Picky Eaters? It Really Is Your Fault.

I have always been a somewhat picky eater. It drove my mother crazy when I was growing up. Likewise it drove me crazy that she kept cooking foods I hated and wondered why I wouldn’t eat them.

She was from the Depression Era, a time when there was no such thing as being a picky eater. A combination of not enough food to go around and constant hunger meant that she did not have the luxury of being picky. Faced with the alternative of starvation, people will eat anything. Nowadays most of us are not willing to starve our children into submission, though it can be tempting some days.

When I was growing up I was forced to eat whatever was on my plate. The food I refused to eat would be wrapped up, put in the fridge, and served to me cold at the next meal. Food was always an issue. And I swore that when I had children I would not make an issue of it.

I read this article last week which discusses the findings of a study led by Dr. Lucy Cooke of the department of epidemiology and public health at University College London, that was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in August.

Researchers examined the eating habits of 5,390 pairs of twins between 8 and 11 years old and found children’s aversions to trying new foods are mostly inherited.
The message to parents: It’s not your cooking, it’s your genes.

For an interesting twist in our family, my husband is not a picky eater at all. The only thing, and I do mean only thing, he doesn’t like is raw onions. Everything else he will happily eat. Though he doesn’t like sweets. That means cakes, cookies, pastries, pies, chocolate can all sit there without tempting him in the least.

I have one son who is exactly like him. A child who will pass up treats and ask for carrot sticks; a child who piles his plate high with vegetables and salad. I know…who is this child? And you know if he were my only child I would feel smugly superior, but alas I have others who keep me humble.

Researchers have found:

Most children eat a wide variety of foods until they are around 2, when they suddenly stop. The phase can last until the child is 4 or 5.

Based on my experience with my children I have definitely found this to be the case. Most all of my children were open to foods while they were young toddlers, and then suddenly when the terrible twos hit in full force and they have wills of their own, they begin asserting themselves in all areas, including what foods to put in their mouths.

There is an infamous photo of me as a toddler eating a hot dog. This would explain to my mother why I ate that when I had just turned two years old and yet refused to each and every time afterward. That would include now 36 years later. I have never liked hot dogs. Granted, now as an adult I seldom gag and throw myself on the ground crying when offered a hot dog, but don’t think I haven’t thought about it.

The beauty of having many children is that all these parenting issues quickly become clear. I realized long ago that I can not take the credit for this child’s good eating habits and more than I should berate myself for the picky habits of my other children. It’s just how they are.

The researchers say that this phase passes eventually. You just have to ride it out like a hellish storm. Don’t become emotionally invested over whether they eat or not.

I can tell you that as a grown up I eat a wide variety of foods now, only held back by food allergies. And my soon to be 13 year old, who used to be extremely picky, now that he is in the throes of puberty and growing like a weed, he will eat anything and everything in as large of quantities as he can get it. Some nights he will look over to his younger sibling’s plates at dinner and say, “Are you going to finish that?”

(crossposted at handipoints)

10 Responses to “Picky Eaters? It Really Is Your Fault.”

  1. Deputy's Wife Says:

    I was an extremely picky eater as a young child. My mom would make a variety of food, sometimes exotic dishes for the 1970’s. I was never expected to clean my plate. If I didn’t like it, I was not expected to try it. My mom’s theory was that if she kept offering it, then someday I would try it. She was right. I love everything now (evident with my hip size) except for fish. I think she said I was around 8 when I grew out of that phase.

    I do the same thing with my children. I serve it, if they don’t like it, then so be it. Though, I do not offer an alternative for food. If they choose not to eat, they don’t get anything else. I still hear grumblings at my dinner choices, but more times than not, my kids don’t go away from the table hungry.

  2. diatribal Says:

    I have been watching info pour out on this topic for a few weeks now. My daughter is on the brink of the “terrible two’s” and I am starting to get a look at what I have to come. I have been frustrated with her avoidance of foods that she used to love. I don’t want to be like my parents (the ones that FORCED me to eat Lima Beans…gross), but I don’t want to cave in and just let her eat crap.
    I was terribly frustrated until I saw Oprah’s interview with Jessica Seinfeld. She was on to promote her new book, “Deceptively Delicious”. I ran out and bought it and have since tried several DELICIOUS recipes. My daughter is continuing to eat the same things she always has…but they are loaded with better ingredients. Now that I have learned that there are better ways of prepping your kids foods (that aren’t too hard to deal with), I am feeling better about the fact that she only wants to eat Chicken Nuggets and Macaroni.

