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Kale-Brussels Sprout Salad, Picky Eating & Golf

When I posted a picture of this Thanksgiving side, many of you asked me for the recipe. It didn’t hurt that my 15 year-old gobbled it up and asked for seconds…even after she exclaimed, “THAT was kale and Brussels sprouts??!”

Compliments to my sister-in-law, Eliza, who brought Kale-Brussels Sprout Salad to Thanksgiving, adapting it from Epicurious.

As you can see, instead of almonds she used pine nuts. What I liked best was the sturdiness of the salad. Because kale is a firm green, this salad stood the test of an overnight in the fridge, even when dressed, and was just as delicious.

On Picky Eaters

The topic of picky eating comes and goes. When I read Bettina’s blog over at The Lunch Tray about picky eaters, I appreciated her bottom line: kids change, and may surprise you when you least expect it.

As a professional who has worked with some very picky eaters, I want to throw in my two cents and share the way I look at it. I always try to find out where it all began, because understanding the why behind the behavior can help ease, and even solve the issue. I talk about this throughout the book, Fearless Feeding.

Developmentally-Appropriate Picky Eating

This is the picky eating that generally appears in toddlerhood and disappears by the time the child enters school. It’s normal, and has a short course. Even though the child may still dislike certain foods, he isn’t “picky” about general categories of food, and parents can see movement toward more openness to food.

Learned Behavior

Learning is always happening, and it’s easy for young children to learn the effectiveness of their own behavior, especially around food.  This may be more likely to occur when parents don’t have effective or positive ways of dealing with the normalcy of picky eating.

They may use ineffective tricks like prompting or sneaking greens into accepted foods; or tactics such as rewarding, threatening, discipline, and forcing; or they may simply throw in the towel and give in to the child’s desires or what they know he will eat—simply said, they cater to the child.

As a result, the child learns to keep up the antics that give him what he wants, or to combat the tactics and tricks by melting down, refusing to eat, etc. in an effort to get his desires met. Both parent and child learn new ways to behave around food, and it isn’t always productive, healthy or rooted in positive feeding.

Genetic or Medical Component

Some children are almost pre-destined to have issues with food and eating. The premature baby, as one example, may have sensory sensitivities (taste, sight, smell, texture, sound), as a result of the multiple medical procedures to support life.

Some children are genetically inclined to be picky, and those children with food allergy, celiac disease, gastrointestinal problems and failure to thrive may experience fear of food (and the resulting symptoms) and come across as picky. These children can be tricky to figure out, because their symptoms may be subtle. I talked about this in my series on introducing new foods to kids.

Combo Kid

This is the child who may have more than one of the above contributing factors to picky eating.

James started being picky at 2 ½ years and his parents thought they’d glide through this stage because he was such a great eater. Once the picky stage hit, they changed their interaction with James at mealtime.

They told him “you love this food,” and played airplane, and then fretted when he didn’t touch fruit for days and started to sneak it into oatmeal, ultimately changing the flavor of the food he still liked. You guessed it, it wasn’t long before James pushed the oatmeal away.

Or Stacy, who was sensitive to textures and the appearance of food. Anything green—forget it. Not just veggies—fruit like grapes and apples, too. Her parents stopped trying anything green, dismissing it before she even tried it.

Funny, though, she liked green candy! She learned, with the support of her parents, that green foods were off the menu, unless of course, it was candy.

We try so hard to categorize kids into a type of eater—‘good eater,’ ‘eats everything,’ ‘picky,’ ‘selective,’ or ‘not selective enough.’ The truth is, kids are evolving—changing every year, even monthly. That’s why it’s so important to change with them.

Nothing is ever stagnant or set in stone. The ‘picky eater’ can become not picky. The ‘eats everything’ eater can become picky later (like the teenage years).

Rather than get hung up on picky eating, I say go with the flow. Get hung up on your job of being a good feeder: supply routine meals and snacks on time, a variety of foods, flavors, textures and shapes, and a neutral attitude when it comes to rejection.

Thoughts on Golf and Feeding Kids

Have you ever tried to learn a brand new sport as an adult? I took up golf twelve years ago, and it still is challenging, but most of all, humbling. Feeding children is not so different.

In golf, you come to the golf course, excited to play and confident in your skills, not dissimilar to coming to the table with your family for a meal. One bad shot, and it’s easy to let your whole game take a nosedive.

It’s the same with a child who rejects the meal or a particular food—it can tank the meal, not to mention your attitude about your abilities to feed your family.

But great golfers don’t let one bad shot get them down. They know it’s the whole eighteen (or nine) holes that constitutes a game, so they keep refining their swing, their approach, their putts, with optimism about getting their groove back.

Feeding kids requires this same demeanor—calm, confident and persistent. Parents may never hit perfection (as most of us amateur golfers will never be professionals), but they keep trying to do better.

It only takes one good shot to bring a golfer back to the game—I believe it’s the same with feeding kids—just one happy, satisfied tummy, or one bite of a new food, to buoy up the confidence and joy parents feel at the meal table.

Find that happy moment in each meal, and you’ll keep coming to the table with the positive outlook you need!

What was your latest happy moment at the meal table?

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  1. Great post and so timely given how Charlotte has been eating lately. Also just read your views in Frances Largeman-Roth’s Parent’s Magazine article on picky eating. Overall, I have to say I’m pretty lucky (so far!) – the girls really eat quite well. My latest happy meal moment was when they were eating olives, spiced nuts, and my Kabocha Squash Flatbread ( on Thanksgiving! In case you’re wondering, they’re 23 months old!!