Getting Pickier Eaters to Eat Legumes and Cheaper Foods

 photo IMG_0591_zpsc18b5ecc.jpg
Lentil beef bolognese
I used to be able to say that my kids were not picky and would eat anything I put in front of them. That really helped financially, because I could make what my finances allowed, and all would be well and good.
Well, yea. All good things come to an end. My kids definitely developed their food preferences and let me know, sometimes quite vocally, that they "hate that food" and "never ever make that again, Mommy!"
Too many times, supper was a battle, my making a food and the kids flat out refusing to eat it, and my getting frustrated, and sometimes making a second supper, one they'd be willing to actually eat... 
Endless frustration.

My older son, Lee, drew me a picture the other day of the foods he was "always willing to eat" and "whenever you don't know what to serve us, just make us that, Mommy!" It was mashed potatoes, hot dogs, and scrambled eggs.
I don't know about the prices where you live, but I can't afford to feed my family mashed potatoes, hot dogs, and scrambled eggs daily, or even every other day. Eggs and hot dogs are expensive here... and hot dogs not exactly prime nutrition. I buy hot dogs that aren't filled with all sorts of garbage, but they still are far from a health food.
I want my kids to be healthy. I want them to have good nutrition. And I don't want our grocery bills to be sky high because of their being picky.

So- how do you balance frugality, healthy eating, and kids who are picky about what they want to eat and what they won't?
Keep in mind that my kids are now just garden variety picky, not super picky eaters who would rather starve than eat anything other than the 10 foods they are willing to eat. And its not sensory issues with them, just a matter of personal preference... This won't apply to kids who have real eating issues, just the average kid who "doesn't like that"....

So first off, I let my kids decide on a few foods that are absolute no nos for them, and I will never make them eat that food, no matter what. 
Ike, for example, cannot stand regular fish. (Tuna fish and sushi are ok, but not fillets.) Both boys will not touch liver. I don't remember what else- I don't think there are any foods they hate as much as those.
So I simply don't make those foods for them. If I want to make those foods for myself or Mike, I will make an alternative for the kids to eat. Ike will have an egg or something while the rest of the family has fish, and I'll make them another alternative when I serve liver. (I and Mike had liver for lunch- the boys had tuna fish.)

For all other foods, foods that aren't my kids' favorite, but that I would rather they eat for whatever reason, either for health or for frugality reasons...
Legumes, for example, are something I am relying on more and more. Did I mention that my kids don't like beans and don't like lentils?
But they don't hate them with a passion, the way they do liver (and fish). So I DO make these foods.
I just try to make it in the least objectionable way for them.

Sneaking the food in.
I don't lie about it, but I may not come straight out and say "by the way, there is lentils in that dish". I just do it. If they'd ask, I'd tell them, but if they don't ask, no reason to inform. I make lentil beef bolognese this way, lentil meatballs, etc... I also stretch their eggs with red lentil flour. I've snuck legumes into pizza more than once.

Making a version of a food they like.
My kids like sloppy Joes and they like meat sauce for pasta. I take the same seasonings and other ingredients that I use for that, and just replace it with lentils or beans, so the overall taste of the dish is the same. I am straightforward with my kids that this is made with lentils/beans, but tell them that it tastes good- and make sure myself that it does first. Kids need to learn to trust you as a cook- don't give them something that tastes bad and then expect them to eat it- no reason that cheap shouldn't be tasty- and then it'll make them more willing to eat it.

Stick it in foods they like.
My boys like rice paper wraps. And they love salads. And they love sweet things. And they love desserts.
Or I make a big veggie salad and put lentils or beans in it. 
Or I make cookies or cakes... and put chickpeas in it. And since it is sweetened only with healthy sweeteners and is their protein dish, I let them have as much as they want. Who said they need to eat the legumes as their main dish? Let it be dessert! The rest of the meal can be protein free if I know they'll be gobbling up the bean cakes or cookies.
My kids aren't huge soup fans, but I am often able to get them to have soups with legumes in it, like split pea soup or minestrone with beans or lentils, or blended white bean soup...
Speaking of which...

Blend it.
Seriously. I think its something about the texture or look of legumes that turns kids (and even adults) off, but when blended it doesn't have the same issues. Blended legumes make yummy hummus- which most kids and even adults like, or at least don't mind, can be made into veggie burgers, blended soups, the aforementioned cakes and cookies, or falafel balls, etc... 

