How to Handle Food Waste With a Picky Eater

How to Handle Food Waste With a Picky Eater

You know the scene: you’re at a restaurant or a friend’s house, watching someone else’s kids chow down on artichokes or clams or heck, even just a regular ole turkey sandwich. But your kid? They’ve got a plate full of delicious food, and they’re eating the buttered noodles...again.

Parenting a picky eater can be frustrating and exhausting--both logistically and emotionally. Cooking a meal and having most of it rejected is hard, no way around it. In our picky eating class, we’ll get into the nitty gritty about why kids might be picky and how you can help expand your child’s pallet over time.

But here, we want to address a practical reality of parenting a picky eater and give you some real-life tips for keeping your cool and reducing stress around food waste.

My picky eater wastes so much food. Help!

It only takes a glance at the resources about parenting picky eaters to know that we should offer variety--a variety of foods, a variety of textures, a variety of colors on the plate. And that makes sense, right? Picky eaters aren’t going to expand their horizons if they’re offered the same thing over and over. Variety is key!

But Karen Williams, owner of Homegrown Speech and a Speech-Language Pathologist who specializes in feeding therapy, points out that with a picky eater, that necessary focus on variety inevitably leads to food waste: “Parents of picky eaters are told to offer a variety, but if the picky eater only eats their favorites, there will be some waste with the food they didn’t eat.”

But Karen wants parents to remember that even if food goes untouched, they’re still doing the right thing by offering variety. Keep at it, parents! And know that untouched food doesn’t have to mean wasted food.

What can I do with the food my picky eater didn’t touch?

Karen advises several strategies for avoiding food waste (and one for changing your mindset about it):

  • Avoid big portions: offer just a tablespoon sized portion to start, then offer more if they want
  • Get sneaky: add untouched food back to the family leftovers
  • Recycle meals: offer leftovers or premade things the next day for exposure, rather than making a new dish for your child that you’re not sure they’ll eat
  • Compost: Maybe parenting a picky eater is the perfect inspo for that compost bin you keep meaning to set up?
  • Mind over matter: Accept that picky eating is just part of parenting toddlers--it’s nearly universal! It’s just a phase: in all likelihood, this too will pass.

What can I do about the stress of picky eating?

It’s true: parenting a picky eater can be stressful. It can cramp your style in the kitchen, make eating out a pain, and add the unwanted chore of dealing with untouched food. Gah. As grown-ups who view eating as one of life’s joys, it’s hard to understand: why on earth would kids react to food with so much suspicion and anxiety?

But like all things in life, kids have to learn to eat well...and it just takes some kids longer than others.

In the meantime, don’t stress about the untouched food from your picky eater--now you’ve got options! And if the stress of what your child is not eating is consuming your mind, Karen recommends re-focusing on being their parent. If that doesn’t do the trick, she says, get help! “Please know that there is a community of specialists to support you (and your child) as you learn to find joy in eating as a family.”

You got this, parents!