I don't consider myself a very envious person, but when it comes to parents of kids that "eat anything" the green-eyed monster pays me a little visit. I have TWO picky eaters, despite being a well-rounded eater myself, and trying a great variety of foods with them as food beginners. Both my children started their "solids" career on Curry Butternut Squash soup with Coconut milk. They loved it! Ah well, times have changed and I often feel at my wits end come dinner time.
There are two psychological hang ups about picky eaters a) no one wants to be "controlled" by one, cooking multiple meals, enduring tantrums, etc. and b) we are concerned about our kids health. Few people want to be told their typically healthy child is losing weight, and few people want to feed their children noodles and cheese all the time.
So for any of you in the same boat, here are some tips for us all:
1) Keep a list. I often forget what foods my kids like. Using a smartphone app, I am able to record the foods that they like and it is often longer than I feel. Update it when you see them eating hummus at a neighbour's birthday party or the like.
2) Rethink the classic meal. The classic meal is usually hot, it usually has at least a few ingredients and is accompanied by 1-2 side dishes. But really, eating food for nutrition and calories is more important than the classic meal. I have often done a platter for my kids: smoked salmon (lox trim), organic cheese slices, crackers, cucumber slices and cherry tomatoes. It sounds like more of a snack, but they are getting more nutrients in that meal than a lot of the cooked meals they are willing to eat. It's also not that tricky to prepare. I end up cooking hot food for my husband and I, which also saves a bit of money as he likes a lot of meat.
3) Don't knock pureed foods. It might seem strange to give a child over the age of 3 pureed foods that aren't a soup, but it is a lifesaver! Smoothies are great, and those Organic Baby Gourmet packs of varied pureed baby food are far better than a cookie or cracker in my mind. Pureed soups in the fall/winter are an easy choice, a cold version of that can be a great helper in the summer (there are a lot of raw cookbooks with great recipes for this).
4) Timing. Careful not to give a snack too close to dinner time. I have been guilty of this too many times and I have found dinner a battle zone if my children are not truly hungry.
5) Distractions. I really struggled with this one.... letting my kid eat dinner while playing outside in the summer, or reading a story while they are eating. But since I made peace with it, I am fighting with them less and I am feeling more confident that they are going to bed with a full tummy. When my children are a bit older I will invest in the ideal of sitting down at the table, but right now I am working on them actually eating the food as a first step.
Most kids grow out of pickiness, some do not. Lowering stress levels in a parent about this is a great way to prevent eating being related to stress in a child. I always suggest people go with their guts, but sometimes our guts need coaching or they need permission to relax a bit :)