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Ewww. I Won't Eat THAT!

Now I know why my kids are such picky eaters. It's genetic! At least that's what researchers at University College London say.

According to a New York Times article on the picky eater study, most children will eat just about anything until around age 2. Then, they let their taste buds do the talking and refuse lots of foods. There are kids who might only eat brown foods. Or those who want only white. Some will only eat noodles. Others won't touch fruit. At around age 4 or 5, children might become more adventurous again.

Well, the older one's 5 and I'm still waiting ...

Child food experts such as Ellyn Satter universally say to be patient and not push. Keep offering new foods along with old reliables. In our house, that would mean putting a four-course meal on the table every night that the meal isn't pasta, pizza or nuggets. Yeah, right ... now that's practical!

I'm more likely to follow the controversial Jessica Seinfeld model. Seinfeld, the wife of Jerry Seinfeld, has written a cookbook called "Deceptively Delicious" with recipes that sneak fruits and veggies into food kids are likely to eat. Think spinach in brownies. Avocado in pudding. Pureed cauliflower in mac and cheese. Despite all the naysayers, including other mom friends who've always thought me a little over the top, I've added pureed butternut squash or pureed sweet potato to my mac and cheese for about four years now. My kids haven't caught on and routinely ask for seconds and thirds. And they'd never eat those veggies otherwise.

Clearly my kids didn't inherit my adventurous eating genes. My mom cooked one meal and we ate it. I was that strange elementary schooler who actually liked liver and tongue and had no problem trying frogs legs. Living in the D.C. area means having a wonderful array of foods from all sorts of nationalities easily accessible and I want to try all of them.

Unfortunately, my kids can't stand mixed foods or sauce and one's best source of protein is uncooked tofu. They must have inherited someone else's genes. Who knew breakfast, lunch and dinner could be so frustrating?

How do you handle food in your house? Do you have kids who'll try anything? Or would your kids rather starve for a week than try something new?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  October 11, 2007; 8:00 AM ET  | Category:  Elementary Schoolers , Preschoolers
Previous: 'Bringing Up Baby' | Next: 12 Going On... 16


I subscribe firmly to Dr. Spock on food and eating issues. In his book he says your job as the parent is to provide your child with a variety of healthy foods, and then to act as if you don't care whether or not they eat them. As long as you are giving your child quality foods, you shouldn't care whether they eat only apples, only beans, or only chicken. He also says to give your child seconds of whatever (healthy) food they ask for, and not to show any sort of emotion if they eat a lot or eat a little.

I make sure to give my daughter a balance of foods every day for every meal. Some days she'll eat only the fruit and cheese, other days she'll eat the meat and the veggies, some days she'll eat some of everything. It all seems to even out in the end.

I do try to serve her new foods when they are available, and she goes to a great preschool where the teacher serves well-balanced and healthy snacks, and expects the children to try new foods daily.

Posted by: viennamom | October 11, 2007 9:07 AM | Report abuse

My 2 y/o son usually doesn't eat dinner (unless it's pizza). I've been told not to worry about it - he's getting plenty of nutrition the rest of the day. But I find myself making pizza more and more often, because he will eat it! Bad road to start down on I know...

Posted by: md | October 11, 2007 9:07 AM | Report abuse

Since when do children decide what to eat? No wonder we have ballooning incidences of childhood allergies and worse .. autism could very well be the result of the poor diets of expectant mothers who don't want to gain an ounce while pregnant and who have the same eating preferences as a 4 year old. Don't parents realize that food is very important to the development of children? This is just another study to take the heat off parents...just let your children do whatever they want and it will be a much happier time for the parents. It's genetic...what can we do? Where are the real mothers? Jessica Seinfeld is an idiot but one who knows how to make money. How convenient that this study comes just when she is promoting her ridiculous book which if practiced will cause a generation of unhealthy eating habits and lack of respect for qualify of food.

Posted by: HP Moyer | October 11, 2007 9:15 AM | Report abuse

Kids are not like cats, who will starve to death before eating food they don't like. They may refuse to eat something at first, but they will eventually get hungry enough to eat what they are supposed to.

Posted by: moo | October 11, 2007 9:17 AM | Report abuse

I think we've been very fortunate with our daughter (she turns 3 on Saturday). From about the age of 1.5, she eats what I cook, and she's willing to try just about anything. Her veggies are usually baby carrots, cucumber, baked potato, mashed potato or salad. She's even tried corn-on-the-cob! She'll eat most any fruit. When we were in Germany this summer she even ate the weird salted pork we were served at a family friend's house. Most of the dinners I cook are from Rachel Ray's cookbooks and while I may eliminate some of the weirder ingredients (she puts peas in a lot of things), it's more for my own tastes than hers. I guess I don't have too much advice because we've just never made that big of a deal out of food. Mommy cooks dinner, if Ella eats it, great. If she doesn't, she can have veggies like baby carrots or some whole wheat bread, but I'm not cooking her a separate dinner. She eats what I put in front of her probably 98% of the time, and I do try to accomodate her requests sometimes (she's been big on taco night lately).

Posted by: PLS | October 11, 2007 9:32 AM | Report abuse

Actually Moo you would be surprised. My mother-in-law had the attitude you eat what is in front of you or go hungry, thinking my husband would cave in and finally eat. He literally went 4 days without eating when he passed out on the floor. She realized her method wasn't working and she couldn't have a sick child so she changed things up a bit. He was required to first try whatever it was she had prepared for meals. If he still didn't like it, he could make himself a sandwich and get some cut up vegetables that she always had in her fridge. It turns out that my husband cannot eat mushy textures or he vomits. He will eat raw vegetables but cannot stand cooked ones. Sometimes it's a matter of how you cook or prepare food that will determine whether a child will eat it.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 11, 2007 9:38 AM | Report abuse

When I was a kid, my parents chose what we had for dinner and my job was to eat it, regardless of what was served. I was a picky eater at the time and can remember long standoffs with my mother over cold spinach and other vegetables. Looking back, I now realize what a gift my parents have given me: an appreciation for a wide array of food and an ability to be gratious and eat anything that is served to me at someone's home.

