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Why are so many kids picky eaters?

Old Dec 31st, 2009, 02:40 PM
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Why are so many kids picky eaters?

Lately, I've been reading posts about taking kids to France, Italy or wherever with the stated concern about dealing with kids who are "picky eaters." Why are so many kids "picky eaters?" Is it because in the US the kid menus consist of nothing more than spaghetti marinara, chicken fingers, pizza, hamburger, grilled cheese, and mac & cheese? If so, when are they old enough to go beyond those foods? Doesn't that limited choice and indulgence in that limited choice ensure that the kids will grow up to be picky eaters? After all, such a limited menu sends the message that we don't expect them to like more than junk food.

I have a 10-year old and just don't understand indulging the notion that a whole world of food is beyond the enjoyment of a child's palate. So, for those of you who have kids who are "picky eaters," how did they end up that way? What do you feed them? Have you actually tried serving them something to broaden their food perspectives?
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Old Dec 31st, 2009, 02:57 PM
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Yes and the reply is usually along the lines of 'I don't like that', quite often before they've even tasted it.

Kids do not have sophisticated palates - that's something that develops later in life. Often much later for some people. I wouldn't get so bent out of shape about what they like. You don't think Italian kids eat spaghetti and pizza?
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Old Dec 31st, 2009, 03:07 PM
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But why is a child allowed to say she doesn't like something she hasn't tasted?

My daughter's favorite soup has been hot and sour since she was about 5. Duck, salmon, and steaks would be her 3 favorite entrees following an app of mussels or manila clams. Now, she loves a good cheeseburger and pizza, but that is not the limit for her. How would she know whether she liked those things if she hadn't been exposed to them and asked to at least try?
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Old Dec 31st, 2009, 03:37 PM
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Some expression about apples falling from trees, methinks. Nurture vs. nature, that sort of thing.
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Old Dec 31st, 2009, 03:39 PM
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Everyone has the right to likes and dislikes. But many kids are fed almost exclusively on "kid's foods" - that's all the family eats - so they don;t have a chance to try and like - or dislike - other things.

Obviously infants and toddlers have different food requirement. But IMHO by the time a child is old enough to eat family meals (3 or so) they should be eating the same food as everyone else.

As for kids that are picky eaters - if you refuse to let them be picky they'll get hungry and start eating other things. That's not to say they can't have dislikes - but they have to be true, specific dislikes after they've eaten the food. (My parents simply fed us whatever they were eating - except liver - which neither my brother nor I would eat - and my father didn't like much either. My mother eventually gave up on it.)
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Old Dec 31st, 2009, 03:43 PM
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Sorry - my mother did serve spaghetti but with a big salad that we ate too - but never mac and cheese. I never saw that until I got to middle school - and still don;t like it - although I'm a pasta fan. Way too gloppy. We would have pizza occasionally when we went out - but other than that had traditional meals - with meat, vegetables and potatoes or noodles or rice. And we did have to eat our veggies.
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Old Dec 31st, 2009, 04:01 PM
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I think it's partly what you expose your kids to at an early age and partly just the kid's own tastebuds. My kids grew up spending their summers in France and Europe from the time they were infants and one of them to this day happily eats snails and foie gras and rabbit and duck and just about anything, and the other pretty much subsists on dairy products, fruits, cheese, and bread (good bread, though - she's a stickler for bread - and good cheese).

They also love pizza and pasta and grilled cheese and hamburgers and fried chicken and all the things typical American kids love. But it's well rounded out, and always was, with kale and brussels sprouts and rillettes and calamari and asparagus and soy milk and eggplant and Indian and Vietnamese and Chinese and many other ethnic cuisines.

