Fantastic picky eater advice from Melissa d’Arabian

[The following post was written as part of my paid ambassadorship with Hidden Valley]

Melissa d'Arabian_Ten Dollar Dinners_Jan2010_1I had the chance recently to talk to Food Network star Melissa d’Arabian, and I have to say it was one of the most enjoyable interviews ever. She’s the kind of person I would love to sit down with for a meal (preferably one she cooked!)

A little background on Melissa: She rose to fame by winning season five of The Next Food Network Star, and is currently hosting Ten Dollar Dinners on the Food Network (the new season starts this Sunday!). She was always on a budget growing up, and took her cooking inspiration from all of the women in her life – especially her grandmother – who taught her how to make simple but tasty dishes.

I learned so much from Melissa, I’ve had to divide it into two posts! This one will deal with the issue of feeding picky eaters, and raising kids who like vegetables. The next post will be about cooking, including some of her favorite go-to foods for busy moms.

The first question I always ask any foodie person I interview is what to do about picky kids. It’s become routine because I have a very picky eater in my family (my son) and would love a magic bullet to help him out. But the answers I get are never all that satisfactory. I have to laugh every time a certain perky daytime TV hostess says something like “Use wheat pasta – your kids will never know!” Have these cooks ever actually dealt with a picky child?

Melissa, though, had actual, concrete advice that she’s tested out in her own home. She has four daughters (aged seven, six, and five-year-old twins!), and as she put it, “The numbers are against me that all of them will eat everything. I’m their leader on their journey of life for everything, including school, body image, and food. But they’re also their own people, and I want to teach them that their opinions count, and they’re allowed to have feedback on food.”

Melissa wants to entice her children to eat healthy foods, to encourage them. She stresses that she does none of it perfectly, but she had some really awesome tips for me.

Her overall philosophy is to back up and see the bigger picture of the positive association with food, instead of micromanaging what her girls are actually eating. This is exactly what my husband and I have been doing with Jake, and it is definitely starting to work. There’s no more stress around food, and he often tries new things. We were out for dinner the other day and he willingly tried salad! He didn’t like it, but he tried it. :-)

Melissa firmly believes that you simply can’t force kids to eat something (“They certainly have the ability to close their lips!”), but you can help them develop positive relationships with healthy foods.

  • Model great eating habits and an interest in healthy foods for your kids. You’re their biggest influence.
  • Let them help as much as possible. One of Melissa’s daughters loves to toss the salad and put on the ranch dressing, but she won’t eat lettuce! However, the fact that she loves to participate in the preparation and serving is a victory to Melissa. She’s developing positive associations with vegetables and a pride of ownership with the salad.
  • Have your kids pick out vegetables at the store. Melissa lets each of her kids pick out one thing in the vegetable aisle, and they challenge her to make a recipe around it. That’s how she got bok choy into their lives! And the process of the produce aisle being fun, of turning it into a game, is another victory.
  • Try to serve two vegetables with every meal. That way your kids can pick, which gives them ownership of the decision. “Would you like peas or carrots or both?” The kids will think the choice is in their hands, but if they pick any of those choices, it’s a win!
  • Serve the same vegetable cooked and raw. “Do you want the cooked carrots or the raw carrots?” I know about this with my kids. Jake will eat cooked carrots, but never raw, and Fiona will eat either but strongly prefers them raw. It’s practically no extra work for me to serve them both.
  • Put out raw veggies with ranch dressing, especially if dinner is running late. The kids may wander in and grab some as an appetizer.
  • Each night let a different child present the meal. One kid is picked and gets to say what everything is. There’s no pressure to eat those things, they’re just introducing them, and getting an education about what’s on the table.

Check back soon for part two of my interview with Melissa d’Arabian!

Originally posted on Selfish Mom. All opinions expressed on this website come straight from Amy unless otherwise noted. This post has a Compensation Level of 14. Please visit Amy’s Full Disclosure page for more information.


  1. Jessica says

    I, thankfully, don’t have any picky eaters but her advice works well for anyone trying to get more veggies into her kids. My daughters love ranch dressing with raw vegetables. I buy the kind with yogurt (Bolthouse Farms makes a good one). They have less fat and calories but taste much better than the ‘lite’ versions of other dressings. I love the idea of each child picking out a vegetable and challenging me to make a dish out it. I’m going to try that tonight!

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