I am trying to raise my son the same way. I know what he likes and try to serve that to him occasionally. However, I make dinner, and I try to offer a wide variety of options. He needs to eat at least some of anything on his plate. We had some battles early on, and he went to bed hungy on several occasions. Now, he knows the rules and, more importantly, at age seven actually asks for things like oysters, kale and brussel sprouts.

It is easier to give in to a picky kid, I realize. But I think in the long run it is better for everyone to put your foot down.

Posted by: dc dad | October 11, 2007 9:39 AM | Report abuse

Great topic. I really struggle with this one. My daughter's going on two -- she was a great eater and is getting more and more picky. I sometimes wind up negotiating with her, which I know is the wrong thing to do (e.g., "you can have more bread after you eat some of that broccoli"). But it's not a HUGE struggle, so I haven't worried too much about it. She seems to like some of the veggies I serve. I also get her to eat veggies by showing her how much I enjoy it -- that typically works ("Look -- Mommy is eating the broccoli . . . yum! How about you eat some?".

I rarely make a meal that doesn't include veggies in it somewhere -- but if I mix it in, she usually WON'T eat it. She manages to find it and pick it out. (Who has time to puree anything? Certainly not me!) Always reminds me of that current commercial with the dog whose taste buds find the pill stuck in his food and work together to get it out of the mouth . . .

Posted by: sciencemom | October 11, 2007 9:50 AM | Report abuse

I'm not a parent yet, but regularly read this blog for the information. I enjoy the advice and the thought provoking ideas that come along here.

Anyway, when I was a kid, my mom made one meal and I was supposed to eat it. I would have to sit at the table until it was gone. Now, that being said, my mom always put cheese on my broccoli and NEVER had lima beans. She was realistic. I'm thankful now as I have a well balanced enjoyment of all kinds of foods. I'm also not afraid to try anything new.

Is it pie in the sky now a days to think or expect my own children to follow this same pattern? What has changed in the 25 years since I was a kid that suddenly made the kids in charge of their diets at the age of 3? I don't want to be seen as a torturer or an abusive parent, but I truly believe in the way my mom handled my eating.

Would welcome the thoughts from you experienced parents.

Posted by: LV | October 11, 2007 9:51 AM | Report abuse

While my children were tiny, they watched me prepare the family dinner in their high chairs. Chopping onions for most meals, my daughter wanted some, and ate them. She was always served the same meal we ate. Never was Kid Food served in our house for dinner...when was the last time the adults in your house ate Mac & Cheese for dinner? We serve it up, they eat it. Children are the product of our expectations and our reactions...some moms would Never feed raw onions to their 1 year olds....but they will never ask for Onion Pizza as 7 year olds either. Some say I just got lucky, but I say if you cant hold the line on one meal for the family, where do you hold the line? I have found that parents who say their kids will "only eat" whatever are usually the parents who indulge their children in many other ways...they cant sleep in their own bed, they cant sleep away from their parents (until 9 or so...). Please. Yes, periodically my children dont like what is served. Too bad. The rule in our house is one meal is cooked, that meal is eaten. If they are hungry and a well balanced, healthy meal is served, they will find some of it to eat. Currently, my son says his favorite healthy food is Couscous...mac & cheese mom...does your kid know what it is??

Posted by: Mom of Onion Eaters | October 11, 2007 9:53 AM | Report abuse

The reason the experts say you shouldn't battle over food with your kid is that a food-based power struggle is the recipe for eating disorders. I wish I had the nerve to tell that to my sister-in-law, who forces her 6-year-old to eat whether she likes it or not (the 6-year-old is sometimes so disgusted by her food that I've seen her throw up at the table).

Posted by: Anon mom | October 11, 2007 9:54 AM | Report abuse

dc dad is right on target. Catering to your child's likes and dislikes to the degree of making a separate meal or pizza 3x a week isn't doing them any favors. That said, having something on the table that they will eat is important too, even if it is just bread. Looking at what a kid eats over the course of a week is the best gauge as to whether they are eating well. Some days kids eat more, some days they eat less. That's normal. Forcing a kid to eat when they aren't hungry screws up their natural food regulation and makes them ignore their satiety signals which can set up them for overeating later on. Pay attention to how much they drink. If they drink constantly throughout the day, water, juice, milk, they probably dont' have room in their stomachs for much food. Limiting beverages can do a lot to improve an appetite.
Also, I strongly disagree with hiding vegetables in foods to trick kids into eating them. Fine if you add sweet potatoes or zucchini to stuff, but also offering it in its natural form is important too. Even if they don't eat it in it's natural form, they are at least exposed to it. Sometimes it takes 10-20 times of being exposed to a food before it is eaten. Playing with it, touching it, smelling it, licking it, those all are ways a child gets used to a new food. They don't have to eat it the first time either.

Posted by: ntrnist | October 11, 2007 9:57 AM | Report abuse

While I'm all for kids eating properly. I'm don't see how sneaking in veggies where they don't notice them teaches them anything. Its not like they will unknowingly eat squash in mac and cheese and then magically want some squash when they are older - I'm guessing they will want mac and cheese. My goal is not just to get the good food in them, but help them learn. I do that by presenting the foods to them and requiring that they at least try it. Putting veggies in their food no more teaches them to eat a variety of foods than putting laundry away while they are at school teaches them to do wash.

Posted by: Moxiemom | October 11, 2007 9:58 AM | Report abuse

When I met my boyfriend (now fiance), he had a 6 year-old son who threw a tantrum at every meal if it wasn't ravioli or grilled cheese. I grew up like a lot of you- my mom made dinner and I had to eat it and that was that (and I grew up macrobiotic vegetarian, so I was eating a lot of brown rice, beans, tofu and vegetables). As an adult, I have grown to really appreciate the healthy lessons that my mom passed on and find myself craving things like brown rice and kale. For this reason, I have refused to give in and four years later, my fiance's son will eat just about anything I put on the table. I have found that meal-time tantrums are just as much about controlling the situation or getting attention as they are about food. Children want to feel like they can assert themselves by being fussy eaters. Try giving them other things to be in control of. For example, we let our picky eater decide between two or three healthy options at snack time. Once he discovered that he could decide his food fate, he actually let us pick out more things for him to try and the world of food became his for the exploring. We also stopped "listening" to his tantrums, refusing to engage in argument. Once he realized that he couldn't get our attention by screaming about dinner, he gave up. Pickiness still rears its head every once in a while, but it's rare and much more manageable.