I can't imagine a kid who won't even try something, though, or who says he/she doesn't like it without trying. That would have driven me nuts.
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Old Dec 31st, 2009, 04:13 PM
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By the time my son was 3, he ate pretty much everything I did. I used to take him to the salad bar at Sizzle, hardly high cuisine, but it did let him experiment with the veggies in a low-stress way. My rule was always that you had to try something, but if you didn't like it, you didn't have to eat it. I didn't make it something to fight over. As a consequence, he would eat pretty much any vegetable - broccoli, spinach, brussels sprouts, beets - just didn't like orange squash, and considering what he would eat, I considered that reasonable enough.

My sister, on the other hand, has always catered to her boys' tastes. They are both very proud of the long list of things they won't eat, including pretty much all vegetables. This was the first year she didn't make them hot dogs and mac 'n' cheese for Thanksgiving dinner, and they still made a great fuss over eating turkey, mashed potatoes and green beans - these boys are 10 and 12 years old! A couple years ago the younger one would eat nothing but cheese - just cheese - and grapes. So that's all she gave him! I guess her husband is no support, as he believes the boys will starve if they don't eat their dinner.

When I was a kid, if I didn't eat everything on my plate, I got it cold for the next meal. Nothing like cold oatmeal for lunch or cold tuna-noodle casserole for breakfast - when you didn't even like it when it was hot.
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Old Dec 31st, 2009, 06:34 PM
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I generally assume that picky eaters get that way because they haven't been encouraged to try different foods.

I worry about it some with our kids - DH is much more likely to cater to their tastes, and not make things he knows they won't like (he does most of the cooking). When I cook, they eat what I make, and they seem to be fine with it. In terms of restaurants, neither kid really likes Thai food, but other than that, they'll eat any ethnic cuisine.

That being said, even though both kids are adventurous, there are things they won't eat. Anything in the squash family - DS says he'll throw up, though he'll have it mixed with other things. Funny, DH says the same thing about squash (hmmmmm). My son would eat almost anything else, including any meat (pigeon, sea snails, suckling pig, etc.), until he became vegetarian at the age of 12. Some people would call that being picky.

DD still eats some meat, but most meats she hates (including hamburgers and chicken fingers). I don't push her on this, because I never liked meat much, and pretty much hated it all as a kid - so I'm definitely playing out my childhood traumas in how I treat her! (As a family, we only eat meat for dinner about once a week.)

So I feel like DD's a bit picky, too, but not in the usual kid way. She'll at least try almost anything that's not meat, and was adventurous when we went to Italy this year. But now that I think about it, she's probably no pickier than some or most adult Americans, who wouldn't ever be willing to try some of the stuff that she eats and likes, or at least has tried.
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Old Dec 31st, 2009, 07:13 PM
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My daughter (our oldest) has always been an adventurous eater. As a baby, she didn't care if she had breast milk or formula -- she was just happy to be fed. My son, on the other hand, was a picky eater from the start. He would only drink breast milk early on and I was really worried about what would happen when I went back to work. If my daughter had been our only child I would have said children just need to be exposed to different foods, etc. However, with two such different eaters in our household, I learned that some kids just have different palates. My son had strong food preferences all through his childhood but finally became more adventurous as a pre-teen.
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Old Dec 31st, 2009, 07:33 PM
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I think StCirq nailed it - it's a combination of factors. I grew up before the days of convenience/fast food, surrounded by all kinds of food very well prepared but was an incredibly finicky eater from day one. Because I was the firstborn everyone hovered and nagged my mother into taking me to the pediatrician, who after several visits finally said something to the effect of "relax, if he's eating dirt it must be good dirt, because he is off the height and weight charts for his age," Fruit nor vegetable passed my lips, nor cold meat of any kind. I think I was the only kid in the neighborhood who would not eat a hot dog (except those awful red dyed ones at Yankee stadium.) Every day for years I carried peanut butter and jelly sandwich in my school lunch until I started to occasioanlly eat dry tuna on toast (mayonnaise gagged me) and broadening my palate was opting for peanut butter and marshmallow fluff. Hamburger or ground beef in any form was OK, but no steak or roast meat other than beef or turkey. Almost any kind of bread was OK, unless it had raisins. Pizza was an occasional treat and pasta was OK, but no topping on the pizza and only plain red sauce with the pasta with no chunks of anything.
We struggled through the "sit there until you eat it" and the "you'll get it for your next meal" to no avail. The classic "children are starving in China" guilt ploy was met with "so send this to them."
Whether psychological or physiological or both, my palae remained incredibly constricted for years. The first time I ate vegetables was in boot camp, when I was so hungry anything tasted good. Since then my palate (and waistline) have continued to expand.
Interestingly, my oldest niece was an equally picky eater and the maternal guilt and concern repeated. She is now a lovely and successful young woman whose palate has expanded since college.
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Old Dec 31st, 2009, 07:45 PM
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My best friend's daughter, who is now 23, was not a picky eater when she was little. We used to take her to lots of different restaurants here in L.A. and she ate everything from American food to Thai food to whatever else. She even liked hot and spicy. When my best friend and her husband used to take her to places around the world while on vacation, it wasn't a problem. And she started traveling internationally very young. Happy Travels!
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Old Dec 31st, 2009, 08:59 PM
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It seems this thread should really be in the Lounge instead of the Europe Forum but in any case..

