Picky Eaters

by Maria DiMaggio, Healthy Waltham Project Coordinator

I was a picky eater as a child.  I remember fighting with my parents at mealtimes and hiding pieces of food in my napkin while they insisted that I clean my plate.  So how, then, did I become interested in food, a fairly adventurous eater, and a pretty good cook?

I pondered this while looking for ways to improve the diet of my own children, who I must confess do not always eat their vegetables.  I can point to four specific things that contributed to my improved eating habits as an adult, and I hope to impart similar experiences to my own children.  So here they are, four tactics to improve the diets of picky eaters (of any age!).

1.  Grow Something

I never liked tomatoes as a young kid.  The tomatoes from the supermarket were pale pink in color, dry and mealy and almost tasteless.  Then my mother started growing them.  What a difference!  Standing in a patch of tomatoes, you could smell that spicy, peppery smell.  The tomatoes were bright red, bursting with juice, and warm from the sun.  I could select my own tomato, pluck it from the vine, and eat it like an apple.  I made myself tomato and mayonnaise sandwiches like Harriet the Spy.  We picked and shelled peas and sprinkled them on our salads.  We dug for potatoes in the hard soil.  We hunted for the first asparagus shoots in the spring.  We picked wild berries.

Children are drawn to growing things, and are often fascinated by vegetable gardens.  When children experience where their food comes from, and even try growing something themselves, they are much more interested in eating fruits and vegetables.  I experienced this myself, and have seen the benefits in my own children.  No room for a garden?  Some things can be grown in small containers, such as herbs and salad greens.  If that is not possible, visit a garden, go to a farmer’s market or produce section of a grocery store, or go to an orchard to pick apples and berries.

2.  Cook Something

My mother gave me a ton of freedom in the kitchen, starting when I was a young child.  At the age of 7 or 8, I was making no-cook items by myself and serving them proudly at dinner time.  My mother loved to make pies, so I was always given a lump of dough to roll out and fill with jam or fruit of my choosing.  By the age of 10 or so I made all the birthday cakes for our various family members.  As a teenager, I took cooking classes and my special dishes were Chinese stir-fry, cream of broccoli soup, spaghetti sauce, and salads.  I regularly prepared dishes for our family dinners.

Any time kids can be involved in cooking, it sparks their interest in different foods.  And even if they are too young to cook, they can be involved in anything requiring stirring or sprinkling.  I loved tacos as a child because I liked all the toppings I could sprinkle on the taco shells.  I make pizza with my kids and they sprinkle on all the toppings.  I taught my daughter to crack eggs when she was 4 and now at 10 she makes blueberry muffins by herself.

3.  Learn Something about other Cultures

One thing my parents did right was imparting to me an attitude of respect, curiosity and interest in other cultures.  When I think back to my childhood, I recall the exchange students from France, Germany and Spain that passed through our home.  One of my friends hosted a Japanese student for a year.  Each visitor brought different experiences, expectations, and food preferences.  The girl from Paris loved everything my mother cooked, although she couldn’t get used to the casual way we kids browsed through the refrigerator and how we put ice cubes in all the drinks.

I think keeping an open mind is key to overcoming picky eating.  I am always curious what other people are having for dinner.  I try to introduce my children to different cultures and ethnic foods, and even try to take them to different kinds of restaurants now that they are a little older.  Luckily, Waltham is a great place to experience foods from various cultures – both through the restaurants and also the diversity of the population.  Find out what your neighbors are eating.  Go to buffets and potlucks.  Try the free samples at places like Costco and Hmart.

4.  Try New Foods When You’re Hungry

Something funny happens to kids when they are around 11-12-13 years old.  They start to grow like crazy and they are starving all the time.  This is a great time to harness that hunger and try new foods.  As a young child, I was never all that hungry.  I can remember that I was never hungry for breakfast, and I frequently felt nauseous at mealtimes.  Certain smells and tastes made me sick.

Then came adolescence and I was rummaging through the kitchen looking for food at all times of day and night.  Chocolate that is a little white around the edges?  Still perfectly good!  Crackers a little stale?  No problem!  Everything started to look good enough to eat.

When kids are truly hungry, they will eat almost anything.  Any time during the teen years is a great time to get involved with food.  I try to get my kids to eat new foods when I know they will be especially hungry:  around 10:30 in the morning, and right after school.  Sometimes in our rushed lives the car becomes a traveling snack bar.  It’s OK to say no to snacks and let the kids get hungry for meals.  Hold the chips!  Pass the carrot sticks!  They might even eat them.

