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Dealing with Difficult/Finicky/Fussy/Picky eaters


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I tried to pin down the topic in the title as best I could. This topic is about your favorite recipes. It's about classic dishes perfected with hours of trial and error and input from countless sources. It's about the pride of knowing that you got it right....finally!

... Only to have it chopped down and muted by requests by diners with special diets or tastes. Where do you draw the line between accomodating for special needs and keeping your menu intact?

I'm not really speaking about pro's and restaurants. Special needs MUST be catered to for the most part there. I'm talking about the home chef. Relatives, friends and family.. when do you just say ENOUGH!... and just make something else? Just curious as I'm hit with this all the time as I have a lot of 'particular' diners around me.

Thanks!

Steve

ps- it's soup season!!

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Great topic! Since I have a child and most of my friends have school age children also, I tend to make a picky eater/kid-friendly alternative. That way I don't have to worry about compromising my main dinner. I definitely have a few friends that always eat the "kid" dinner but that's ok with me. Don't know what will happen when the kids grow up.

If I have a particular dinner in mind that I've been perfecting and am not having kids, I have to admit that I don't tend to invite the picky eaters.

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I force no one to eat my cooking.

I'm not offended if they bring their own.

Hell I encourage them to order delivery if they want.

Your kids don't like the food? Good more for us, letem starve. You know they are just going to grow up and cancel our Social Security anyways.

"And in the meantime, listen to your appetite and play with your food."

Alton Brown, Good Eats

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Perhaps the menu/ingredient question is best answered by considering the reason for getting together over a meal. Is it convenience (i.e., quick supper before the theatre); then make a simple menu with little or no fussing. If the gathering is more of a social affair, to be conducive to conversing a la salon, then again, keep the menu sophisticated yet with one or two very accessible main items so that guests can focus less on what to "not eat" and more on chatting.

If, however, the gathering is more food focused, as in trying out new things, then invite those guests who will appreciate the particular menu you have planned. There will surely be other occasions to which you can invite your more particular guests.

If this is a family function, birthday, parents' anniversary, or similar... you are doomed. The finicky eaters will not like anything anyways, and those who anticipate something fun or creative... will be disappointed. Order out. :-)

But seriously, if the finicky diner is an important member of the guest list, then provide ample notice that The Dish will be on the menu, and offer to prepare something more palatable, but simple (or offer to order out for them).

Karen Dar Woon

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I agree that the reason for the event is primary. If the birthday girl's fave is stir-fry prawns you might suggest your vegan girlfriend bring an Asian-style salad to go with and she will have a fine meal with rice and her own salad. Most picky-eaters have learned to adjust (okay, let's hope the grown-up ones have) and will help you out. If the menu is the main event they can be forewarned or not invited.

If I have a menu I'm excited about and find a guest won't be able to eat it, I try to shift gears and take it as a challenge. Allergy to wheat? Make a curry over rice. I find I am happier adjusting the menu rather than the dish. Vegetarian relatives? Kids who only eat white food? I had both, and learned how to make a nice crunchy mac & cheese, veggies on the side. Don't like that crunchy top? Good, more for me and Dad. To my chagrin, I discovered my 3-yr old daughter liked expensive cheeses--as long as they were white, like brie. When red sauce became acceptable I began to love lasagne. Then one day lo & behold the lasagne acquired a layer of spinach or artichokes and that passed the test. The kid who ate only white bread, noodles and rice for four years now eats the brie on baguette AND the homemade tomato soup with chive garnish--and everything else.

I have to say that the no-carb crowd would have a hard time at my house, but for my one dear friend who does that I've learned that soups with a rich stock and lots of veggies work best because I can make the rice or noodles separately and add them at the end--or not. I prefer that technique anyway, since the starch elements don't get overcooked or soggy. The biggest void in my repertoire is vegetarian soups, since I can't resist a good stock made from chicken feet, a carcass and bones.

Before I had a kid I watched my sister-in-law in horror as she made a cheese sandwich for her oldest boy. He wouldn't eat it, so she ate it. He said he would eat pb & j, so she made that. He wouldn't eat it, so it was tossed. Then she made a third sandwich which he also claimed he would eat. Didn't. Mind you this took place over an hour's time. I made a silent vow that if ever had a child I would never EVER fall prey to this kind of humiliation. Ah, so easy to say! We had our low moments, but I rarely made alternative meals and I didn't require her to eat; I did try to accomodate her most of the time and made do with good food that wasn't esoteric or terribly adventurous for a few years. The nephew who took such advantage of his mother now owns a restaurant and is a voracious and adventurous eater. He is completely self-involved but is also charming and sweet. Go figure.