Posted by: Bird | October 11, 2007 10:01 AM | Report abuse

Any parent that forces a child to eat food they don't want to eat deserves to clean up the vomit!

Posted by: DandyLion | October 11, 2007 10:14 AM | Report abuse

I agree with those who don't go for sneaking stuff into food. It transfers the responsibity for eating from the child to the Mom. Mom won't be around forever.

I have one "white food child." If it's white then he'll eat it. The other child just eats and looks up to see if there is more.

Neither child is underweight and both are healthy enough to make me think they're find.

Food is such a metaphor. Is it adventure, is it health, is it an ecological or a political statement?

My MIL is old and demented, and won't eat. She clamps her mouth shut with such an expression I know that this is the one way she's got left of asserting herself. That, and other things I've noticed about her over the years, leave me with the feeling that someone in her life pushed food at her when she was little. For one thing she used to push food at my husband and I -- and we were all grown up by then! So I think you do lay the foundation of eating problems in the first years.

One meal for the whole family and don't waste excessive amounts of good vegetables on a kid who'll only eat a bite. Keep the tasty snacks under wraps so when you do get them to the table they are genuinely hungry. If little kids have been given a snack late in the afternoon (at the witching hour) then often they aren't very hungry at family dinner, and will pick at things they don't like.

And yes, mac & cheese is a regular on my dinner menu. I make it myself and put chunks of ham and broccoli into it. If my kids are hungry they'll eat it!

Posted by: RoseG | October 11, 2007 10:14 AM | Report abuse

5??? My youngest is TWELVE and we're still struggling with his pickiness--and it seems like it's getting worse as he gets older. The doctor says his weight, height, bloodwork, etc. are fine, and he'll probably grow out of this 'phase'. The oldest eats anything and everything.

Posted by: DC | October 11, 2007 10:15 AM | Report abuse

My 18-month old used to eat everything. I made all her baby food and the only thing she refused was avocado. Now she will only eat apples, banana, mango, grapes, frozen peas (not thawed, not cooked), bread (homemade - mostly whole wheat), pasta, cheese, and yogurt. We put some of everything that we are eating for dinner on her plate, but she usually refuses to try any of it. I am hoping this phase won't last much longer, but I'm not going to do anything but keep offering. She is healthy and that's all that matters at the moment.

Posted by: MaryB | October 11, 2007 10:20 AM | Report abuse

My daughter is pretty picky. I think it is a trait of autism. But anyway, she eats principally four veggies: carrots, corn, peas, and broccoli. She eats most fruits: apples, pears, peaches, bananas, grapes, and strawberries. She only eats three types of meat: chicken nuggets, turkey hot dogs, and turkey meat balls. She eats all kinds of rice, potatoes, and noodles. The only area that she is really lacking is quality meat. But she never had much of a taste for meat. I just offer a healthy balanced meal and let her eat. Within a week, she seems to get her protein, starch and veggies. That being said, she has a really hard time at school. She just doesn't like most of their entree offerings. I keep getting notes home that said she had milk and a pretzel. But I figure she will eventually learn. She hasn't starved to death yet. I also want to instill "no thank you" portions when she goes to kindergarten. My SIl and brother do this. It is a small portion that they have to at least take a bite of. BTW, DH is the pickest eater I have ever met. He has a laundry list of foods that he won't eat and he almost NEVER tries new foods. And his parents forced him to eat whatever they served. They even fed it to him the next day until it was done. So abusive behavior does not get you where you want to be either. Overall, I don't make food an issue and figure she has figured out how to live. I keep serving what I normally would serve and have a few back up choices. Like if we are eating sushi, I know she won't eat raw fish, I serve her mac and cheese or something easy to fix.

Posted by: foamgnome | October 11, 2007 10:20 AM | Report abuse

Sciencemom: I've found that baby food jars of vegetables are a quick solution to adding pureed veggies to food.

Posted by: Stacey Garfinkle | October 11, 2007 10:21 AM | Report abuse

My son does the gag thing when trying new foods. With him, he seems to talk himself into not liking the new food, then can't get it down when he tries it. So, our rule is that he needs to get through the first bite, then try it again. The second time, it's much easier for him. Sometimes he likes it, sometimes not.

Posted by: prarie dog | October 11, 2007 10:28 AM | Report abuse

I guess I'm lucky, my 2 and half year old pretty much eats whatever is put in front of her. There are a few foods she doesn't like, but there are so few of those things that we don't force her to eat them and she is always willing to try them again each time we ask. That willingness to give it another shot is what's important IMHO.

I grew up in a house where you ate what was served, but at this age I think being somewhat flexible is important. My little one is an adventurous eater who is always willing to try new things, so that gives me the confidence to listen to her when she says she doesn't like something.

Posted by: KJ | October 11, 2007 10:32 AM | Report abuse

Foamgnome, I feel for you! OrganicKid has some pickiness but not much, so the Asperger's doesn't seem to affect that. Her only issues are textural (cooked onions NO, raw onions GREAT! she balks at anything she deems "slimy"). My problem is not so much that she's picky, but she likes the good stuff! Salmon, red snapper, steak (and not any ole steak, she wants New York Strip, Medium Rare, seasoned only with a salt, pepper, and a smidge of garlic powder, if you please!), Carbonara with proscuitto (and don't even try plain ole bacon, she knows the diff!). Any number of fruits and vegetables (she's getting excited that pomegranate season is approaching). So, she eats wonderfully, and I wonder how to afford my budding gourmand. And at 9, OrganicKid is eating more and more daily. Sigh. Sometimes I wish she was picky and would only eat hot dogs.

Posted by: OrganicGal | October 11, 2007 10:37 AM | Report abuse

I have 3 5-year-old boys. One attracts crowds of waiters at restaurants amazed that he will order and eat salad. One will eat almost anything as long as it has salsa on it. The third is limited to white food, pasta, cheese, yogurt, bread. Well at least he only eats whole grain bread. We make meals and they are expected to try everything, and then they can have leftovers reheated if current options are unacceptable. Mostly white food boy is having cold pasta with cheese.