Give them a choice.
If you know you're going to make legumes, don't necessarily just make it the first way that comes to mind- giving the kids a say in how you make it will make it go over more easily. "Would you prefer I make a soup, a wrap, or a salad with these beans/lentils?" For supper tonight, I did that, and Lee told me he wanted it as a salad, and then mixed with rice. He then ate it, no complaining.
They have to try it.
Standard rule with parents, I know, but it is still an important one. I can't tell you how many times my kids said "I don't want that, it looks icky" and I tell them "You can't decide its icky and you don't like it if you never tasted it. It IS good and if you eat it, you'll probably like it."
It happened today for supper- I made a lentil tomato salad (with olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt, raw onions, rosemary, and a touch of jaggery) and Ike didn't want to even taste it. But I used my standard line, he took a bite... and made a face of delight, and then tried to shovel the whole container into his mouth. I made him wait patiently while I got a plate, filled it, he emptied it, and then I filled it again, etc.... 
All from a kid who didn't want to taste it because "it looks icky".
The one taste minimum rule works very well, usually, especially if you are a good cook/have good recipes and actually can ensure that one bite is tasty enough to convince them to eat it.

When in doubt, ketchup.
If my kids are skeptical about a certain food, I just smother it in my homemade relatively healthy ketchup. They love ketchup and are then willing to eat even foods that they aren't necessarily in love with.

No alternatives.
If you were told "you can eat this food you don't like or you can eat your favorite food" do you really think you'd give up on your favorite food? If your kid likes cereal and milk or sandwiches or whatever, and you say "If you don't like what I made for supper, you can have [that food you love] instead" why on earth would he choose to eat food he doesn't like as much? 
I rarely ever give my kids an alternative to the meal I make. This is the meal, and that's it. If my kids say that they don't like it, why did I make it, I tell them that I made it because it is healthy and it is cheap, and I wanted to keep down the cost of that meal so that we have money to spend on really special things that we really like instead of spending it on a meal that is a lot more expensive but isn't "special". We've had talks with our kids about finances, and about the basics of budgeting, that if we spend money on x, we won't have it on y, so if you want y, you need to be smart on where you spend your money, so this ties in. I do empathize with them and try to explain to them that I also sometimes want to have x for supper, but that doesn't always work out, and sometimes I eat something I don't like as much as something else, because it's healthy, it's filling, and it's cheap. 
However... I do try to offer more than one dish at a meal, so that way if my kid really doesn't like a certain dish, they can have something else that I made for that meal. But not cereal. And not eggs instead.

Counting the bites.
If my kids tried a food and they simply don't like it, I sometimes will tell them that they don't have to finish the whole entire thing, but they do have to take a few more bites. I try to gauge how many bites are left on the plate, and then tell him how many bites he has to eat. As soon as he finishes that many bites of the food, he no longer has to eat it.

No desserts/snacks/treats.
On the rare instance that my kid absolutely refuses to even taste or eat just a little bit of a meal I made, I won't give him any dessert or snack after the meal. They have to wait for the next meal to eat anything, and that's final.

Does this work 100% of the time or with all kids? Definitely not. But these tips and tricks have definitely helped my family a lot.

Will your kids agree to eat cheap foods, like legumes? Or are your kids picky? Do you try to get them to eat legumes, even if they don't want to, or do you just cater to their desires and make more expensive foods that they will eat, for the entire family? Do you have any tips and/or tricks to share?

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


Thank you for leaving a comment on your blog. Comments are moderated- please be patient to allow time for them to go through. Opposing opinions are permitted, discussion and disagreements are encouraged, but nasty comments for the sole purpose of being nasty without constructive criticisms will be deleted.
Just a note- I take my privacy seriously, and comments giving away my location or religion are automatically deleted too.

