Sunday, August 13, 2017

Picky Eaters? The Extinction of the Kitchen Table


Winning Over the Kitchen’s Loudest Critics

By Tara Parker-Pope October 10, 2007 6:25 pm October 10, 2007 6:25 pm
The New York Times

A few years ago when some friends came over for dinner, one of the mothers arrived carrying her own pack of hot dogs. “My kids only eat Oscar Meyer hot dogs,’’ she told me.

A story in today’s New York Times highlights the fact that a child’s food preferences may be in part genetically determined. But many studies have found that genes aren’t the only factor. Often well-intentioned parents reinforce picky eating habits by giving up too soon when a child rejects a food.

Kids are born with a preference for sweet and salty items, and it’s natural for them to be averse to a food the first time they try it. The evolutionary explanation is that so-called neophobia, or fear of new things, kept our ancestors from eating exotic, poisonous berries and plants. Yet children can and do learn to like a wide variety of foods. These preferences are influenced by how frequently parents offer new foods and how they react when their children eat it — or don’t.

Persistence pays, researchers have found. In studies of 2-year-olds, fruits and cheese had to be offered five to 10 times before a child would accept them. Nutritionist Susan Roberts of Tufts University believes in the “rule of 15″ — parents must set down a food at least 15 times before a child will begin to like it.

One good piece of advice I’ve learned from nutritionists like her: remain neutral when your kid likes or rejects a food. Don’t praise them for eating something, and don’t show frustration when they don’t; don’t reward, and don’t punish. Just put the food in front of them, encourage them to eat it and clear the table when everyone is done.

The scientific support for this strategy comes from researchers at Pennsylvania State University. They studied children who were given rewards, including stickers or the chance to watch television, after they ate their vegetables or drank milk. Later, children expressed dislike for those foods, even though they had received positive reinforcement for eating them.

That doesn’t mean that parents should put broccoli on the table every day for two weeks, says Dr. Roberts. Instead, bring the rejected fare back in a few days and again in a few weeks. It may take a while, she says, but eventually kids will learn to accept the new menu items — and one day, maybe to love them, too.
*****

Readers offered some sage advice following my report that despite the fact that some food preferences are genetic, kids can be trained to like a variety of foods.

When my kids were little, I put dinner on the table and just acted as if everyone were expected to eat it. I cooked whatever I liked, not what I thought they might eat. My youngest did not like vegetables. The oldest adored them. The only “rule” was that everyone had to taste one forkful of everything that was served and skip the comments please. If parents stopped worrying about their children’s behavior and just served a variety of meals, their life would be much simpler. — Posted by JB

A few readers noted that even picky eaters eventually learn to like most foods.

The No Bad Mouthing Food Or What Other People Are Eating At The Table were hard and fast rules at our dinner table. My son went through a few picky spells but drank milk and ate broccoli consistently through childhood. Now he is a tall, slim, healthy 20 year old who will eat just about anything (still working up to shellfish, however). — Posted by Cwinters

Finally, one mom noted that forcing kids to eat certain foods doesn’t help.

Having raised “the world’s pickiest eater” who is now an adult gourmand, and watching him raise a daughter who is also exquisitely sensitive to the taste of foods (at 14 she still rejects fruits) — I agree that minimizing response to the rejection of food is extremely important. Each family has to find what brings peace to their household, but forcing any person (even adults) to eat something they hate just creates more stress and often lasting resentment. — Posted by Ellie Taylor

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Laura Bramson October 16, 2007 · 2:32 pm

It seems to me that rather than picky eating being hereditary, what’s going on is that parents who were picky eaters as children are more willing to tolerate their own children being picky. My experience is that if you let kids be picky – i.e. you give them the few foods they demand, you serve special kid meals – then they’ll be picky forever. I gave up preparing special “kid meals” years ago. Now I cook what I like, keeping in mind what my kids like, and they can eat or not eat what is served. If they choose not to eat, I won’t force them, but I won’t make them something else either. One of my kids remains stubbornly picky, and barely eats at many meals, but is strong and healthy and not starving at all. The other eats a wide variety of foods, but will still boycott some dinners. There are no apparent ill effects from his occasional skipped dinner either. Parents need to relax – healthy kids will not starve themselves so don’t indulge pickiness.
Rita Reeve October 17, 2007 · 12:12 am