  3. Wendy Says:

    That is a relief. My daughter would eat anything until about 3 years old and then she started asserting her opinion on everything. I still believe she is a good eater, she just needs to be guided away from the sweets.

    My son is a totally different story. He is extremely picky, but I notice he likes the things I like. He would live on anything sweet or cookies if I let him. And so would I. I have done the same thing with my son as I did with my daughter, but he is not going for it.

    The thing is that I didn’t start branching out until I met my husband and he practically sat on me and made me taste different foods. Hopefully, it won’t take my son that long.

  4. t in hd Says:

    I only have three and none of them have ever been picky or gone through so much as a picky phase. These kids are even willing to try new foods. But I’ve never taken credit for it, LOL. I just count my blessings. Just like I know it is neither to my credit that my older two (girl and boy, three years apart) are the best of friends and rarely fight, nor is it my fault that that same boy and his little sister (three years younger) fight tooth and nail. It’s the luck of the draw.

    No, never had picky eaters, nope. Lucky me. But try to dress my three year old! No dresses, no tunics, no stockings, no overalls….. Why do they call it the “terrible twos”?? Two is terrific. The wrath of a three year old is what scares hell out of me.

  5. Mindi Says:

    I had two siblings. One nicknamed The Garbage Disposal because he would eat anything - and still does. My other brother was soooo picky it was impossible to feed him anything but milk and ceral. He is better now, but not by much.

    Me I was in the middle, somewhat picky, especially about many vegetables. That was untill I dated a vegetarian and was converted for a time. If I didn’t eat vegetables, than what was I going to eat. I now have learned to love many vegetables. (but not all - keep those raw tomatoes, onions, and bell peppers away.)

  6. Trish Says:

    I was a very picky eater when I was a child (I’m a little better now, but still picky) and it wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized my mother is also a picky eater. I guess because of this, I expect my almost 3yo to be a picky eater, but so far she doesn’t fight about what she eats so much as whether she eats. She would much rather run around the house than sit down to dinner with us. Last night, I finished my dinner as well as dessert before she decided she wanted to eat AND she wanted me to feed her.

  7. Jamie Says:

    I’m not big on veggies myself, and so far the kids haven’t noticed that I don’t serve myself vegetables most nights, even though I try to make ones I will eat. When my 3rd went through a phase where I thought he would turn into a giant broccoli floret, my husband had a field day putting one on my plate and calling the kids’ attention to it. That kid today begs for me not to have broccoli- I was mystified until today.

  8. Heather Says:

    Take two sets of depression era farming grandparents, a father that literally was a starving child during WWII and a frugal mother that cooked huge amounts of cheap food and you have a recipe for my terrible relationship with food.

    I was force fed as a child. I was the kid that had to sit at the table until I fell asleep because I couldn’t (and wouldn’t) finish 3/4 of a pound of green beans on top of a half pound of meatloaf and a half pound of instant mashed potatos.

    Makes me angry just remembering it.

  9. Brandi Says:

    Thank you for this post.

    I have been feeling inadequate with my 3 y.o. who turns his nose up at almost everything. I had been feeling like I did something wrong at some point between 2 and now to turn him into such a picky eater. His 1 y.o. brother will eat anything that isn’t nailed down so I thought I had scarred the older one somehow, now I know it may just be him, I’m more ok with that that terrible maternal neglect. :-)

  10. JayMonster Says:

    Oh, you had my back up with this title. I have seen a couple of different articles with a similar title, but from a vastly different point of view… meaning they liked to blame the parents, but for “indulging” this “habit” rather than acknowledging that there is more to it than that.

    Having a child that is both “highly emotional” as well as “mildly” suffering from “Sensory Integration Disorder” food outside of the 3 she will eat has kept me up many a night trying to figure out what to do, only to be blamed by some of these “experts” that I am the cause.

    It is relieving to see others with the same challenges. And to have it acknowledged that there is something else at play here, and not just that I am a horrible parent.

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