Are parents to blame for picky eaters?

It’s too mushy! It’s too crunchy! The peas are touching the chicken! As a parent of two, I’ve often heard these battle cries. As much as I hate to admit it, my kids are a bit picky when it comes to food. Some of it relates to taste but a lot of the hang-up is on textures. When both of my babies inched closer to the solids stage, I was determined to make sure that the next fuel for their bodies would be healthy and nutritious.

I choose organic veggies, fruits and protein and pureed, delicious, homemade concoctions. But when the purees graduated to chunky, my kiddos graduated to yucky. We’ve all seen it…they furrow the brow and turn up the nose in complete and utter disgust at the whole steamed carrot, insisting that pureed carrots are delicious and taste nothing like their sturdier counterpart. Persistence pays in the picky world. There are really only so many pieces of carrot that you can clean up off the floor (my limit is 16, I’ve counted) before the going to bed hungry option starts to not feel like outrageous child neglect. But, alas, I grab another container of applesauce just for good measure.

This has been the case for both my kids, yet I’ve clearly witnessed those magic moms that feed their kids Brussels sprouts and salmon with smiles all around. Fortunately, with my now 4-year-old, her texture woes subsided and little-by-little she tried new things. My 1-year-old son, on the other hand, seems to be holding tight to his food convictions. Feeling completely defeated, I brought this up to our pediatrician who told me very simply, “Babies will not knowingly starve themselves, and they won’t go to college eating purees.” This is why I love our doc…he always finds a way to rein in the stressed-out mom syndrome with a dose of reality. He also gave some quick tips like:

  • Offer crunchy finger foods first. Try grated apples or pears, rice cakes and cheerios.
  • Alternate offering solid meals with smooth purees; if he refuses his chunkier solids, he won’t have long to wait until his next meal.
  • Give him a main course containing lumpy, solid foods followed by a more liquid pudding like yogurt or fruit puree.
  • Try, try again. Some children need to be offered a new food as many as 10-15 times before they will eat it.

Although it sometimes feels like it, my kids actually aren’t the only picky eaters in the world. In fact, according to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, they’re not alone, and it’s not their fault — it’s mine.

According to the report, scientists discovered that most children can attribute 78 percent of their food aversions to genetics. If parents have a strong dislike of a certain food or have texture issues themselves, most likely their child will also experience that to some level.

But, even though food aversions appear to be genetic, doctors say parents of picky eaters can’t just surrender and pass the pasta.

“We have to understand that biology is not destiny,” says Patricia Pliner, a social psychology professor at the University of Toronto in his New York Times Interview. “This doesn’t necessarily mean there is nothing we can do about the environment.”

Pliner’s recommendation is to keep trying. She says repeated exposure to new foods every day for between five days to two weeks is an effective way to overcome a child’s fears and aversion.

So my little guy is clearly not off the hook, and it sounds like I’ll be cleaning up carrots for quite some time. We’ll just have to keep it to less than 16 pieces per serving. Hang in there parents of pickies and know that you are not alone.

Kiley Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer who lives in the Tulsa area with her husband and two children.

Categories: Little Ones