One compromise I won't make for anyone: brownies without nuts. I have three nephews (brothers) who all refuse to eat nuts, and only because the older one started it; none are allergic. I don't often make brownies for family gatherings, but on those rare occasions I always put lots of nuts in and take a disgusting amount of pleasure in the fact that these boys all say, "Oh, I don't like nuts." As if I didn't know.

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My line is drawn when I plan the menu. If I plan a menu around specific dishes, that is what I serve. I don't do dinner parties often but, when I do, I always say (in these exact words too) to the known finicky people I invite "I don't want to hear any of that picky 'I'm-not-eating-that' sh!t from you either". Yeah, I realize that's not overly polite but my friends and family are used to me by now. Now if the event is centered around a particular person I will take their likes and dislikes into account and of course I will always make allowances for allergies. I'm in the process of designing a dinner party menu for a person who has some very peculiar and restrictive allergies and I'm enjoying the challenge. My goal is to have everyone think "it was good", not "it was good considering the restrictions". I don't want to put a spotlight on the fact that I had to make allowances for her allergies, I just want her to relax and enjoy a nice meal with a group of people without having special dishes paraded out to her making her feel like she's the odd person.

It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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I'll amend a menu to take into account the preferences of an invited guest, but I wont change the ingredients of a 'perfected' dish. I'll just not serve it.

"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

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Dairy free potatoes. I drew the line there. The line is: not everyone has to eat dairy free potatoes because someone has an allergy. I admit that most of my dinner parties rely on gratin dauphinoise for their oomph. Planning dairy free potatoes for everyone made me nervous. Butter free mash? Obviously not. Butter-your-own boiled? A bit like my high tea in granny's back kitchen. Roast? Not a talent of mine. So I drew the line there, made the gratin for everyone else and did a tray of oven chips for diary free option.

Catherine

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When to say, "When!"?

If I invite you to my house for a meal, I'll directly ask if there are any allergies or aversions. If you don't tell me then, or god forbid you bring along an uninvited guest who has any such problems, too bad. This actually happened to me once at an adult dinner party I hosted. One of the adults brought along her 11 year old son. He was quite well mannered and the mother insisted that whatever I was making would be fine for her son, but watching him pick through truffled mashed potatoes and roasted asparagus was a bit frustrating for both of us.

Otherwise I try and be as accommodating as possible. If I find out in my little pre-dinner interview that my sublime roasted chicken with roasted shallot jus won't work well for a crowd of vegetarians, then I'd rather do something else than try and shoehorn the roasted chicken onto the menu.

Edited by tino27 (log)

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Nothing is worse than when planning a dinner party and everyone saying, they are fine, no allergies or aversions, and then when dinner is practically on the table, someone (or 5) coming into the kitchen with demands, requests, aversions, etc.

No, they are not invited back.

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Like Tri2Cook, my line is drawn when I plan the menu. Being a hospitable hostess, I try to serve dishes I know most of the diners will eat. Since my sister has severe food allergies and my daughter used to be an extremely picky eater, I am used to adjusting recipes to suit -- no dairy, no nuts, "nothing green" that can't be picked out before serving, etc. If there's a recipe I know would not go over well with a particular group of guests, I won't serve it unless it's at a big dinner (e.g., Thanksgiving) where there are other alternatives. No one has ever left my table hungry!

SuzySushi

"She sells shiso by the seashore."

My eGullet Foodblog: A Tropical Christmas in the Suburbs

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Dairy free potatoes. I drew the line there. The line is: not everyone has to eat dairy free potatoes because someone has an allergy.  I admit that most of my dinner parties rely on gratin dauphinoise for their oomph.  Planning dairy free potatoes for everyone made me nervous.  Butter free mash? Obviously not. Butter-your-own boiled? A bit like my high tea in granny's back kitchen.  Roast? Not a talent of mine.  So I drew the line there, made the gratin for everyone else and did a tray of oven chips for diary free option.

Catherine

Your solution sounds energetic and delicious. I would have definitely wanted both the gratin and the oven chips if I was there. I don't think I have the stamina for making an extra dish. FYI, speaking of dairy free potatoes (and I apologize for veering off topic) I used to adore Potatoes Anna made with copious amounts of butter until I needed to reduce the cholesterol in my diet. The September issue of Bon Apetit has a good substitute. Its a Gordon Ramsay recipe for Potato-Onion Gratin that uses olive oil instead and it's very good. Speaking of Gordon Ramsay, is there an unnatural fascination with him on eG? No other chef, with the exception of Anthony Bourdain, seems to get more thread time. I think GR is very strange. But this potato dish is nice.