  1. I'm in agreement on almost everything in this post. Thanks for sharing it! I have written about how I get my kids to eat the food I prepare on this blog post:

    I also took pictures of a month of suppers so you can see what kind of foods we are actually eating (hello beans and lentils)

  2. I think we're sisters from another life on this issue! My kids also "hate" soup (except they all like beef and barley), so when I make soup or stew, I also make homemade bread, which everyone likes. In order to have bread, you have to eat some soup. I also try and make soups that are thicker and more stew-like, as it seems their main objection is the broth part. I also live by the 3-bite rule for "new" foods - they always have to try it. And no dessert/snack/meal if they don't. Next meal is breakfast. I give my kids a lot of choice for their breakfast and lunch, so they have to eat what I prepare for dinner. I also try and have at least one item for dinner that I know everyone likes (a side, a salad, etc.) if I'm trying something new or serving something that I know one or two really don't care for. That way, even if they only eat a couple bites of one thing, I know they will be filled with the others. I also let them abstain from some things - none of mine like raw tomatoes, so they don't have to eat those in salad. They also hate liver (and I do, too!), so we don't have that. Mine also do not like fish, so if I cook that for myself and my husband, I make something else for the kids. I also am stickler for eating the protein and the veggies, so if I make mashed potatoes, for example, and I have one that doesn't care for that, I don't make them have that if they are eating a solid dinner of the meat and veggies.

  3. We don't have any children yet, but I have trouble chewing meat, and my husband has texture/sensory issues with most fruits and veggies.
    My meat issue is easy, meat is expensive so I just don't eat it. I eat beans daily instead. My husband's issues are a health delimma though.
    I have to steam the veggies, puree them and add them to biscuits (I replace the liquid and fats in my drop-biscuit recipes usually). I usually add garlic, onion, thyme, rosemary or dill with the veggetable puree. He eats the biscuits happily.
    When I don't feel like making a puree I use baby food or cook the few vegetables he can tolerate (limas, corn, peas and potatoes).
    Fruit is a little more difficult to get into him. He'll eat it if a make a hot fruit dessert. But only blueberries, cherries and apples and it can't have chunks of fruit, or any detectable fruit skin or seeds. I usually throw the fruit inside of a flour tortilla with some oats, cinnamon and maple syrup. Or I'll make a simple dough (usually drop biscuit dough) and smooth it out onto the bottom of a casserole dish. Layer the fruit ontop sprinkle oats over the fruit (the oats soak up the fruit liquid so its less messy to eat) and then drizzle some honey or maple syrup on top. And cook it maybe 10 minutes.
    The only other way I've gotten him to eat fruit is to puree it into a frozen yogurt milk-shake.
    As far as beans go, he likes them but doesn't realize it. I put them in everything, from meatloaf, meatballs, sloppy-joes, and chicken salad, to every bread recipe I make, mashed potatoes, eggs and soup. Infact, I've discovered everyone likes beans.. They might just not like to eat a plain bean right out of the boiling pot, but beans as an additive have never offended anyone I've fed them to.
    I used to gag when I ate beans as a kid, their thick inner texture made me thirsty and grossed out. I used to have to eat them pretty much plain out of the pot, they were boiled with a ham hock bone but, they tasted strongly "beany". I used to drown them in ketchup and still have to keep my water glass handy to help me swallow them. I never eat them that way anymore. I think people who have experienced one too many pots of plain boiled beans don't realize that those same beans can be completely non-offensive in breads, spaghetti sauces and casseroles.
    Good luck with the boys. My husband has started saying he doesn't like certain "dishes" or "recipes" now instead of insisting that certain foods are horrible. After several occasions where I fed him foods he thought he hated in several different dishes, he realized it was ways certain foods were prepared that was key, not the particular food itself. This seemingly small difference in semantics really helped him become more adventurous and has opened our food options up dramtically.

  4. Just an FYI: Where I live, potatoes are pretty cheap, but in order to get the good unit price, you have to get lots. We don't eat potatoes that often, though, so what I do is put them in a dark dry place (not cold, do not let them freeze) and they keep for at least a month, if not longer. If the eyes start sprouting, they can be cut away--the rest of the potato is still okay, though you probably want to get to them before they start getting wrinkly.

    1. Totally agree with that. I live in a potato-growing area and in an old house with a storage cellar. Up to the mid-1960s people here bought potatoes in bulk and stored them in their cellars for up to a year. You can no longer get your potatoes delivered into your storage cellar, but the local farmers allow people to take a sack and collect potatoes the farming machines have left behind. Half a day of gleaning potatoes can yield enough for a family of four to live on for several months.

      That potatoes are very healthy is an added bonus, they combine all the advantages of a vegetable with the filling aspect of a carb food. Scientist have found that you can live healthily on a diet of nothing but potatoes and milk for years without lacking in any nutrients. The fat and the protein of the milk makes a perfect balance to the potatoes.

      So if mashed potatoes are your child's favourite food, you got nothing to worry about. :)

Previous Post Next Post