Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Meal Planning for People with Different Tastes--Dealing with "Picky" Eaters

Cooking for others can be a real challenge, especially when they have different tastes.
I even remember as a kid every time I went to a birthday party and they wanted to order pizza, there was always that one kid that said they would only eat cheese pizza, and "No, I can't pull off toppings because I can still taste it." If you were lucky, you got some of the pepperoni pizza. If you were unlucky, you got stuck with some of the cheese pizza.

I cook for my family and have cooked a lot for my extended family too (especially for my in-laws. That can be a learning experience! The differences in how we eat and cook crack me up a bit. When you're a kid, you kind of assume other families are like your own.)

I do my best to make balanced meals that people will enjoy and eat. Getting kids, and even adults, to eat vegetables is hard.

Meal planning for people with different tastes

1) Try to avoid labeling a family member as picky or complaining about them. When you label people, especially children, they may decide they need to live up to that expectation. Also, it makes people feel like they are defective for having opinions. Just acknowledge that we all have different tastes!
Personally, I don't consider myself a picky eater, but I don't usually eat fish. If I lived in a culture that thrived on fish, I may have been labeled as picky. So I try to remember that I'm lucky to like what is popular where I live and not to judge.

2) Keep noticeable ingredients simple. People are more likely to enjoy a dish when there are fewer main ingredients.
For example, I raved over a pie my sister-in-law made--pecan pie with just a little cranberry topping. Not everyone was so impressed. Certain people would have liked the pecan pie by itself a lot better.
When I make food for a group, I try to keep it simple--just cranberry sauce or just pecan pie. By the same token, it's often better to bring separate dishes than 1 big casserole.
Especially when cooking for kids, I also try to keep noticeable spices a bit hidden. They may like the taste of some pepper, but panic about black specks. You can buy white pepper to get a similar taste.
My chicken nuggets recipe uses lots of flavorful spices, but since they are in powder form, no one will have a texture problem with it. Also, they can't see all the different ingredients, so they won't decide they don't like it without giving it a shot.

3) Don't make huge portions. It seems like the bigger the pot of food, the less likely anyone is to eat it! But if there's only enough for 1.5 meals, my husband will eat and come back for more hours after dinner. Sometimes I manufacture scarcity by freezing half of it before serving.
This also helps me not to panic when someone refuses to eat the food. Since I hate waste, if no one else will eat the leftovers, sometimes I feel obligated to finish them myself.
*Note: While I hate waste, if I end up with something unhealthy that no one likes, I throw it away. Eating healthy is more important than not wasting food.

4) Get the meal all ready to serve whether you are running a few minutes behind, or reheating the meal for someone who is late.

So often I find if I dish things up and have them ready, everyone is more willing to at least try some of everything. Also, even foods they "weren't in the mood for" look and smell good prepared.

When my husband is late, I heat and prepare everything. If I ask him what he wants me to reheat, guess what he'll decide is "too much trouble" for me? "Don't bother with the side dishes" (which are often vegetables). But if I present it well and get it ready, my husband might even eat some raw spinach.

5) Keep a running list of what is well liked to help you meal plan. You can keep separate lists of chicken, beef, pork, fish (I suppose--remember I don't like fish), vegetarian, side dishes, special dinners, and even dinners that a member of the family really likes that not everyone else likes--yes, part of having different tastes is understanding when 1 person is going to eat differently!

When I was a nanny I had some difficulties cooking for everyone: some people had dietary restrictions due to health problems and others just had strong opinions. I remember saying, "I don't mind making food for everyone, but figuring out what to cook is driving me crazy!"
For a time, one person couldn't have fat, another couldn't have tomatoes or onions, a third considered bacon a vegetable, and a fourth couldn't handle lots of milk. Oh, and there were also 2 kids that ate food. They were sometimes easier to meal plan for than the adults.
I often find meal planning to be more difficult than food prep, so a running list can help. It's amazing how often I was going crazy trying to think of something we all could eat and enjoy, and then find something on the list I'd forgotten about.

6) If you find healthy recipes everyone likes, make them often. I make this recipe for broccoli and this recipe for hidden veggie, wheat golden rolls because we enjoy them. They both take some extra work, but since I make them a lot, I have lots of practice. So now making those dishes aren't so hard after all!

7) Finally, be grateful for the things in common you do both like! My husband and I both love rice and eat it at least a few times a week. When I think of the things I like and he doesn't, I can get frustrated. But when I think of the meals we love to cook and eat together, it doesn't seem to matter so much that I have to eat my sweet potatoes alone.
Besides, getting frustrated and discouraged has never gotten anyone to eat anything new. I just keep serving food and noting what is liked and trying to be polite when it isn't liked. The person who doesn't like it has to be polite as well.

Is there a food that everyone in your house likes?
What are your tricks to keeping everyone happy at dinner?

This post has been shared with
Carrie Elle
 We Are That Family's WFMW
Mums Make Lists


  1. I enjoyed your essay--lots of good ideas. I struggle now with being motivated to cook for just two people--but I'm getting better at it. Last night I made a really good pot of beans with ham, and was able to freeze half of it for a future meal. I agree that scarcity seems to make food more attractive. Your caramel cookies look so good! I think that's what I'll do with the grandkids next week. Love you!

  2. I wrote about #1 recently:

    #5 helps me the most. It's amazing how often we eat the same things over and over again, but I never know what to cook. It's much easier if we do a 30 day rotation.

    Thanks for the other tips.