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I'll amend a menu to take into account the preferences of an invited guest, but I wont change the ingredients of a 'perfected' dish.  I'll just not serve it.

I share your hard line stance for the most part. I"m not talking about "oh, could you hold the cheese off my burger?". I'm refering to "Oh, braised beef ribs! Yummy! Oh, could you leave out the wine?"... grrrr

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I agree: that's incredibly obnoxious behavior. Growing up, my parents had no interest in tolerating it from me, which makes it doubly irritating when grown adults who should know better pull that kind of silliness. I know that there are such things as dangerous, deadly food allergies, but I have a sneaking suspicion that many people who claim allergies just don't *like* the substance in question. I also like the idea of accomodating allergic people but *not* depriving everyone else. I wish that could be done in the schools. It's a real shame to hear about those hordes of elementary school children denied home-made cupcakes or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches due to someone else's allergy.

But that's just me.

And indeed, if I was cooking and a *grown adult* said, "Sounds great! But leave out the onions because they're slimy," I would direct them to the nearest Pizza Hut. If you're a guest at someone's home, shaddup and eat it if it's not going to kill you.

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I try to keep mental note of the idiosyncracies of my guest as a good hostess. I usually try to adjust my menu choices for the most part but then there are some I have learned to get around in other ways. I know one couple that has odd preferences largely to do with vegetables. They believe tomato seeds are toxic, black pepper causes cancer and there is something bad about cucumber seeds too but I forget what it is. So making a salad becomes a major production. To their credit they don't ever openly comment, they just go through great pains to deseed everything at the table and examine things for specks of pepper. If I invite them to a dinner party I have them bring the salad. That way they don't spend an hour picking things over and I don't have to worry about it. And if it's awful it isn't my fault.

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If I find out in my little pre-dinner interview that my sublime roasted chicken with roasted shallot jus won't work well for a crowd of vegetarians, then I'd rather do something else than try and shoehorn the roasted chicken onto the menu.

But… that's no fun.

(spoken as someone who has successfully gotten a vegetarian to eat foie gras without coercion in front of witnesses)

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Food allergies are something I take seriously, so I usually make it clear what is sitting on a party buffet table, including whether something was cooked in peanut oil. Little signs are helpful that way.

When sending an invitation, I will ask if there are dietary concerns, though I tend to provide choices anyway.

But I can't really handle the grown man or woman who won't eat fresh English peas because they "feel squishy" in his mouth, or someone who won't eat avacado because it reminds them of "the Exorcist". Or won't eat cucumbers. Or tomatoes, "because they're icky." These are not children, they're adults. I can't cope with that. Those people are usually culled from the guest list.

Sometimes, relatives pull that "it tastes icky" crap. That's when I go the extra mile to make certain that foods they dislike are about all that is available. :hmmm: Because I'm just mean that way. :angry:

Edited to spell "allergies" correctly. :shock:

Edited by Jane Die (log)
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Food alergies are something I take seriously....

Sometimes, relatives pull that "it tastes icky" crap. That's when I go the extra mile to make certain that foods they dislike are about all that is available.  :hmmm:  Because I'm just mean that way.  :angry:

:biggrin::laugh::laugh:

Will you be my new best friend?

Seriously, that's why I just remove problematic dishes from the menu. If garliolives are something I consider key to the flavor, I dont want to sit and watch a guest fish them out. And even more, I dont want to hear about it. I've been guilty of fishing out the bits I didnt like before. I try to do it very unobtrusively, and hide the evidence as best I can. :unsure: Even if I dont like 'squishy' onions to eat, I do like the flavor they contributed to the rest of the dish.

So if we are new best friends, I know to gird myself to eat an entire meal of onions passing as fettucini. :wink:

Edited by Kouign Aman (log)

"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

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As soon as you find out that they're finicky beyond the usual American tastes (organ meats, Brussels sprouts, soft, delicous, stinky cheese).

Being an Ami, I can understand some squeamishness towards game meats, strong cheeses, etc. However, an unwillingness to eat Western veggies, fruits, medium rare meat...fuck that.

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When to say, "When!"?

If I invite you to my house for a meal, I'll directly ask if there are any allergies or aversions. If you don't tell me then, or god forbid you bring along an uninvited guest who has any such problems, too bad. This actually happened to me once at an adult dinner party I hosted. One of the adults brought along her 11 year old son. He was quite well mannered and the mother insisted that whatever I was making would be fine for her son, but watching him pick through truffled mashed potatoes and roasted asparagus was a bit frustrating for both of us.

