are picky eaters mentally ill?

Oy. So there's this new study in the journal Pediatrics which every major publication has now written about that claims kids who are very picky eaters have a greater chance of having mental health issues as adults. The study was done at Duke University by Dr. Zucker who urges parents not to panic. Not every picky kid will be severely depressed or have an eating disorder.

But this part of Dr. Zucker's analysis rings true to me, and always has:

“Their sensory experience is more intense in the areas of taste, texture and visual cues. And their internal experience may be more intense, so they have stronger feelings. They’re sensitive kids who may be anxious or a little depressed; so cutting up fruits into funny shapes is not going to do the trick for these kids.”

I've long noticed Nate's aversion to foods is really not remedied with games or tricks. He feels very strongly about not eating certain foods in a way that seems to go deep. Something about a texture or smell will disgust him completely. I've fantasized that he will turn into a "super taster" or foodie with highly developed senses who actually excels at all things culinary but it's probably more likely this extreme sensitivity will apply to other aspects of his life. Which might not be bad—I'm all for him being a sensitive guy with a rich internal world even though it's a harder role to play in this world.

Another part of the study urges parents to create positive experiences around eating. Family dinner should be more about family than dinner. I think about him crying alone before sandwich night and wonder if we should just lay off him.

nope, dinner is still not ready and whining won't help

I realized today that we are making progress. Only one year ago, this is how our family dinner went down:

Family Dinner, 2014

5:45 pm: Nate is in his room-he was punished for calling me a poopy-head and hitting Mack in the bath. Mack is crying because he’s hungry.

6 pm: Michael gets home. 

6:15 pm: we sit down for dinner but the chicken isn’t ready yet and Nate refuses to even try the cauliflower with cheese sauce or humous and carrots. He asks for ketchup. Mack eats everything but wants what everybody else is eating, even though it’s the same thing that’s on his plate. He cries and begs with no words throughout dinner making conversation very difficult.

6:18 pm: Nate eats four strands of pasta and asks to be excused. We say no and he slides off his chair onto the floor, then tries to stick forks in water bottles. We tell Nate to join us; he cries. Mack cries and begs to be let down from his chair even though he’s still eating. Nate goes to his room while Mack cries. We let Mack down and quickly finish the boys’ dinner.

6:25pm : I clean up a million dishes.

When I talk to the many amazing, smart, accomplished women I know who lament the fact that they have to make dinner for their family, I get it, and for the first time in a long time, I think I can be useful. Since leaving the professional world six years ago, I've had a hard time feeling adequate but the one area I've mastered is cooking for my family. So until I return to the office or publish a bestseller, I'd like to offer some tips, strategies and recipes—along with humor and empathy— for my mom friends who are out doing the hard stuff of working, parenting, being a woman in this world. Dads, of course, welcome too.

6:00 pm sucks. It is the most stressful part of the day--parents are exhausted from work (or taking care of kids); kids are tired and hungry and whining or fighting. It's hard to come up with creative meals that will feed everyone and not repeat the same thing every night. It's hard to know what to do in advance or what should be saved for later. It's hard to make something healthy and simple with minimal cleanup.

Let's start from the beginning: Kids are hungry. Dinner is not ready. What to do? Put some cut up veggies in a bowl. Next open a single serving bowl of plain greek yogurt and mix in some seasoned salt (or onion salt). Add a tablespoon of milk and stir. Announce your creation and set it out on the table. Pour the wine.

can someone get a sandwich around here?

Sandwich dinner is many family's cop-out meal. Not ours. For us, sandwiches for dinner turned out to be an emotional journey and a major turning point on our road to better times. Some people don't know this but my husband, Michael, is actually the self proclaimed king of sandwiches. See this post. Our kids however shun sandwiches. Last week Mack ate a few bites of salami and cheese sandwich and Michael was glowing for days.

The idea arose this morning. Me: Nate you've eaten 85 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches this summer. Can we try another kind? Nate: no. Michael  "Nate I'm going to make some sandwiches for you to try tonight at dinner," translation: mommy is going to make sandwiches for us.

I bought some new breads and salami, then made egg salad. (It occurred to me that Nate likes hard boiled eggs so what if they were just mashed up?) I'll admit, I was somewhat hopeful that this dinner would change the rest of our lives,

An hour before dinner Nate fell into a funk. I don't want sandwiches for dinner, Don't worry, I said. There are lots of options...." he looked intrigued. "Like hot dogs," I lied. Nate made his way to his room saying he wanted to be alone. I gave him some cool down time then entered to find him crying. I held him, then threw a couple hot dogs in the microwave.

