Why are kids so picky?

Can someone please explain at what point in history it was decided that children’s menus would only offer the following?

  • Hamburger/Cheeseburger with French Fries (or Chips)
  • Hot Dog/Corn Dog with French Fries (or Chips)
  • Chicken Fingers with French Fries (or Chips)
  • Macaroni and Cheese
  • Cheese Pizza
  • Plain Pasta

Sure my kids would gladly devour any of these choices, but I often wonder when it was decided that kids need a special, separate meal in the first place? Since when can’t they just eat what the adults are eating? Has it always been this way? Surely not.

It amazes me when we go to birthday parties and the food served to kids consists of pizza and cake. How is that possibly being passed off as a “complete meal” for our next generation? Where are the fruit and vegetables? When was it decided that kids would only eat a handful of simple (and somewhat bland) foods? I understand that pizza is usually a crowd pleaser, but how and when did things get to be so limited?

How did children end up with such a limited palate?

I too used to be guilty of thinking kids had a very limited palate. Not long after embarking upon our “100 Days of Real Food” pledge it dawned on me that I had never before offered my daughters a salad because…they are kids after all! That is honestly the only reason (other than the fact that we didn’t eat salad all the much in the old days), but I just assumed they wouldn’t be interested because “kids don’t like salads”…right? Well you should have seen how shocked I was when I finally offered my children a salad and saw my older daughter actually eating it. And liking it! It took much longer for my younger daughter to come around, but after lots of repeated exposure she eventually became open to the idea of salad (and more importantly began to expect it as a norm at our family dinners). That was definitely a lesson learned for me.

One thing I’ve noticed is that many kids these days will only eat foods if they look a certain way (i.e. familiar). If there is a variation from the norm then the whole meal could be a flop. Why is that? I’ll never forget this one instance (long before our real food days) when my parents were babysitting my 3-year-old niece. They knew she liked and would eat Kraft Macaroni & Cheese so that was the plan for her dinner. But what they didn’t know was since they bought Kraft “Shells” Macaroni & Cheese instead of the traditional variety that all hell would break loose. Has anyone had a similar experience?

Do your kids willingly try new foods?

It’s no secret that food is a big part of my life and one of the things I am interested in is other people’s food choices. I am curious what choices they make and why. One thing I’ve noticed is that when I am preparing food in the kitchen and I offer my children a bite of something, they almost always take me up on it. Usually it’s something I know they love like a piece of parmesan cheese, a bite of pesto, or a roasted cashew, but I admit I occasionally take advantage of the situation and slip a piece of olive in their mouths just to be sure they still don’t like it. They’ll make a face and spit it out, but thankfully it doesn’t stop them from coming back. :)

I’ve also noticed when I offer other kids a little bite of something as well they are almost always very much against the idea of taking the sample (usually before they even know what it is). Maybe it’s because I am not their mom and they’re scared what that “Organic Miss Lisa” might try to make them eat, but their response is dramatically different than what I am used to with my own children. I bring this up because I am curious about other’s experiences when you offer your own children new foods or bites of what you might be eating. Do they act like it is straight-up poison?

Can a picky eater really be converted?

Our younger daughter used to be extremely picky so I totally get it. It was much easier and much less time consuming (and also much less likely that food would be wasted) if I only offered her what I knew she would eat. I recently came across a document I’d typed up – for the same babysitting grandparents mentioned above – that was a complete list of all the foods my younger daughter would eat (she was 3 at the time). Let me tell you that it was a very short list with a mere 31 items on it including Spaghettio’s, Goldfish, Graham Crackers, only 1 dish containing meat (spaghetti sauce), 5 types of fruit, and only 1 vegetable (frozen peas).

Looking back I am amazed at how far this child has come. She was one of those that would spit out her baby food before she knew it was fun to annoy mommy by not liking anything. Her palate was dramatically different than our older daughter’s from day one. But after two years (since taking our pledge) of repeatedly offering her a variety of different foods she thankfully now has a broader palate than most adults. I will be the first to tell you it has not been easy, and many months passed before any of our efforts started to pay off. But since this is one of my only first-hand examples of watching a child’s eating habits change over time, I wonder if I can really attribute the change in her to something we’ve done or if she would have grown out of that picky phase on her own regardless?

What’s your opinion?

So I’d love to open this up for discussion….what is everyone else’s experience/input on children’s eating habits these days? Why are so many kids so incredibly picky and is it possible to change their preferences? I wonder what it was like a hundred years ago (or even now in other countries)…have kids always been catered to with a limited variety of special, separate meals?? Do we only give kids pizza and hot dogs because that’s all they’ll eat or do they only eat pizza and hot dogs because that’s all we give them? How can we break this cycle?

