David Burtka Shares His & Neil Patrick Harris' Tip for Banishing Picky Eating for Good
The 'Life Is a Party' author spilled the secret behind Harper and Gideon's adventurous palates.
April 30, 2019
Every time chef and entertaining authority David Burtka and his husband Neil Patrick Harris take to social media, it seems like they're documenting an eye-popping holiday celebration or adventurous family meal. What really blows so many parents' minds is the fact that the 8-year-old twins Harper and Gideon eat almost everything—from crudo to uni, prosciutto to duck liver, and crickets—and have for years. Parents.com recently caught up with Burtka, who has partnered with the Capital One Savor card (which offers unlimited 4% cash back on dining and entertainment), at the L.A. launch of his new seasonal cookbook Life Is a Party. The proud dad spilled his and Harris' secrets to encouraging kids to eat more adventurously.
"I think that people are craving things—activities and crafts—to do with their kids and want to get them involved in cooking," Burtka tells Parents.com exclusively. "I think people don't bring their kids into the kitchen enough, and I think that is causing a problem with kids and picky eating. Everyone has busy schedules, but I think we have an obligation as parents to get our kids in the kitchen and cook with them, because they're going to know the value of food and want to know where things come from. They're so curious! So, why not teach them where things come from and different tastes, and I think, in turn, kids aren't as picky."
Burtka says that the mission to get kiddos eating a wider variety of foods should ideally start when they're babies. "A lot of kids are picky these days, because parents aren't necessarily giving their kids food that has flavor," he shares. "At 6 months, kids can process herbs, they can process spices. I think lots of people are on the go, and they do jarred baby food, and that's just bland. In turn, when they're older, and they're eating solid foods, they're picky, because they've been growing up eating bland food."
When Harper and Gideon were babies, Burtka would go to the farmer's market for fresh ingredients to make their food. "I know not everybody has time to do that, but go get produce and mash it up," he says. "Get carrots with curry and peas with mint and apples with cinnamon. Roasted peaches and vanilla—that was a big thing with my kids! And you can freeze all those in ice cube trays, and then, bring them out. Do it on a Sunday. "
As a result of introducing Harper and Gideon to these flavors, spices, and herbs early on, Burtka says, "They eat everything." And he's not kidding. "They are 8 years old, and they order bone marrow at a restaurant," he says. "I mean, it's weird. I'm like, 'What, are you sure? Are you sure you said bone marrow?' My son just had intestines. We went to an Asian restaurant, and it was this cow stomach soup, and he loved it. Even that's a lot for me! They pop crickets like snacks. They eat a lot of bugs. Crickets doused with salt and flavor, and they're a great source of protein, and they'll pop them like Cheetos!"
In addition to starting early, cooking and grocery shopping with your kids, Burtka encourages parents to stand their ground on serving just one meal option. "I think a lot of parents these days are easy just to say, 'Okay, whatever you want!'" he notes. "I think a lot of people placate to their kids and growing up, I know I had what was for dinner. There was no 'I'm going to make you a separate meal...chicken nuggets' thing. Never. I mean, my kids eat what's on the table. They don't have to like it, but they have to try it."
Burtka acknowledges that parents might encounter some pushback, and in those cases, he suggests giving kids a "two-day grace period." "Your kids are not going to starve," he says. "It's gonna suck for two days, honestly, but get through that two-day period of them whining and complaining and not eating, and they're going to eat if they're hungry, and the food's in front of them. And they're going to eat what you put in front of them."
He also recommends parents check out the book Hungry Monkey: A Food-Loving Father's Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater by Matthew Amster-Burton, which he says debunks a lot of old myths around the best way to feed your L.O.s.
When it comes to involving the kids in entertaining, Burtka says they love picking herbs, decorating, picking tablescapes, and setting the table. "There's a great thing you can do: Get a giant thing of butcher paper, and put it over your table, and tape it under and let them decorate on the butcher paper, and that's your tablescape," he recommends. "They feel really empowered from that."
Burtka believes that the more you can involve your kiddos in food and party prep, the more interested and excited they'll be to get out of their comfort zones. Maybe they won't be ordering bone marrow and cow intestine soup like Harper and Gideon, but hey, you never know.