I was a picky eater way back before fast food was even a concept I hated most vegetables but after I was an adult I discovered that I hated vegetables because my mother boiled them to death so to speak inspite of of the fact she always had a vegetable garden. Once I experienced vegetable prepared properly I found I loved them.

And as a child I loved liver and onions, spinach and chard and lamb. Food most kids hate. I never had much of a sweet tooth and don't to this day. As a teen we didn't have pizza delivery but my aunt who I stayed with a lot would take me to Genova Deli in Oakland for pizza and we always ordered the pizza with anchovies which most people don't like. I loved the anchiovies!

Who knows why children, teens or adults like certain foods and dislike other other foods. To this day I hate green string beans, okra and eggplant. I love raw oysters and mussels which make some people shudder.

I only can conclude that we all have different taste buds and consequently like or dislike certain foods.
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Old Dec 31st, 2009, 09:20 PM
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I think there are a lot of factors at play.

Certainly a BIG part is what the parents eat (how adventurous are they). My older son was eating Brie at 3 and both boys loved shrimp, crab, and crawfish as toddlers. Chinese/Thai food was always big as well. On the other hand, the rest of my husband's family is rather picky - nothing remotely spicy, several refuse to eat Chinese/Thai, and most have never had seafood that wasn't frozen.

I also believe kids go thru stages. As I said, my older one ate Brie at 3, refused to eat it at about 6, then started back again as a teenager. He has always liked shrimp, but now is not so keen on it. I'm not worried - there is too much New Orleans in the boy. He'll be back eating it at some point!

My younger son was always "pickier" than the oldest, but he was also highly sensitive to many things. Bright sunlight and loud noises were hard on him. Certain fabric in clothing gave him major problems. And he didn't like the texture of some foods - especially beans. He's grown out of most of that now, but he still hates beans (as do I! )

During our years living/traveling overseas, we always encouraged (but never forced) the kids to try new things. There were times they wanted pasta or french fries or wiener schnitzl or pizza - that was fine. There were other times they had duck, oysters, grilled shrimp, salmon, Thai curry, etc.

Kids are kids. The trick is to know what to expect when traveling. The BIGGEST obstacle I faced on our vacations was DH.....who just couldn't get it thru his cute skull that young kids/teenagers (especially boys) need to eat SOMETHING every couple of hours. The "3 meals a day" concept just doesn't work. So - we learned to take "refreshment breaks" every 2-3 hours. DH and I would get a beer or a glass of wine (depending on where we were) and the boys would get a light snack. They were still hungry at dinner and all was well!
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Old Dec 31st, 2009, 09:22 PM
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>

Oh LI! I bet you'd like MY okra and eggplant! Like many things - they just need to be cooked properly, and most places just don't!