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  • Comments

    1. acd |

      I honestly believe that picky is as picky does. If you eat real food while baby is in the womb, and raise them on homemade real food then the will not be picky. That doesn’t mean they won’t need convincing but I don’t think they will be “picky”.

      • Leah |

        Well I can tell you wholeheartedly that this is not true :(. We have never eaten fast food, and don’t eat processed food, and for a while my son was not picky, but then around 2.5 he just hit that picky phase and hasn’t grown out of it yet. He will march into the kitchen and start crying about dinner before he even knows what it is. He has a few meals/snacks that he likes (and I am lucky that they are pretty healthy, although limited), but everything else involves a fit. If anyone finds a real answer to this PLEASE pass it on! (or if you can tell me when this phase will end!!

    2. Kelli |

      I thankfully only have one who I consider picky and he is not that picky in the grand scheme of things. What has helped is our pediatrician told him she has a rule, you have to try two bites of everything on your plate. If you don’t like it after two bites that’s ok, you don’t have to finish. But the next time mom serves it, you have to try two bites again because tastes change. It has worked for a few foods.

    3. Megan |

      I am REALLY struggling with this. My kids definitely have preferences but they eat more variety than most kids I see these days and they are fairly willing to try new things. But my stepson is extremely picky and it causes a lot of food stress in the house. I know when they are over that he won’t eat 98% of what I put in front of him and I need to make special meals. I do keep offering different foods but it’s nearly impossible to feed 7 people on a budget when one of them eats probably 25 different foods, only one of which is a vegetable and maybe 5 of which are fruits. I guess all I can do is keep offering and hope it gets better but in the mean time, food is given WAY more space in my brain than it should.

    4. Christine |

      I ate a wide variety while the kids were in the womb. I gave them a wide variety when they were young and was so happy at the various foods they would eat and be willing to try. That lasted the first 5 years and it’s been downhill ever since. Foods they used to gobble up are now yucky. My adventurous eaters take quite a bit of cohersion to try something new. Even tried and true meals become won’t touch it or make the gagging/dying face with every bite. And it feeds off one another (God forbid you like something no one else does). Food is a constant battle in our house now. Sometimes I keep up the good fight, others not so well. One thing is for sure, every time I believe I have it all figured out, I’m proven I haven’t got a clue :-)

    5. elise |

      Our kids are too young to really know if they’ll outgrow their pickiness. But I’m grateful for this blog and other sources that repeat the same info – offer a healthy variety of foods! I was super picky up until my 20’s and my parents never catered to me, just offered the same food the rest of them were eating. I just didn’t want to eat most of it. No amount of coaxing, talking about nutritional benefits or any other method they attempted would change my mind. Thankfully my mom snuck in lots of veggies or added nutrients so I was healthy! That’s the approach we’re taking – offer lots, sneak in lots, but we sure don’t get upset over food.

    6. Sara Richins |

      My oldest daughter has always been picky. We get her to try everything by calling it a food adventure. She is very sensitive to textures, and I sometimes wonder if her fear of foods comes from the fact that she had a cleft palate as a baby which meant food would go into her sinuses and momentarily block her airways sometimes, so food may have been traumatic for her. She would only eat pureed foods until she was three. We’ve worked hard to make eating less emotional for her, but she still gags on a lot of delicious food. We don’t force her to eat it as that could lead to unhealthy attitudes about food and family in our opinion.

      My second loves food overall but has the occassional meltdown when a ffod she thinks she moght not like is on her plate. Sometimes the task is just to get her to have the food on their plate without crying about it. But a few minutes later, she eats it and asks for more.

      My third, 11 months, was begging for food early and gets upset if we don’t immediately give him exactly what is on pir plates. He is adventurous and aggressive by nature, especially at meal times.

    7. tina |

      My children have always been required to eat what they were given. Was it a struggle sometimes? Yes, but we stayed consistent and they ate. If kids are hungry, they will eat eventually. Now at ages 11 and 12 they eat (and love) things that i wont eat. I grew up being catered to at meal times and really wish i wouldnt have been. My kids love most things from all food groups. In my opinion we all need to cater less and demand more.

    8. Darrell |

      Today’s children are in my honest opinion spoiled. When I was a child, my mom cooked and at dinner we would all sit and eat whatever she cooked with no complaints or ugly faces or attitudes, it was not tolerated or acceptable because since we were babies we ate whatever was given to us by our parents.

      Today’s children feel like they are entitled to a “choice” in what they eat. And well meaning parents spoil their children’s sense of humility and thankfulness without even realizing it.

      In the 40’s when war rations were in the United States, families were blessed to have real meat once a month. Children then were respectful and eat whatever was set before them. I sometimes miss the good old simpler times.

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