Picky Eaters: Born or Bred?

I never thought I’d be the mother of a picky eater. What imbued me with such confidence? Why, I wouldn’t allow it! I’d feed my child normal, adult foods and she would eat them, too. If she whined about it, too bad. I didn’t want to turn food into a power-play, and I didn’t want to have the kind of child who survived on Saltines and gummy worms.

I remember reading a magazine article about a mother who used to be some sort of gourmet city-slicker. Pre-kids, she and her husband would frequent all of the hottest restaurants and try all the newest food fads. She loved food—she was a food writer, for god’s sake! Two kids later, she was eating hot dogs every single night. That will never happen to me, I said to myself. I won’t allow it! NEVER!

So how did I end up here, with a daughter who does indeed survive on white food and air? Lately we’ve been on a mission to expand her eating repertoire, and she was very proud of herself for trying “salad.” That meant a microscopic piece of lettuce went into her mouth for a few seconds before she spit it out.

Here’s how it happened: She was born this way. I believe that now. I know parents of picky eaters and parents of good eaters. Sometimes the parents are picky themselves; sometimes they’re not. Sometimes one kid in the family is picky, the other is not. I think it’s just the way it goes. Audrey never liked eating. She wasn’t a good nursling. She’s always been skinny.

When it was time to introduce solid foods, I wanted to do it right. Don’t feed them rice cereal, I’d heard. If you do, they’ll develop a taste for bland foods and eat nothing else. Okay. So her first food was avocado. Then I made my own baby cereal out of ground oats. I added in pureed kale and black beans and squash. She ate almost anything if it was mixed into oatmeal. Yet we still struggled to keep her weight up, which I wrote about here in Fattening Baby, Naturally.

She got a little older and we fed her spicy foods—pad thai and salsa. She ate it up just fine. And then at some point, the pickiness settled in like a permanent fog. You see, she started making up her own mind—we could no longer shovel kale and oats into her open bird-mouth. She could say no. She was still too little for her age, so my “just make them eat what we’re eating” model didn’t work out the way I’d envisioned. The thing was, she wouldn’t eat it. She would go hungry if I did that. That’s how it began—we started thinking that she’d enjoy eating more if we fed her things she liked—toast and cheese and fruit.

I made a list of everything Audrey will eat on one of my old picky-eating posts, and some people said they didn’t think her diet sounded so bad. Now it’s three years later, and her diet is more or less the same.

While I do (sort of) believe that she is a picky eater by nature, it’s time that I admit that we have been enabling her pickiness, too. We’ve recently embarked on a mission to introduce her to more foods. I’ll post about our progress (or lack thereof) in the upcoming months. 2013 is going to be the year we turn her eating around. Just you wait!


  1. I think society comes down on so-called picky eaters too much, frankly. We all have our food preferences and as long as the picky eating is not restricted to Chicken McNuggets and French fries I don’t think it’s a big deal.

    My 6-year-old son is a picky eater. He likes tofu, black beans and kidney beans, rice (purple, white, or brown), quinoa, whole wheat pasta spirals, cheese pizza, peas, cucumber, pears, apples, banana pancakes and waffles, oatmeal, chocolate, cookies, milk, and French fries. From my perspective, this makes cooking for him very easy, and I can usually incorporate some of the same ingredients into my dinner while also adding things like stir-fried veggies or cheese to mine.

    Here are some of the things he refuses to eat: soda, juice, ice cream, any candy that isn’t plain chocolate (his dad and I got most of his Halloween stash), any fried food other than French fries.

    So while I do miss the days when he would eat a peanut butter sandwich or a whole wheat bagel with cream cheese, overall I think I’m pretty lucky.

  2. Larisa, he sounds like a very healthy picky eater! I am laughing at his refusal to eat candy and ice cream. “Just eat the Butterfinger!” For the most part, I have not been too worried about Audrey’s pickiness, though it gets annoying at times. I feel like she’ll grow up with fewer issues if I am relaxed about it and not trying to force-feed her things she hates. We’ll see.

  3. Thanks for posting this. I found it on Facebook. It sounds very similar to my story. I too never thought I’d be the mother of a picky eater. Ditto for “Why, I wouldn’t allow it! I’d feed my child normal, adult foods and she would eat them, too. If she whined about it, too bad. I didn’t want to turn food into a power-play”. The problem was that my child therefore just did not eat or she did not eat much. She too would go hungry. Between 9 mths and 16 mths she put on less than a pound. She was not really putting on any weight. We ended up spraying olive oil on almost everything and then at 18 mths she became tolerant to dairy and so we did a lot of butter on everything.

    My daughter is now 3 and is still on the skinny side, but at least she is healthy. She is not a good eater and I too want to follow your lead and introduce her to more foods this year. Thanks for the inspiration.

  4. I was a picky eater and still somewhat am. My brother and I were raised the same and he isn’t picky at all. For me I have some sensory issues and I feel that really comes into play with what I want to eat. Often it’s not the flavor but the smell or texture of the food that puts me off.

    You can still get a well rounded diet as a picky eater, so I wouldn’t be to worried if you can just be sure she is eating some of every thing she needs. 🙂

  5. I have 3 children and I agree with the philosophy that the kids should eat whatever we as the parents eat. I have kept food and meal time as stress free as possible in our home. Our kids go through phases where they don’t want to eat much and other times they will eat more than me.

    My children have always been ” underweight” as well. Our biggest problem was with other peoples opinions of how thin our kids were. The pediatricians was the only opinion we ever considered. Now with our oldest age 13, and her finding her way through the awkward age of adolescence. We are noticing her loose that skinniness that has always plagued her.

    In my opinion I still will not cater to their whims if they get to picky. If the choice isn’t available for mealtimes, they will eat when they are hungry. Unless of course there is inner turmoil in the home at meal time, or the school keeps interjecting the weight problem in America on your Kindergartener… Then there is a shift that needs to take place that builds the kids self confidence at home.

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