When we sat down to dinner, I was nervous, standing up a lot, making announcements and stopping Michael from saying anything that might ruin my master plan which was anything at all. I quickly spread some egg salad (but refrained from calling it "salad") on a lenders bagel and gave it to Nate, then proceeded to pretend to not care what happened next. Michael made Mack a salami sandwich  and I started to make myself a sandwich when a crazy thing happened. Nate ate the open-faced egg salad bagel and liked it. Next we tried a closed egg salad bagel with toothpicks and he ate that too. I was so excited that I rewarded him with no carrots required AND candy. Michael was pleased. Well done he said.

My theory is that seeing foods that Nate could reject (salami, ham, etc) gave him the leeway to choose something that looked familiar even if in a different form.

Unfortunately neither of us noticed that Mack didn't eat anything and he was up all night, hungry. It was a big cleanup and Michael had to leave early to play tennis in Queens. Looking back I will probably realize what a ridiculous person I have become, with fucked up values and an unhealthy need for my kids to eat well. But for the night, I called it a triumph.

the mommy chef who saved dinner

My Brooklyn Based article about chef Paula Hankin and her ideas for feeding picky eaters.

 Read here

breakfast pasta

A stupid-simple, obvious ripoff on carbonara, but the kids liked it (mostly for the name though nothing about this dish is not delicious) and it added some protein to the usual plain pasta dinner. It also inspired our enthusiastic discussion of: "why can't you eat pasta for breakfast or breakfast for dinner?!" Next up: veggie pancakes?


  • 1/2 lb spaghetti
  • 1 egg
  • 2 slices turkey bacon
  • Parmesan cheese

    Cook spaghetti and add 2 tbsp of the cooking water to raw egg. Beat egg and stir into pasta with crumbled bacon and cheese. 

pizza bagels

We ate these all the time as kids—made with mini Lenders of course. I didn't have minis or Lenders but I did have some whole wheat everything bagels which I scooped out and gave to the boys with a bowl of tomato sauce and cheese. The boys liked making them, probably more than they liked eating them though Nate finished most of his. We all agreed next time--less cheese. When I asked what other ingredients we might add, Mack suggested a fried egg and Nate said bacon. Duh.

DIY egg muffins

It was Michael's morning to sleep in so when the kids lost interest in the epic car race across the living room, I came up with this project. I greased some muffin tins and beat some eggs in a pourable measuring cup. Then I gave them a choice of toppings on a plate: crumbled turkey bacon, cheese, sauteed red peppers/onions and pumpkin seeds (a new favorite in our house—we pretend they are little bugs.) I poured the egg and they added their choice of toppings to their muffin tin. We made one for Michael too even though he was still sleeping. 

I can't say these were a huge hit but many factors other than their inherent yumminess may have contributed to their failure. First, kids were now fighting because they had been indoors too long. Then Michael, hungover from a night of whiskey with the boys, was not hungry because he had had a late night love affair with a taco stand. I did get credit for trying. Michael said he appreciated my spirit in the face of adversity. Met with continued resistance I continue to try to entice the boys to eat new things. I am Super-Feeder. I will not be defeated!!

stealing your date

I made these for the "healthy eating bake sale" at school after Spencer's mom Cynthia revealed that she often makes date cookies for her kids and calls them chocolate. #stealingyouridea But I also added molasses and some actual mini chocolate chips to further fool the innocents. Oh and I used the Bob's Red Mill Date and Bran mix which I highly recommend if you don't bake.

  • 2 cups Bob's Red Mill Date and Bran Muffin mix (see right)
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup applesauce
  • 1/2 soft mashed banana
  • 1/4 cup mini chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup dried coconut.

    Mix it all in a big bowl and bake in muffin tins for 20 min on 350 degrees.

#conceptdinner, #failure

So what if the entire dinner was yellow? Fun, right? A new way to get the kids to try new foods? A fun new game? Nope, just a lot of work. Purple dinner is cancelled. 

class breakfast

I signed up to make muffins for Family Breakfast Potluck in Nate's class and my first thought was: how can I make something that requires almost no effort but isn't store bought (I am class mom after all!) .

But then I started reading food blogs for my new column in Brooklyn Based and I came across many exciting muffin recipes by mom-bloggers who are way more energetic and patient than me. Adding fiber cereal and chia seeds and all the amazing ingredients that I"m sure the other kids in Nate's class would eat but Nate won't. And they were all far more complicated recipes that I would spend hours making and then be disappointed that Nate rejected-we've done this routine too many times.

