Why American Kids Don’t Eat Anything

Ok, so this title isn’t accurate, and it surely is an unfair generalization I am making. But hear me out. I’ve been reading Karen Le Billon’s French Kids Eat Everything. In summary, it is about how she and her husband moved to the French countryside with their two children and discovered that their children’s American-Canadian eating habits were not just “picky,” but more of a reflection of parenting and expectations. I haven’t gotten too far into the book since receiving it for Christmas, but prior to asking for it, I was able to read a lot of the excerpts at the Amazon site and already start putting into practice some of the ideas.


To give you a little background, let me tell you about my 4-year-old daughter, Marley. I guess you should know that she is my stepdaughter, and I am a newlywed. My husband, having been a hard-working single dad the first few years of Marley’s life, wasn’t so aware of nutrition. And, justifiably so, he resorted to giving Marley whatever she would happily eat. Unfortunately, most of the foods she would accept by the time I met her at age 2 ½ consisted of two food groups: grains and dairy. She would eat quesadillas, cheese pizza, grilled cheese, Easy Mac (only the microwavable kind, as she turned her nose up to every other mac n cheese)…you get the picture. Sure there were some other items on her approved list that were a bit healthier: Cheerios, hot dogs, scrambled eggs, and some fruits. And to my husband’s credit he really did make an effort to limit her juice and sugar intake.

With that said, Marley and my soon-to-be-husband moved to my home state when Marley was three, and thus began my quest to change Marley’s eating habits. For one, not only could I not bring myself to give her Easy Mac every night for dinner, but she was showing definite signs of food sensitivities, chronic constipation being the most noticeable. In addition, her Daddy is an undiagnosed Celiac, and with Marley’s craving for breads, we were pretty sure she had an allergy to some extent (which was later confirmed with testing).  Speaking of food allergy testing, this limited Marley’s diet even further than I would have on my own, but she is healthier for it in the end.

Changing Marley’s diet, and, therefore, getting her to eat more of a variety of foods, was nothing short of frustrating. Dinner time was the biggest battle, and often it felt like a lose-lose situation for both of us. Sure, she was slowly learning to like some new foods, and we were definitely adding to her list of approved ones, but I kept hoping for a breakthrough. I kept trying different tactics, none of which were working. Until I did one thing:

Family style = Big success!

Family style = Big success!

I began serving our dinners family style. You heard it right. That’s all I did.

It was easy for Marley to understand that what was on the table was what’s for dinner that night. She knew she wasn’t getting “her food,” as she likes to call it. I repeat: What was on the table is what’s for dinner. And the novelty of even calling it “Family Style” was something that delighted her. The first several weeks of this, I let her choose whatever she wanted to eat from the table. Sometimes that meant she only ate some pineapple, other times it meant she would pick the chicken out of the casserole and only eat the chicken, some times it meant she didn’t eat anything at all. The point was, she knew nothing else was coming, and she was in control of what she ate and didn’t eat (so she thought). This revolutionized our dinner time! Dinner became a joyous time again, and that was my number one goal, even more than getting Marley to eat what the rest of the family was eating.

We started there, but now that dinner time is something Marley looks forward to instead of dreads, I have slowly started expanding her palate again. She gets to first choose what she wants (and she is surprising me every night by what she is willing to try on her own), and then I will add to it a couple of bites of whatever she didn’t pick. And it’s been miraculous. The whining has [nearly] stopped. She is eating faster. And we still have smiles on our faces when dinner is over. The other night she ate the broccoli on her plate with no prompting. I was confused at first wondering how it disappeared off her plate!

There is one more change I attribute to this success. I’ve been using an online meal plan that has all of us trying new foods. Every night we have vegetables on the table that I have never even bought from the grocery store before. At first, Marley just saw more variety on the table and that Mommy and Daddy gobbled it up. Now, she is trying these new foods herself and learning that they are good! The best is when Daddy, who insists he is not a picky eater (ha!), has to pretend to like the meal, all while Marley is chowing down! (Insert “success” fist pump here.)

Most of all, I can relax, knowing that my family is being fed nutritious food.

This is just our meal time journey. I don’t know if what worked for my child will work for yours. But many of us have fallen into bad eating habits with our kids, and most of us wish we could get healthier foods down them. If you have some tips that have worked for your family, please share for your fellow readers below!

Herbed Chicken Thighs, Cauliflower Kale Salad, and Blackberries

Braised Chicken Thighs, Cauliflower Kale Salad, and Blackberries

Tangy Pork Tenderloin, Fennel Potatoes, Maple Butternut Squash

Tangy Pork Tenderloin, Fennel Potatoes, Maple Butternut Squash


2 thoughts on “Why American Kids Don’t Eat Anything

  1. Love this! I like the idea of saying “ok, this is a family style dinner, so, what’s on the table is what’s for dinner.” I know for Elias, he does not like being told what to eat. If we tell him “You have to eat all of that” – he’s much more likely to rebel. He simply knows that if he doesn’t eat, he’ll be hungry, and the food that he chose not to eat is probably going to show up at either breakfast or lunch the next day (along with other food options) and he gets another chance to taste it. It’s proven to us that if he is hungry – he will eat, and that sometimes it takes multiple exposures to a new food item before he is comfortable enough to eat it and finally realize that he likes the food. And if we let him do it on his own terms, he’s much more open to new foods. Also, if he truly doesn’t like a food – he’s willingly tasted it and rejected it multiple times – then I don’t push it. I’m just glad that he was willing to taste it multiple times to decide whether or not he liked it. At this point, there are so many foods that he is willing to eat that there is never a lack of variety in his diet.

    The only other rule that we have is no tantrums at the table – it’s rude to the person who cooked the food. He can choose not to eat it, but he has to be polite about it.

    Great post – always a good reminder to bring the whole family together for meal times!

  2. For those asking what we do for breakfast and lunch, here are some of our favorites (and by “our” favorites, I mean Marley’s favorites that are Mom-approved!)

    Breakfast Ideas:
    -Scrambled Eggs (she will eat this for every meal if I let her!)
    -Banana Omelettes (will post recipe soon)
    -Super Hero “Oat”meal (will post recipe soon)
    -Pea Protein shake (coconut water, vanilla pea protein powder, cocoa…I use this to sneak in other things like probiotics powder, coconut oil, collagen hydrolysate gelatin)

    Lunch Ideas:
    (we eat all of the following without bread)
    -Chicken Salad w/ diced apples
    -Egg Salad
    -Uncured Organic Beef or Turkey Hot Dogs
    -Uncured Deli Meats
    -Salmon Burger
    -Brown Rice Pasta w/ Meat Sauce
    -Last Night’s Leftovers
    -Potato-Crusted Fish Sticks (Dr. Praegger’s brand; not ideal because it has canola oil in it, but I always keep a box in the freezer for when convenience trumps healthiest)

    We add a fruit and/or veggie to each meal. And for snacks, she loves her almond butter!

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