. I know we’ve talked about the vegetables thing with [child’s name], and that’s great. But I needed to say that I’m also worried about you. The way you’ve been eating, I worry you’re setting yourself up for health problems. I love you more than anything, and I want to see you live to a thousand years old. I’d like for you to [read book on nutrition, watch HBO’s weight of the nation, see a nutritionist…pick one]. Just check it out and get some information. I’d really appreciate if you could do that.” If he says he doesn’t want to do X, perhaps suggest one alternative. 
    Then drop it. 
    That’s the hard part. Because he probably won’t. But you’ll have put it out there. And – because your opinion is, chances are, the most important thing in the world to him – it’ll be there. In the back of his mind. And somewhere down the line, it may trigger something. Now, if he doesn’t take action in a year, it might be worth trying again. But truly wait. Saying it once and then dropping it is oddly far more effective (and trusting) than repeated nagging. In the meantime, model good behavior. I know; that sounds like I’m saying treat him like a child. But studies show your good habits can rub off on those you love, so simply walking the walk – exercising and eating right – could have as much or more effect than what you say.
    I wish you the best of luck!

  18. I think this is a common problem with parents. We go from being independently thinking adults to role models. That’s a lot of pressure!

    My DH isn’t a big veggie eater and our ideas of what constitutes a “balanced” meal are
    different. I do the best I can with the time I have, the budget, and everyone’s preferences. He’s not always thrilled to eat what I made but he eats it and makes a point to eat some of
    the fruit or veggie. One thing that got us to this point (it was tough for a while) is me backing off and not treating hubby like one of the kids and reminding him to eat the veggies. He also supports me when I ask one of the kids to try a new food.

    Eating family meals is a big part of parenting. It’s not all about the food. The atmosphere at your dinner table will change as your daughter grows and you and your DH become more experienced as parents.

    Good luck! Sounds like you work hard as a wife and mother. Your DH and DD are lucky to have you!

  19. My mom is an incredibly picky eater, and so growing up, everyone was required to sit at the table, and try the food.  But if you don’t like it, you can eat the parts you do like, or you can get up and make yourself a PB & J sandwich or get a bowl of cereal.  But you still have to sit there, and you still have to be polite, and nobody has to be your short – order cook. Prior partners and I have had the same arrangement – I don’t mind as much if they don’t eat the food, but it really annoys the heck out of me if I am eating a fancy meal by myself.
    Fiance, as it turns out, is a texture person.  Figuring that out made everything a lot better.  He can’t stand slimy or squishy veggies – so no eggplant cooked to death, or mushrooms, or slimy tomatoes.  But veggies with some crunch or bite to them – no problem.  Might be worth talking to husband (separately from kiddo) which part of it he doesn’t like – is it the flavor, or the way it feels in his mouth? Might increase your chances of success.


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