Meet Judy Fallows

J_FallowsThe Waltham News Tribune recently interviewed Healthy Waltham’s Judy Fallows.  Judy has been with Healthy Waltham since 2006.  As program director, Judy works to bring the message of healthy lifestyle choices to Waltham.  Judy’s responsibilities include overseeing the work of Healthy Waltham, forging partnerships in the community, securing grants for Healthy Waltham’s initiatives, and implementing our programs and collaborations in the community.

The complete interview in the Tribune can be viewed here.

Walk & Talk With Elected Officials

Healthy Waltham’s “Walk & Talk with Elected Officials” was a hit this summer!  The purpose of this program is to provide an opportunity for Waltham residents and elected officials to converse in an informal way while getting a little exercise.  The walks were held on four evenings this summer.  Elected officials participating included Mayor Jeannette McCarthy, City Council Members Diane Leblanc and Robert Logan, and School Committee Member Robert Cincotta.

“Walk & Talk with Elected Officials” was featured in the Waltham News Tribune, please click here to read the story.  The Waltham Community Access Channel was also there, please click here for their video coverage courtesy of Julie Land.

Waltham Walks at Stonehurst

Join the Friends of Stonehurst, Healthy Waltham, the Waltham Land Trust, and the City of Waltham for Waltham Walks at Stonehurst, an afternoon of fun family activities on Saturday, July 17, 2010!

This free event will be held from noon – 4:00 pm, rain or shine, and all are welcome. 

Explore the forests, fields, rocks and hills of Stonehurst, the surrounding Storer Conservation Lands, and the new Western Greenway. You may opt to go questing and try out one of Stonehurst’s new self-guided treasure hunts: the Quest of Giants, the Quest of Ruins, or the Quest of Nooks and Crannies.  “Yoga Energizers” led by TriYoga Boston.  Other kids’ activities led by Healthy Waltham and the Waltham YMCA.  Guided and self-guided tours (see schedule of guided tours below).

Bring water bottles and a picnic lunch. Healthy snacks provided by Hannaford Supermarkets. Sturdy shoes recommended.  Free transportation is available on the Waltham City Trolley.

Guided Tour Schedule
• 12:30 pm –Western Greenway walk, led by David Kehs, Director of the Waltham Land Trust
• 2:00 pm – Walk to ruins in the woods, led by Stonehurst
• 3:00 pm – Tour of the house, led by Stonehurst

Stonehurst is located at 100 Robert Treat Paine Drive, off Beaver Street near Forest Street. At the Stonehurst sign, follow the driveway up the hill to the parking lot. Parking is also available at the High School. To reach Stonehurst from the High School, walk along the Bull Run trail.

To learn more about Stonehurst, please visit www.stonehurstwaltham.org.  To learn more about the Waltham Land Trust, please visit www.walthamlandtrust.org.

"UNNATURAL CAUSES" Video Screening

ANNOUNCING….  Special screenings of selected episodes from this award-winning documentary series at the Waltham Public Library

“UNNATURAL CAUSES…is inequality making us sick?” investigates findings that are shaking up our conventional understanding of health.  There’s much more to our well-being than genes, behaviors and medical care.  The social, economic and physical environments in which we are born, live and work profoundly affect our health.  Broadcast by PBS, this series tackles the root causes of our alarming socio-economic and racial inequities in health.

Learn more about this documentary at www.unnaturalcauses.org.

These events are FREE and all are welcome.  All screenings will be held in the Lecture Hall of the Waltham Public Library, 735 Main Street.  Each screening will be facilitated by a member of the Regional Center for Healthy Communities (Metrowest) and include an audience participation group discussion. Healthy snacks will be provided.


Feb 25-In Sickness and in Wealth: How does the distribution of power, wealth and resources shape opportunities for health?

March 18-Becoming American: Latino immigrants arrive healthy, so why don’t they stay that way?

April 15-Place Matters: Why is your street address such a strong predictor of your health?


5:30pm – Doors Open, Refreshments

6:00pm – Introduction by Facilitator

6:15pm – Begin Video, followed by discussion, finish by 8:00pm


Please RSVP by sending email to info@healthy-waltham.org so we have numbers for snacks and seating. Childcare will be available on a first come first served basis for children age 5 and up; if you need childcare, please call Francisca at 617-208-1562 to confirm space for your children.

This special event is sponsored by Listen and Learn, a Mount Auburn Hospital collaboration with Healthy Waltham, WATCH, Joseph M. Smith Community Health Center, Power Program and Waltham Family School.  Funding from the BCBS Foundation of MA.