(can't help you on the string beans - I hate them too!)
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Old Dec 31st, 2009, 10:13 PM
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When my first son was a baby, I put chicken nuggets in a blender and fed them to him in his bottle. When he would point at a vegetable or piece of fruit, I would hand him a piece of candy. And once he got teeth, I tried to make sure to serve nothing but pasta with sauce out of a jar.

It worked! He's extremely picky, and I take all the credit! He eats only meat, pasta, bread, and some fruit, and I hardly ever have to cook anything from scratch for him.

It does not explain my younger son, who is growing up in the same house, who foregoes most meat (although he LOVES the fatty edge of the steak or the turkey skin, and any kind of sausage -- he's been eating salami for breakfast for a week now), eats spinach and salad like it's going out of style, especially if has blue cheese in it, and fights us for the tuna sushi.

Kids are all different. I refuse to take the blame for Thing 1, except to the extent that it may be genetic, because I was EXTREMELY picky until I got to college. The difference is that the things my parents did to get me to eat seem almost abusive to a lot of people now. And you know what - they did force me to eat a lot of things, but they did not force me to like them.

Of course environment plays a role in this - have you ever seen a Japanese toddler attack a snack pack of nato beans? Man, I cannot get those things down, and I love most Japanese food. But I am willing to bet there are a few Japanese kids who don't like them, either.
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Old Dec 31st, 2009, 10:59 PM
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Oh Grcxx3, your comment reminds me of our late MissJane aka JGarvey. She always told me when I came to Chicago (I so wish I could have done so) I would LOVE string beans that she put in her Bloody Mary's. I kept telling "no, I don't think so" but she said I would. I imagine, dear one, that I would like your eggplant (even though I hate it even when in Italy but don't tell anyone) and your okra..can it really be prepared without be slimy?
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Old Dec 31st, 2009, 11:51 PM
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Kids become "picky eaters" because they've been accommodated by their parents.

Whatever happened to being served nothing else until the next meal? If that's all there is - they eat or go hungry?

My kid was fine until the relatives got hold of him. ("How dare you serve him whole wheat toast with no butter or jelly?", which, to him, was as good as cookies.)

When he didn't care much for vegetables, when preparing dinner, the vegetables were served first and, when he had to wait a while for the protein/starch parts of the meal, the vegetables disappeared!

And, when dining out, I never ordered for him from the kids' menu (hot dogs, chicken fingers, fries, spaghetti...), rather the diet plate with fruits, veggies, cottage cheese, maybe a burger with no bun.

Kids will eat just about anything when the alternative is to go hungry.

By the time my son was in school, the only thing (to my recollection) he didn't like and wouldn't eat was whipped cream. Go figure.

Though, once in a while, lack of cooking skills probably figures in. My two nieces wouldn't eat anything their mother prepared and would stare at it indefinitely (and were painfully thin), but at our house they'd gobble up anything I put in front of them.

Nowadays, another problem is Dining at a Table! When we took our daughter and her three boys to a restaurant for Mother's Day one year, they just would not stay in their chairs! No surprise, as at home, they were allowed to eat all over rather than at the table!

Same goes for manners. "Back in the day..." "restaurant manners" were required at home - all the time.

Another problem is parents who serve soda (rather than milk or water) with meals.

All in all, one of the very best ways to get a child to try something is to wait until they are very hungry and tell them, "You won't like this..."
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Old Jan 1st, 2010, 01:07 AM
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One family member when coming to my mother's house for dinner when I was cooking there on vacation would always call and ask about the dishes to be served and would show up with boiled spaghetti for picky eater number two.

I always wished they'd send him over to Spain for a month one summer ...
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Old Jan 1st, 2010, 01:46 AM
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I was a war child and if you didn't eat what was set before you, you literally went hungry.
We didn't snack between meals apart from eating fruit from the garden.
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