10/07/2011 05:10 pm ET Updated Dec 07, 2011

Are You Sure They Are Picky Eaters?

Many years ago when my son Eli was a baby, I had this burning desire to write a cookbook about feeding baby loosely titled Cooking With One Hand. I had these fantasies about inspiring my child to be a good eater, to try every food so that he would grow up to have a great palate. My plans included partnering with a food writer friend who also had a very young child and shared many of my ideas and philosophies about feeding baby. By the time we got to writing the proposal, we were both in the throes of the terrible twos and the realization that you can barely influence your child about food -- that it is the one thing they can absolutely control, unless of course you want to force feed them. We ended up finishing the proposal phase and then decided that the whole thing was a dumb idea, that a cookbook for kids was just silly, what one should really want is for their kids to eat like adults so you don't have to prepare special meals for them.

Fast forward to life with an eleven-year-old. Let's call it inspiration by osmosis. My son loves food, he is discerning, some might say picky, I say particular. He's not big on meat, perhaps because I have been over zealous in making sure he knows where it comes from and that yes, an animal sacrificed their life for your drumstick. Sausage is better, ok, somehow not the same as meat to him. He loves sushi but isn't big on cooked fish. He loves spicy foods and always has, Asian, Mexican, absolutely. I am proud to say he prefers a taco to a burrito. He won't touch most cooked vegetables but loves them raw; he adores salad but try to get him to eat a cooked pea, this is not going to happen.

I had a great laugh recently when I heard him having a discussion with his cousin about McDonald's; the other child was extolling the virtues of all the different menu items and Eli's response was: "Do you even know where the meat comes from?" Apparently, I have managed to raise a food snob, but he mostly just really appreciates great tasting food and does care about whether or not it's organic and where it came from, I'm good with that.

And just when I think he isn't paying any attention to what I have to say, he shocks me again. Recently he popped a piece of fancy salami, Olli or Creminelli, I wasn't sure which one, into his mouth as he walked out of the room. Then he stopped, turned around and said: "wow, that was the best salami I've ever had." I stupidly hadn't paid attention to which one he was eating and kept wondering, but the mystery was solved when we were at Whole Foods and I told him that they had the good Creminelli in which he replied "yeah, it was good, but not as good as the Olli." Not only did he remember the salami that he liked, but also the name of it... that was more than I could do.

I'm often asked how I got Eli to eat what he eats -- choices, I say. When I watch others feeding their kids, most seem to do the opposite of what you should do when facing a picky eater; they narrow the choices and keep feeding the kids the same things over and over again, primarily simple white food like pasta with butter and cheese. I believe that what you should do is broaden the selection and give options, because really you never know what they might want to try and might like to eat. Would you think a one-year old would like spicy food, or salad if they won't eat broccoli? Kids are all different and like different things; also siblings in the same family have very different tastes. Eli surprised me recently with a love of pickled okra and nopales, I guess he likes slimy stuff, I'll have to remember to let him try Japanese mountain yam now.

With school back in session, lunches to be packed and dinners to get on the table in time for homework to be worked on, this time of year feeding kids can be a real challenge, but it can also be super fun. Now is a good time to experiment, offer up food options, you just might be surprised by the results.