I actually found starting school seems to be a catalyst for more fights at mealtimes. The boys had not been exposed to sugary (candies, cookies etc) or salty (chips, pretzels) treats before starting school. Junk food seems to be ubiquitous at schools, and my neighbors have had similar problems, regardless of whether their kids are at private, public or charter schools. Fresh fruit was our big treat at home (served at most meals) before their exposure to junk food. Now they are less impressed by fresh fruit.

As they hit about 5 and a half white food boy has started trying a few more foods. He will eat a couple items we call "spinach cookies", which are fried balls of urad dal and spinach, or Indian cheese and spinach. Also dishes like spinach lasagna, where the "yucky green stuff" is camouflaged work.

Posted by: TripletMom | October 11, 2007 10:39 AM | Report abuse

My experience with this is shaped a lot by my own parents' philosophy on the subject.

One of the things I have noticed is the tendency of many people to seperate servings depending on the type of food. Veggies are served seperately from meat and the like. This was the exception of the style of cooking my parents had, where we would regularly eat dishes that had veggies integrated into them. I am talking about curries, stews, casseroles, and the like, but also stuffed or marinated meats. Use of herbs and spices also helped create a variety of flavors, and I think this led me to be a more adventuresome eater.

Now, I am a firm believer that there is a kind of magical "spice" to having one's mother cook for them, but I am only begining to realize the quality of my mother's cooking, so I cannot say that everything she makes is something that all people can do. That said, however, it is possible to take the lessons of her style and apply it. This is what I have done to quite reasonable success.

As a bonus, this technique can also work well with picky adults, at least in my experience.

Posted by: David S | October 11, 2007 10:40 AM | Report abuse

Posted by OrganicGal @ October 11, 2007 10:37 AM:

"Carbonara with proscuitto (and don't even try plain ole bacon, she knows the diff!)."

For what it is worth, I am lucky in that the local kroger's Deli counter has pancetta, which costs actually a little less than bacon, and much less than procutto. About 4 oz runs me about 2 dollars. It has the rich, salty flavor of procutto, but cooks up crispier. I recommend giving it a try for your carbonara.

Also worth adding lemon zest to it as well. The result is a lighter flavor. I generally make it in the same week as I do a citrus dressing (lemon juice, olive oil, french's american yellow mustard, salt and pepper) so the juice of the lemon isn't wasted either. Great with tomatoes, though I've had a heck of a time getting good ones this year.

Posted by: David S | October 11, 2007 10:52 AM | Report abuse

David S., I think you are on to something, there. Growing up, the usual meal that was served had 3 things: meat, veggy, starch. But, we also had lasagne, stroganoff, stews on occasion. I started that way, as well, however my picky eater doesn't like his food mixed together, or with a sauce. I still serve it up, but he tends to just pick on those nights.

Now my younger child - she will try anything, and usually love it.

I keep telling both of them that as they get older, and are invited to eat at friends houses, they are going to have to learn to eat without complaining. I tell them - Not every house will have pizza and nuggets. Some houses will serve up liver and onions, and I expect them to say please and thank you, regardless.

Mostly, friends have pizza and nuggets. They don't even think liver and onions is a real meal. But one day I'm going to sneak it over and we'll see!

BTW, liver & onions was the grossest meal my mom made me eat as a kid. I remember having it maybe 2 times, but each time left a mark!

Posted by: prarie dog | October 11, 2007 10:53 AM | Report abuse

Like most parenting questions, this question does not have one, single correct answer that works in all situations.

Different things work for different kids. You are an adult, and it is your responsibility to educate yourself on some techniques and figure out what works for you and your kid. The answer may change as your kid gets older.

Experiment a little. Have fun!

Posted by: Bob | October 11, 2007 11:13 AM | Report abuse

I was a very picky eater as a child, and I'm still far from adventurous. Sometimes I had to eat what I was given, sometimes I got my own special mac-and-cheese and was so grateful! I have a very poor sense of smell, which I think makes me much more sensitive to textures. So, for instance, I can't bear applesauce but am fond of the pureed baby pears. I don't seem to taste sweetness as well as other people--it has to be VERY sweet before I think it's sweet, most apples taste tart to me. And the mere sight of a chunk of tomato or a tomato seed? Eww!

As a child, there were only a couple of vegetables or fruits I'd touch, and seafood was out of the question. I've tried to add one new food a year and can eat simple salads now (broccoli and cauliflower were major, hard-fought victories once I'd accepted lettuce) and I actually enjoy lots of different seafood.

My mother and brother will eat almost anything, and always would. My father and I have similar likes and dislikes, so my difficulties were understood and accomodated, within reason, and I would have been miserable otherwise. It doesn't make sense to me to force anyone, child or adult, to eat something they think is revolting--imagine yourself somewhere in another country, in another culture being served something you find disturbing (insects? brains? frogs? plenty of humans eat them) and you can better understand what a picky child is going through. By all means help them expand their diet, but with compassion and recognition it may be legitimately hard for them and not wholly a control or manipulation issue.

Posted by: Compassgrl1 | October 11, 2007 11:27 AM | Report abuse

My mother was also of the 'eat it or starve -- I'm not making anything else' school. She chose what was prepared and we either ate it or went hungry. Nothing was processed except the garden vegetables and fruits she canned during the summer from our garden. Every dinner had mashed potatoes on orders from my father, made from real potatoes. Food was very bland because of Dad's heartburn problems, and was usually a chicken boiled until it fell off the bone. No tomatoes, no onions, no green peppers; salt and pepper were the only seasonings. I had to learn to eat pizza when I moved away from home because we never had pizza at home. No Chinese or ethnic foods. Every kid had to be home and at the table at dinner time. Up into the 1960's, mom spent $25 a week on groceries to feed 4 kids and 2 adults. We didn't starve. I can't imagine kids being 'picky eaters.'

Posted by: Anonymous | October 11, 2007 11:39 AM | Report abuse

My Mom had some cool tricks.

If we said we didn't want dinner, she'd would instead let us have "cocktails" (my grandmother was a NYer who always had "cocktail hour" before dinner until the day she died). So she would cut up all sorts of protein and veggies (plus cheese and crackers, always had to have those), put them on toothpicks, put out some "sauces" for us to dip in. We thought we were soooooo smart because we didn't have to eat "dinner".