Otherwise I try and be as accommodating as possible. If I find out in my little pre-dinner interview that my sublime roasted chicken with roasted shallot jus won't work well for a crowd of vegetarians, then I'd rather do something else than try and shoehorn the roasted chicken onto the menu.

I'm not going to rag on an 11-year-old (too much) (although dragging him along at the last minute invites other etiquette questions), especially if he was otherwise well-behaved. Being kind of old-school myself, however, I more or less told my own somewhat picky children that I would cut their kidneys out with a butter knife if they pulled that kind of stunt when they were guests at someone else's house. Since they more or less believed me, they reserved their whininess and pickity behavior for ther home table. Of course, this also meant that if, when in their company, I was confronted with one of my far fewer but nonetheless intense dislikes, I had to follow the same rule.

Only time I ever ate a cantaloupe.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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As someone with a couple of food allergies (but also a very adventurous eater), I full well expect to not necessarily be able to eat certain things at people's houses. If I have enough advance notice, I will let them know (but also let them know that I'm happy to enjoy their company even if I can't eat a dish or two...or more--I do not want special accommodations made if it is even a remote hassle). I always have granola bars in my purse just in case I really can't eat anything!

That said, I'm happy to try to accommodate true food allergies for my dinner guests given proper notice (in my book, that means at least four days). But I won't change a recipe, I'll just make something extra that's simple and not very time- or resource-consuming. I would only expect the same for myself.

As for just picky eaters and (sorry to all of you who fit this category) vegetarians--screw them. As many have said, they are not invited for small parties, or at bigger gatherings, they just must fend for themselves (we explicitly let vegetarians know to bring their own tofu dogs and veggie burgers to our bbqs, because we refuse to buy them). Humans are biologically meant to be omnivores.

Yes I have a pet peeve about vegetarians.

It's interesting that I have had many a vegetarian eat my pies with complete and full disclosure that I make lard crusts, just because everyone else has raved about them. Similarly, I've gotten lots of people to eat liver in my patés because of the comments by others.

Not pandering to pickiness may just open those people's minds and palates to other things.

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I guess it sort of depends........

If I were inviting one or two people over for dinner, and I knew that they didn't care for an ingredient or cuisine, I wouldn't serve it, or even think of serving it. That to me is just common courtesy. I mean, really, extend an invitation to someone to eat at my table and only offer them something they don't care for? That's not only rude, its offensive. It says you have no respect or appreciation for your guests and their tastes and preferences.

If I were throwing a "traditional holiday meal" (you pick the holiday......Easter/Thanksgiving/Christmas) where certain dishes are culturally "expected", and a guest showed up at the time of the meal, and declared *ahem.........*I* don't eat onions in my stuffing*, I'd say "so sorry, enjoy the cranberry sauce." If it were a legitimate allergy, I'd hope they'd have the courtesy to tell me in advance, so I could either prepare an alternative, or warn them about what to avoid. Same with vegetarians. I'd try to prepare sufficient alternatives so they'd be satisfied.

One on one, or small groups, I'd make the effort to accomodate. Large groups, with advance notice, I'd provide alternatives, and expect them to cope. Unexpected, "ewwwwwwwwww, *I* don't eat whatever", get over it.

--Roberta--

"Let's slip out of these wet clothes, and into a dry Martini" - Robert Benchley

Pierogi's eG Foodblog

My *outside* blog, "A Pound Of Yeast"

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I accomodate for food allergies and for vegetarians - although half the time, if it's a big group, there's a dish made for the vegetarian and one made for meat eaters (like stuffing - some made with meat, some made without).

For my husband, obviously, since it's the two of us, I don't make things he doesn't like when he's home. Not for dinner, at least. He's actually a bit of a picky eater...

What gets old is a friend who swears up one side and down the other that she's allergic to mushrooms and onions. I know she's not - I've watched her eat both in food that she herself has made. So I make the pieces small and disguise them nicely, if I want something that needs either of those.

For my friend who doesn't like celery, when I make pot roast with veggies: feel free to not have any of the celery, but I really love it with my pot roast, so all the more for me. :)

When my sisters come over, we usually have asked that they at least try something. I'm not going to make them eat anything too "weird", but just because you've never eaten it doesn't mean you won't like it. (My youngest sister found out that she LOVES daifuku that way... this, after pronouncing it "gross" without having tried it.)

One of my best friends has five children and I know she sometimes makes 3 or 4 different things at some meals. Screw that. They're all old enough to make sandwiches or other non-stovetop things (some of them could, in fact, use the stove), so if they were my children: The meal, pb and j sandwiches, something you can fix yourself, or nothing. (When I was a kid, you ate what you were given. Period.)

Misa

Sweet Misa

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