Why are kids so picky?

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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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294 comments to Why are kids so picky?

  • Shannon

    We have a unique picky eater. For her she has difficulty trying new things. Vegetables are almost at a total loss but I can convince her if it’s mixed in with egg or cheese. As an example she’s excited about making shakes with spinach and banana and berries. We make plain steel cut oatmeal and add hemp hearts banana and raisins. From a young age she would devour the veggie flatbreads from Jugo Juice onions and all. Now give her a single vegetable on its own and we’re down to raw carrots, occasionally. It took forty five minutes to get her to try mango but was really excited to immediately try smoked salmon?!?! She’s two and a half now so fingers crossed she’ll find her way but persistence is key. She would live on cheese and yogurt if we let her but I’m too stubborn to allow her to fill up on one or two types of food all day. Processed foods truly is the downfall of western civilizations. Good luck moms!

  • Hello! I am against giving my kids processed foods, so we make almost everything from scratch. My kids are really really picky. I’ve never made they a separate meal; they’ve always eaten what we eat. However, my 16 month old has started screaming, throwing her food and crying making mealtime extremely stressful and unpleasant for everyone. She refuses to eat most things and then goes to bed hungry. Then, she frequently waking in the night because she’s hungry. How do we stop this insane cycle?!

  • Jennifer Gillespie

    Oh my goodness. That is the exact list of what my daughter will eat. Very limited. So there is hope?

  • liz

    I fed my baby nothing but “real food”. She is 2.5 and such a picky eater, I am just beside myself with what to do. She eats any fruit, dried fruit, but no meat (which is fine with me), and a limited ammount of veggi’s. I recently started juicing veggi’s for her (which she likes) just needing advice to get her to eat dinner.
    My 7 month old eats everything from black beans to tomato’s.. maybe she will rub off on the toddler!

  • Lisa

    This is an extremely old post, so I doubt my comment will ever be noticed by anyone, but I just had to give my 2 cents since my life experience is perhaps different than most. I married a man with an 11 year old son & a 13 year old daughter. They were the pickiest eaters I’d ever seen! He took them to a pediatrician when they were young & expressed his concerns & that doctor told him to feed the kids whatever they would eat and that trying to force them to eat something else would only give them negative associations with food, making the problem worse and lifelong. So that’s what he did – offering, but never requiring they even try something new. And they existed for decades on nothing but peanut butter and frozen pizza.

    Fast forward a couple of years and we had a daughter together. She again was extremely picky. I consulted her pediatrician, a dietician, her gastroenteroligist was involved, we tried feeding therapy – I NEVER gave up. She is still a picky eater, but eats at least twice as many foods as she once did, including several vegetables. She saw me cooking the other day and shouted “I love broccolli!” I won. It’s that simple. It will probably be somewhat of a battle for us her whole childhood, but she will not be a 27 year old married mother of 2 who still can’t stand the thought of onions in anything, or any vegetable besides peas, like her half sister.

    Don’t give up!!

  • Laura

    We have been giving our 14 month old whatever we eat each night. Tonight he had flounder and asparagus. Last night, he ate turnips and he loved them. When we told my parents that he loved turnips, they said “gross”. Our goal is to give him as many whole foods and homemade food we can. “Kid food” is an invention of American culture, we don’t believe in “kid food” in our house.

  • Kristen

    First if all, I just found this blog and I love you. I love the journey you have taken. I love your family’s courage. And I love that you are honest and open and that this change has been wonderful.

    So about picky eaters, I truly believe that kids who’s tastes have not been spoiled by bland sugary processed foods eat more well rounded in general. But that can also be corrected, as you have proved. I also believe however that not making a big deal of things at meals makes a huge difference. I require a vegetable to be part of dinner. They’d (5 year old & 2 yr old) be surprised if a meal came without one. They must try it. It’s ok if they don’t like it. And they do not have to eat once they are full as long as they have a taste of everything. (There is no food later tho if you are full you are full. Period) I usually put out new “scary” foods as if I am feeding a tiger- fast and with no eye contact or comment. (I’ve served many a friend’s child this way and mom is surprised their kid ate that) last thing is go light on snacks. A clementine, half an apple will suffice. I know if my kids eat a whole banana or crackers they will not eat as well at dinner.
    So my secret, not secret, is 1) “treats” are just that. No processed food in the house. They can have junk food at parties and holidays (and grandmas)
    2) don’t make a big deal. Look away. Steer conversation to what they did at school or what was their favorite part of the day
    3) snack should have nutritional value.

    Thanks for the great great blog keep it up!!!

  • Amy

    I like to cook and since it was usually just my daughter and I,I always fed her what I was eating. She is not a picky eater and never was. I did follow a lot of the rules in the French kids book but that was before it was published. She has a very diverse palate and likes to eat healthy foods. (She’s 18) I hope that all of the work I put in teaching her healthy habits and to enjoy real food will pay off. Her dad’s family has a real problem with being overweight. This is not to say that she never eats processed foods or junk, but she does so knowing that she will feel better if she doesn’t. Don’t give up hope moms!

  • Gretta

    My daughter is extremely pick. The foods listed above in this post she will gobble up, but trying new thing is a horror for her. She hates new things, wants to eat only plain things, etc. She loves bread and has helped me make the whole-grain biscuits and zucchini bread recipes I found on this blog. Which she enjoys, so I will count that as a win. This year getting her to eat peanut butter was a success, she was so opposed to new things or things mom eats. I will continue to offer only what we are eating, but make sure it includes enough healthy options for her to have a choice.

    I remember myself at that age, and I was the same way. I ate bread and pasta. So, I know this will not last forever and she is just a kid, but I do worry a lot about the nutritional aspect of her diet and fight to get real food into it!

  • [...] when it comes to food. I know I am not the only one who often wonders why so many think that kids will only eat and enjoy “kid food” like pizza, chicken fingers, plain pasta, hot dogs, and macaroni & [...]

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