Alternatively, she'd make us a "Delicious". Which was just a shake made with milk, a little ice cream and some sort of protein powder ;)

Meals at the wrong time of day were always a hit, too. Eggs for dinner. Leftovers for breakfast.

Posted by: Chasmosaur | October 11, 2007 11:40 AM | Report abuse

Making meals fun tends to help as well. My nephew comes to stay with me during the summer quite a lot. I do not think I have met a more picky eater. It has to be bologna, PB and J grilled cheese and french fries. He won't eat potatoes any other way. I figured out the trick however. If food is fun he is more willing to eat it. Last summer I got Crabs for supper and as soon as he saw them he started with the usual icky, yuck, I want to throw up comments. When we sat down to dinner. Me, my parents and my niece all with our crabs, mallets in hand, my nephew had his hamburger. As soon as he saw that we got to smash our crabs and pull the meat out he got jealous. By the end of the meal, he ended up eating more crab then the rest of us because he enjoyed smashing it so much. We have taken the lesson and tried to use it to our advantage, by encouraging more hands on meals and trying to get him to help make things (it helps a whole lot).

Posted by: That guy | October 11, 2007 11:52 AM | Report abuse

"Jessica Seinfeld is an idiot but one who knows how to make money."

I think she is very smart. If you read anything about her, you will also know that she always has vegetables at her table along with the stuff she has mixed in with the other food. It's not like she is hiding the veggie and when the kids get bigger don't know what a veggie looks like.

That being said, I have a daughter who eats all kinds of things. I am not going to make her eat the few things she doesn't like. There are things that I don't like, I am sure there are things that everyone on the board doesn't like too.

Posted by: Irish girl | October 11, 2007 11:53 AM | Report abuse

Prairie Dog, I'm with you on the liver and onions, yuck! My grandparents lived next door, so if I didn't like what Mom was cooking I went to my grandparents for dinner. The only problem was one night my Mom was making liver and onions so I went to my grandparents who were also making liver and onions. I just ate sides that night.

My mother's policy was that we had to try everything at least once, but then my parents weren't very adventurous eaters either. I just always had problems with eating organs (especially those that are meant to filter toxins like the liver).

Posted by: Fuzzy Cat | October 11, 2007 12:14 PM | Report abuse

I hated my mom's cooking as a child and to this day she swears that I am a picky eater. Quite to the contrary. The problem was that my parent's idea of seasoning food was to add salt and butter. No pepper, no spices. Yuck.
As an adult, I am a much happier eater since I can add all the spice I want. My daughter is a pretty good eater so far. She doesn't like some things but will have a "brave taste" of anything. Brave tastes have led to her love of sushi, hot sauce, spicy Chinese dishes, nearly anything Indian, etc.
I still don't like my mom's cooking so for Thanksgiving I go to her house early and cook. Works for everyone - food is better and my mom doesn't have to cook so much.
Oh, and my daughter an expensive pallet to please also - for steak, she is a Fillet Mignon or bust kind of girl. My husband pities her future beaus, she'll be an expensive dinner date!

Posted by: 21117 | October 11, 2007 12:36 PM | Report abuse

Posted by prarie dog @ October 11, 2007 10:53 AM:

"David S., I think you are on to something, there. Growing up, the usual meal that was served had 3 things: meat, veggy, starch. But, we also had lasagne, stroganoff, stews on occasion. I started that way, as well, however my picky eater doesn't like his food mixed together, or with a sauce. I still serve it up, but he tends to just pick on those nights."

There is one thing that I didn't mention which may help with children who are especially picky: Having them help you cook. My experience suggests that kids are a lot more likely to eat something they have had a role in creating themselves.

Baking is perhaps the best place to start because most baking involves little in the way of sharp objects and allows them to make a mess (something I am convinced most children come to naturally) in a constructive way. It also might help with the kids who don't like things mixed together by demonstrating that you can combine and mix ingreedients that many kids find gross (raw eggs? Shortening?) to make something that most kids find delicious (cakes, cookies, pies, etc.).

Posted by: David S | October 11, 2007 12:39 PM | Report abuse

Foamgnome--I think your DD sounds like a remarkably UN-picky eater! I was going to make the same point about autism and pickiness but my son's pickiness is extreme. He will eat applesauce, American cheese, plain crackers, pretzles, Oreo cookies, chicken nuggets, fish sticks, soynut butter and jelly sandwiches on graham crackers, plain waffles, and some dry cereals. He'll drink water or white grape juice. That's it. His entire diet. If we put anything else in front of him, he'll pick it up and gently place it on the table so it doesn't contaminate his plate.

This was such a shock to us after our first child who has always been willing to try new things and eats a large variety of foods not normally considered kid-friendly (I remember one meal where I had to tell her to stop eating so much broccoli and just eat her hot dog please!). Even when she doesn't like something, she's always willing to try a few bites of it. So my husband and I congratulated ourselves on good parenting and having this child who was so good about food. And then our son came along and we took the same approach to introducing foods and from the start he just wouldn't eat them.

As it happens, some kids are perfectly willing to let themselves starve rather than eat food that they don't like. My son regularly goes without food even when we offer the few foods he WILL eat--he's just not much motivated by hunger from what we can tell. The sensory ickiness (either texture or flavor--not sure what it is that's bothering him) overrides the hunger. A day when he eats three meals of the few foods he does eat is a good day.

I was a picky eater when I was young (nothing like my son, though) and am still turned off by strong flavors and strange textures. My parents forcing me to sit at the table until I finished my meal only made things worse, I think--food was a struggle instead of a means of nourishment. I don't think kids who are picky are that way by choice, necessarily, and while I think parents do influence eating habits, they don't have much influence on sensory sensitivity. I like the approach (assuming the kids are otherwise "normal") of just making sure that every meal contains one thing that you know the kids will eat so you can have a family meal without tears and without being concerned about your kids waking up hungry in the middle of the night.