So I basically made our usual add eggs, milk, oil to whole wheat pancake mix then poured the batter into small muffin tins, threw in a couple blueberries and a drop of Nutella and baked for 10 minutes. They were pretty yummy (though toppings tended to settle at the bottom during cooking.) I served them in an empty egg container because they were the exact size of the holes.

Lemme say they were not a hit. I think they looked too healthy next to the frozen mini waffles, cookies, doughnuts and bagels (lame!).  The best dish was eggs baked in muffin cups sprinkled with bacon pieces. Next year I'm making that!

smart moms

My first column for The Pickiest Eaters on Brooklyn Based inspired some great ideas from local moms:

  1. Christy:  I mix in an egg yolk (not the whole egg because he notices the white part) into the shredded cheese for extra protein in cheese quesadillas.  
  2. Every once in a while for a special treat, I’ll mix a box of devil’s food cake mix with a can of pureed pumpkin and bake at 400 for 20 minutes (cake or muffins).  
  3.  I make and store these purees in the freezer (, orange puree ( and purple puree ( and add them when I think I can get away with it.  
  4.  I add Superfood Kidz (chocolate) to Max’s oatmeal.  He calls it Chocolate Oatmeal and thinks it is a treat.
  5. Pureed tofu in anything I can get away with...
  6. we have "green mac & cheese" and "pink mac & cheese". The green one is spinach and cream, and the pink one is yam and cream. The point is to make sure it has a smooth solid, zero small pieces, texture. It's really reallyyummy! We also cook only the brown rice pasta. they have it in all different shapes. 
  7. From The Science of Picky Eaters "Biologists have discovered that, out of the thousands of genes in our D.N.A., there's one that determines if we like the taste of some healthy greens or if we can't stand them. BUT.....  It turns out, over time, that our sense of smell changes, and that affects our sense of taste, no matter what kind of genes we have. .....So next time you get frustrated with your picky eater, take a moment to relax and remember, their genes may be influencing their food choices just as much as you are."

It's not about nutrition

t's Not About the Broccoli is a really important book which offers a few important and feasible rules for parents of picky eaters. The first is to institute schedules: specific hours for breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, bedtime snack. If he doesn't want to eat at these times, he has to wait until the next block. For example, Breakfast is 6-7:30; Snack 10-10:30; Lunch 12-2; Snack 4-4:30 (veggies and dip available before dinner if hungry); Dinner 6-7:30, includes dessert if good effort made. 

For every meal, parents should offer one food he likes, and  one or two new foods. The BACKUP plan should be one safe food, like plain yogurt. The rotation rule is in effect too so you never have same foods two days in a row

Tasting is required. He must try at least one new taste every day. It can be a small bite and he can spit it out if he wants but he must give a yay or nay. Assure him there are no consequences (you won't make him eat whatever he says he likes.) Another idea is to start a chart: each new taste gets a star. 10 stars gets a new toy.

abcdef breakfast

Yesterday, while breakfasting on bagels and bacon, Nate pointed out that both items began with the letter "B". Then Michael said we should do a different letter every day for breakfast! Then I was shopping for cantaloupe.

We've only done a few letters but it is proving to be a good way to introduce some new foods (or just get Nate to eat something other than frozen waffles) in the name of the "game".

So far we skipped A (see above) but followed through with...

B: Bagel with Butter and Bacon (accompanied by Bear and Buffalo)

C: Cantaloupe and Cinnamon Cereal with (not shown) Coffee.

D: Danish and Dip (yogurt and honey) with fruit

E: Eggs and English Muffins

F. French toast and Fresh Fruit

transforming kid food

I actually made these panko-breaded chicken breasts for the kids because I was tired of the frozen kind. I used fresh organic, free-range, local chicken, panko, Parmesan cheese, pasteurized eggs and high quality oil. Neither boy touched them. Nate said they were brown.

So I reinvented them for night two of veggie/healthy/detox week. Reheated in a dry frying pan and topped with a simple, light tomato sauce (recipe below) and served with baked zucchini (375 for 20 minutes) and whole wheat shells (which when covered in Parmesan tasted kind of like pasta. I get why the kids don't eat the whole wheat pasta...but the chicken breasts? they were amazing. why do the kids hate everything I actually make from scratch. why? why?!

Tomato sauce

  • 1 can tomato diced
  • salt, balsamic, lemon juice, garlic.

Bring to a boil and reduce for 20-30 min