Posted by: Sarah | October 11, 2007 12:46 PM | Report abuse

My mom grew up on casseroles, everything integrated into one dish. Until she moved to California with my father, she had never seen a raw vegetable besides the ubiquitous Miswetern "salad" vegetables -- iceberg lettuce, tomato, and carrot. Her exposure to ethnic foods was "white-ified" Chinese food.

My dad grew up in a 5-star restaurant and eats everything. It drove him nuts that my mom wouldn't eat fresh vegetables or touch mushrooms when she first came here. When he cooked meals, they were of quality, and even if my mom wouldn't eat some of it, I usually came around eventually.

Now I'm married to a man with a fabulous ethnic mix who hates all food that is not crap. His mother was apparently an amazing Thai cook, but my husband always orders the same three things at Thai restaurants. When I cook things that he doesn't like, he goes out and gets chili-burgers for himself. One time he tried to make a hot dog in front of his daughter while she and I were having lunch and I told him off.

Luckily, my SD LOVES everything I cook. Even if she balks as her plate, I tell her she has to try it, and she usually ends up finishing what I suggested, even if she leaves her more favored foods.

And for the record, Macaroni and Cheese is delicious, if you make it yourself with whole-grain macaroni, quality cheeses and cream, and lots of pepper. It's a good holiday dish.

Posted by: Kat | October 11, 2007 12:47 PM | Report abuse

My father hated liver. My mom loved it. I remember before I started kindergarten, mom would "sneak" and make liver while dad was gone to work.

Since liver was a special treat, I learned to LOVE it. And I still do.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 11, 2007 1:02 PM | Report abuse

When I was a kid, I remember many foods as being physically painful and unpleasant. Our taste buds dull as they get older, so things do taste stronger to a child.

I expect my kids to taste new foods, but I don't make a big deal about it right now (they're 3 and 5). The 5-year-old is already trying almost everything we eat, and I expect our three-year-old to grow out of this picky phase as well.

I don't think a picky kid is necessarily going to become a picky grownup, either. I had a pretty limited selection of foods I would eat, growing up, and now I'm extremely adventurous. As long as my kids are eating healthy foods (whole grain, lots of veggies and fruits, etc.) then I'm not going to worry about which ones they eat just yet.

Posted by: Neighbor | October 11, 2007 1:21 PM | Report abuse

I'm with Satter on this but I don't find it hard to make a "four course" meal - we just have what we would have, and then add in one thing my son eats for sure (current favourites are broccoli, lima beans, lentils, and black olives - who knew? - cheese and whole-grain bread are also backups).

I also involve him in prep work as much as possible.

I want my son to experience eating the meals we eat, because honestly I am not prepared to eat macaroni and cheese or anything like that for the next 4 years. At the same time I'm not into making him go to bed hungry, so if it's a matter of microwaving some frozen lima beans and putting a piece of bread on his plate, hey.

He's just coming into the picky phase now though, so I may have to eat my words later.

I do have to say that for me, I grew up eating pretty plain cream-of-whatever over white-and meat-whatever casseroles. In my early 20s I went totally the other way - kale, qinoa, etc. - and still lean towards a whole foods approach, so it is possible it's harder to mess up our kids' palates than we think.

Posted by: shandra_lemarath | October 11, 2007 1:22 PM | Report abuse

Never had baby food or any kid food growing up. We ate what the adults ate from a very young age--fully spiced, garlic, onions, etc. (good old Hungarian immigrant grandparents!) We ate all the veggies most American kids hate and there was never any issue, but I will say, there was a lot more to them than just being cooked to death. No bullying needed at mealtimes, but we had to sit and eat properly. We sat and ate together with the extended family every night. I don't know if it's a cultural or generational thing, but I almost fell from the table when 4 year old nephew asked his Dad to cut off the "black lines" from his grilled meat. My tongue is still scarred from where I bit it!

Posted by: Silver Spring | October 11, 2007 2:13 PM | Report abuse

My problems stemmed from physical problems- I had clogged sinuses and ears until I was 5 and the problem was realized and dealt with. I didn't like most food, because I really couldn't taste it to develop any attraction to it.

Add that on to my anxiety/control/obsessive compulsive issues- let's just say I am grateful to have a mom who would cook the same three meals and send me off with exactly the same lunch to school every day (and eventually stop asking why I wanted JUST the sandwich meat and not the bread).

My partner is still amazed at how NOT tired of the same foods I can get, since he can't even eat chicken twice a day.

One suggestion is not to assume your kid doesn't like something cuz mostly adults like it. I LOVED rare steak at an early age, who would have guessed?

And relax- it's been a slow long difficult process, but I like and will eat a LOT more now and am finding new stuff all the time. I think I might be open to liking artichokes soon.

As long as your kid isn't demanding stuff that takes forever to prep, what's the problem of making a few extra sandwiches when you're doing the lunch prep for the week to have handy for dinners? There's plenty of other ways to teach a kid that life doesn't revolve around them, but isn't doing special things part of what family is about?

Posted by: Liz D | October 11, 2007 2:31 PM | Report abuse

One really hard thing for parents to understand is that each kid they have has different preferences for food. I don't know how many kids I know where one sibling complains while the other sibling loves the exact same food. Then you know it's not you, it's the kid.

My biggest issue that I'm never going to eat "meat/starch/veggie" again, so I don't know when I need to put my foot down with my son. He refuses to eat fatty sauces like in mac and cheese and most of his food has to be "clean" like broccoli, celery, carrots, cucumbers, plain tofu sticks, spaghetti squash plus chicken nuggets and similar frozen entrees. This is well and good, but he refuses to eat anything we eat as adults, demanding "kid food." This goes to the ridiculous extent where he asked for barbecued chicken (I'm a vegetarian, so this was a special request) and then when I made it he freaked out because it had barbecue sauce on it and he never noticed that before. So I brought it into work.

Of course I was brought up in a family that demanded that I always eat all the fat off of steaks until I threw up at the table. I remember when I was about 8 and doctors came out with a report that beef fat was bad for you, I literally jumped up and ran to bring my mother in to watch the report on Huntley Brinkley. The end of forced eating of fat!!! No more bacon!!! yay!

Posted by: DCer | October 11, 2007 2:59 PM | Report abuse

I should also mention that when the dinner battles were really bad, my son walked into our room screaming at 1am that he wanted an apple, NOW! That's when we realized the old idea of "They'll eat if they're hungry" doesn't work for our kid- he won't and he'll go nuts from hunger. We had to offer him something he wanted to eat each night.

Posted by: DCer | October 11, 2007 3:07 PM | Report abuse

I can't see making mealtime a battleground. I didn't like strong flavors as a kid and big surprise -- neither do my kids. I've changed as an adult. There's lots that's easy to do that accommodates all our tastes. Plain chicken for them and I add a nice sauce for me. Set aside some raw broccoli for elder DD and cook the rest for the rest of us.
I love to cook and eat good food and I trust my kids will eventually get there too. They already love the cooking part!

Posted by: anne.saunders | October 11, 2007 3:36 PM | Report abuse

Now that my son is older, he's much more open to trying new foods. He eats fabulously - all veggies, all meats, some fruits. But, don't put cheese on his broccoli, or sauce on his pasta, or gravy on his meat. And all potatoes, except the French kind, are out of the question. The problem arises when we eat at someone's house and they serve mashed potatoes or beef stew.

And - funny thing - I have been trying to get him to help cook. We baked chocolate chip cookies and it completely grossed him out to roll out dough balls in his hands. Couldn't stand it!

All in all, I could have it a ton worse. I don't make extra meals, we have a lot of variety. It's just that some nights he eats a little less.

Posted by: prarie dog | October 11, 2007 3:40 PM | Report abuse

My mom solved the problem of eating out or at other places by giving me a small easy meal first (kept me busy while she was getting ready also) to stave off the hunger, and taught me to take a small portion of whatever I needed to have to be polite and eat at least a few bites. As long as a kid is well behaved and doesn't spit up, not eating a whole lot won't be a big deal.

Posted by: Liz D | October 11, 2007 3:49 PM | Report abuse

.. autism could very well be the result of the poor diets of expectant mothers who don't want to gain an ounce while pregnant and who have the same eating preferences as a 4 year old.

Posted by: HP Moyer | October 11, 2007 09:15 AM

Please get down off that soapbox, the lack of oxygen up there is negatively affecting your thought processes, and you might get dizzy and fall.

My autistic son's disability is not attributable to my diet while I was pregnant with him. I started at 128 pounds, and gained 6-8 pounds each month except the last. I was ravenously hungry, for fruit, veggies and protein. I couldn't tolerate any caffeine in any form.

I lost three pounds in the last month, not because I was worried about gaining (but I sure was tired of the medical folks giving me grief!), but because the baby was just too big, and after two or three bites I felt stuffed, and the heartburn was horrible. Two or three hours later, when the heartburn had calmed down, I was starving againg, and could get another two or three bites down.

I find your suggestion ignorant and insulting.

Posted by: sue | October 11, 2007 4:24 PM | Report abuse

I find your suggestion ignorant and insulting.

I do too Sue. I don't know what causes autism, but to say that it is a mother's diet is very rude. I only gained 10 pounds with my daughter and she is fine. Try not to let the poster bother you.

Posted by: Irish girl | October 11, 2007 4:29 PM | Report abuse

Posted by prarie dog @ October 11, 2007 03:40 PM:

"And - funny thing - I have been trying to get him to help cook. We baked chocolate chip cookies and it completely grossed him out to roll out dough balls in his hands. Couldn't stand it!"

Interesting, though perhaps to be expected. I would keep experimenting with different recepies, perhaps ones that don't necessarily require him to handle the dough with his bare hands. Though short bread might be more acceptable since it has about the same consistency as play-doh.

Posted by: David S | October 11, 2007 4:38 PM | Report abuse

I did a term paper on fetal alcohol syndrome. Anything in the mother's system is shared by the fetus, so poor nutrition as well as alcohol can certainly cause damage to the fetus. I don't know if autism is one of them, but it's best not to gamble with your baby's life during pregnancy. FAS is solely the mother's fault == it's not genetic, it's not the father's fault. It rests squarely on the mother's shoulders.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 11, 2007 4:56 PM | Report abuse

I was an only child of a single parent and my Mom was the picky eater. She didn't like the smell of peanut butter, so I couldn't have peanut butter. Same for hot dogs, shell fish, most fresh fruits (canned was ok,) all vegetables except french fries, and anything foreign or ethnic. Soup, with the exception of tomato, was suspicious because it had mixtures of different things. We ate mostly canned spaghetti, mac and cheese and deli ham. It was a real treat to eat at a friends house and have the forbidden treats like meatloaf and broccoli that made up most family meals. I even at liver and onions at a friend's house.

My husband was a picky eater when I met him, but he has grown with the kids and now enjoys trying new things. Older child tried being a vegetarian for a while but missed the variety we were eating in her presence.

Posted by: LiverLover | October 11, 2007 5:06 PM | Report abuse

I did a term paper on fetal alcohol syndrome. Anything in the mother's system is shared by the fetus, so poor nutrition as well as alcohol can certainly cause damage to the fetus. I don't know if autism is one of them, but it's best not to gamble with your baby's life during pregnancy. FAS is solely the mother's fault == it's not genetic, it's not the father's fault. It rests squarely on the mother's shoulders.

there is no connection between FAS and autism and your suggestion that there is one, that they are in any way similar, or there is any connection with diet, is uneducated in the extreme and flat out insulting. Please note that nowhere in the wikipedia entry for autism does it discuss mother's diet:

While Wikipedia is not a medical journal, it doesn't even show any idea that there is even a remote connection at this point. So grow up.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 11, 2007 5:35 PM | Report abuse

Interesting comments. I, too, was a picky eater. I think the reason behind it was more about texture than flavor but I think part of it was also a control issue. There was certainly a battle of wills between me and my parents. The thing that brought me back from pickiness was that my mom is from Mexico. We would spend every summer there and I would be exposed to different food and food that I did not want to even try. My mom and dad were total manners advocates and so they drilled into me how rude it is to impose likes and dislikes on people who are cooking for you (barring food allergies or vegetarianism, etc) and that a flat out refusal to try something was hurtful to others' feelings. I responded more to this idea of not being hurtful to others than to being open to food. So the deal became that I had to at least take 2 bites of anything on my plate, and that I was not allowed to make a scene about likes and dislikes, especially when someone else (non-parental) was cooking for me. Because I had to try things, I ended up liking a lot of it and I am an adventurous eater today.

FWIW, it seems that if your child will only eat pasta, perhaps that is indicative that it is on the menu too much? Maybe people could make it into a special treat food as opposed to a common occurrence. I think kids are drawn to starches but that does not mean they should feature as the main item on the dinner plate with regularity. Not a criticism, just a thought as to how to decrease dependence on mac and cheese.

Posted by: lca | October 11, 2007 6:14 PM | Report abuse

My mother subscribed to the "try one bite" theory. This kind of backfired because she was still doing it when I was in high school and fixed sauteed zuccinni and squash four times a week during the summer. We never had fights at the dinner table until then. Imagine a 14 year old girl being told she couldn't leave the table until she had one bite of zucchinni b/c she might like it then. Of course, I didn't like it the night before, the week before, etc. To this day, zucchinni and squah make me gag and I will NOT eat them. Not even zucchinni bread. Its all mental at this point, and I know that. But I can't get over it.

But part of it is I am a texture person. I don't like soft, squishy textures. But other than that, I'm not too picky. I have a friend whose husband eats hot dogs, hamburgers, pasta (with butter only), and chicken nuggets. I think thats about it. A 37 year old man who eats like a picky toddler.

Posted by: RT | October 12, 2007 8:35 AM | Report abuse

Anonymous boneheard at 5:35 -- I never said FAS caused autism. Read the post again and you grow up. If you drank alcohol during your pregnancy, shame on you.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 12, 2007 8:49 AM | Report abuse

I don't get the whole "my kids won't eat XXX" statement (aside from kids who have medical/health issues).

I have 2 girls - almost 7 and 19 months. And both have been wonderful eaters. Once they could eat solid food, they pretty much had what we had to eat.

My kids don't have jobs (so no money), don't drive a car, don't shop for food, and don't cook anything. So I'm not sure how they can dictate to me what they're going to eat.

It's pretty simple for us. I think our best trait is that we sit down and eat 95% of our meals together, and ALWAYS eat dinner together. I think that's huge. If everyone is eating the same stuff at the same time, we feel like there's less room for conflict. we also don't eat out on a normal basis and eat a wide variety of pretty normal foods. So we don't get stuck in a rut.

We've also never made a big deal about food. Put it in front of you. If you eat it, great. If you don't, fine. But if you don't, that's it. I can think of 1 time maybe when my oldest didn't eat a meal. If we have leftovers or multiple dishes, we do give them a choice. Corn or peas, turkey or chicken, milk or water, etc. We don't care which they choose. That way, they at least get to decide and have some control.

Posted by: ATL Dad | October 12, 2007 2:15 PM | Report abuse

Anonymous boneheard at 5:35 -- I never said FAS caused autism. Read the post again and you grow up. If you drank alcohol during your pregnancy, shame on you.

Your posts, including the one above, appear to be written in a dream world. NO ONE is talking about FAS except you. Certainly not me. I've never been pregnant anyways, I'm a man. You seem to write a whole lot that is based on fantasy.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 12, 2007 4:56 PM | Report abuse

I have 2 girls - almost 7 and 19 months. And both have been wonderful eaters. Once they could eat solid food, they pretty much had what we had to eat.

My kids don't have jobs (so no money), don't drive a car, don't shop for food, and don't cook anything. So I'm not sure how they can dictate to me what they're going to eat.

Sigh. wait and see when one is two years old. wait and see. you will look back at this post and die of embarassment.

My son loved indian food, mexican food, food of all stripes and flavors and then he discovered this word called "No." Or should I say "NO!" [throws plate of breakfast oatmeal on my suit and tie 45 minutes before the meeting I had to get to]

Just think about it before you post... you just don't have experience as a parent yet.

Posted by: DCer | October 12, 2007 5:02 PM | Report abuse

Sigh. wait and see when one is two years old. wait and see. you will look back at this post and die of embarassment.

My son loved indian food, mexican food, food of all stripes and flavors and then he discovered this word called "No." Or should I say "NO!" [throws plate of breakfast oatmeal on my suit and tie 45 minutes before the meeting I had to get to]

Just think about it before you post... you just don't have experience as a parent yet.


I don't have "experience"? My oldest kid is almost 7 years old, and I have multiple kids. So I'm not sure what your statement means. Also, our closest family is 600+ miles away, so we've pretty much done things all on our own this entire time.

And my 2nd child is MUCH more agreeable, calm and easier than the first one. She loves to eat - any and everything.

So please, tell me again how I have no idea what I'm talking about.

Posted by: ATL Dad | October 12, 2007 8:36 PM | Report abuse

DCer, just because YOU have managed to "raise" a picky son with little self control does not mean that you know how to parent better than those of us here. In fact, based on your lackluster results, I think you should shush up and learn a few things from the folks here!!

Posted by: To DCer | October 14, 2007 7:23 PM | Report abuse

It was very easy. Our daughter was 2 when she announced she would not eat her dinner. She stood in the corner till we finished dinner, then was put to bed without supper. She cried herself to sleep because she was hungry, and the next morning ate everything in sight for breakfast. There's not been a problem with picky eating since, and she is now 17. She doesn't remember the incident, but has good eating habits.

Posted by: MrM1 | October 17, 2007 3:28 PM | Report abuse

It makes me sick to hear people say that parents should decide what the child eats and the child will eat it. I used to think that was true. When my 1 year stopped trying new foods I was at a loss. He is four and the only new food he has gained since then is peanut butter. I have watched him refuse to eat for days on end because I wanted him to eat what the family was eating. He is on the low end of average in weight and really cannot afford to lose any.

Posted by: CR | November 1, 2007 5:25 PM | Report abuse

My son will be 3 on Dec.26th. He will not eat anything at all. He'd rather have drinks. I dont know what to do. I feel like hes starving! i try and try to get him to eat.He used to eat nothing but roman noodles, now its nothing. He sometimes eats applesauce. Is this just a faze? Im really scared and its really stressing me out.All he whines for is drink after drink. What should I do?

Posted by: Rachel | November 13, 2007 12:02 AM | Report abuse

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