My experience with children’s eating habits is that if I served a balanced meal and did not provide a steady diet of sweets, the children would eat almost anything. Some items were not liked and I didn’t force the issue. Making a big deal about what the child is or is not eating only rewards picky eating by making the child and his/her behavior the center of attention. I did require them to try unliked items “once a year” because “your taste buds change as you grow up, and if you don’t taste things just because you didn’t like them as a baby, you’ll miss out on your favorite foods”. This appeared to work, they would try anything and usually didn’t wait a full year to try again. They report as adults that they still try new items willingly. I firmly believed that no child ever voluntarily starved to death. In college my daughter had a roommate who would not try anything unfamiliar because she had a fear of choking on it. I assumed this was because she had been forced to eat something unfamiliar as a child and choked on it. So on a camping trip I suggested that she try new items, and if she thought she was choking, to spit it out (advantage of outdoor eating). She tried and ate everything, liked some, disliked others, but began to overcome her fear of unfamiliar foods. She now has normal eating habits.
Nerissa October 17, 2007 · 12:20 am

I am always surprised by the number of adults who seem to think that children who are picky eaters are just being difficult.

Researchers have now identified people that are “supertasters” because they have a higher number of taste buds. An inevitable question is why are children generally pickier about food than adults. That is because our taste buds age along with the rest of our bodies and become less sensitive over time.

I am not saying that parents should cater to picky eaters or spend their evenings preparing different meals for every family member. However, I see analogies to how schools used to force left-handed children to write with their right hand. At some point, you’re just denying the physical reality of the situation.
Grammy October 22, 2007 · 6:14 am

Learn as much as you can about good nutrition; snacks between meals should be provided to children because their stomachs are smaller than adults. If you allow them to be “out of control picky eaters” (because you (parent) are a picky eater) later in life their bones become brittle, their teeth are not as healthy as they should be, etc. A dietician/nutritionist should be at the top of your healthcare professionals. Remember, “We are what we eat!”
Robert October 23, 2007 · 3:42 pm

I think it’s hilarious that people here and everywhere are coming to conclusions about all kids based on their observations of their own. I hope nobody pulls a muscle patting themselves on the back because their strategy resulted in kids who will eat their vegetables (or who eventually did). But you can save the self congratulations. It probably had nothing to do you with you at all. Bullying kids into eating will either work or it won’t. For those kids who weren’t going to eat anyway, everybody got to enjoy a seemingly never-ending string of dinnertime battles. What fun. For those kids who were going to eat their food eventually anyway, the fights were just as pointless. But for those of you who use your “triumph” to feel superior, good job. You’re super parents and super people. I’m sure everybody wishes they could be just like you.
Nancy October 23, 2007 · 4:39 pm

Most of the picky eaters I’ve known eventually grew out of it.
Joan October 24, 2007 · 9:44 pm

Amen, Robert.

The plural of anecdote is not data, and for every picky eater who was bullied into eating a pea and turned out okay, there is another kid who remembers those battles as battles not so much over food but over control, and can pinpoint that moment to the beginning of his or her lifelong eating disorder.

My husband doesn’t like certain foods, and I respect him enough to not force or cajole him into eating them. I hold that same respect for my children. The prejudice against children in this country is rampant. People think they are stellar parents because they are hard-asses over getting their kids to eat certain foods. Don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back. If you live in the United States, your kids are still certain to feel an inordinate amount of entitlement as a result of being indulged and pampered as compared to children in the rest of the world; their character won’t be improved all that much by inisisting on broccoli.
Robin October 24, 2007 · 9:45 pm

some interesting comments on both subjects. M
Kimberly Bodley October 26, 2007 · 1:46 pm

Woe to those parents who are critical of other parent’s “picky eaters!” I too was one of those parents. My first child ate anything and everything! In fact, he even ate things that I hated (liver and rutabagas to be exact)! I always smuggly proclaimed, “As long as you give children a healthy diet, they will never grow up to be a picky eater.” (Of course this was uttered with a self-knowing smile as I delivered this advice to parents of other picky children.)

Then god sent me my second son. He came out of the womb hating anything white and mushy – including pudding, all baby food, oatmeal, mashed potatoes, pasta, rice, etc. etc. As he grew older we knicknamed him, “Mr. Just Plain Nothin’ On It,” because that was his preference for all foods! Meats were to be baked or broiled, with nothing except a little salt and pepper. Vegetables were to be steamed with a little butter and salt. Since he still didn’t eat pasta, rice, or potatoes, gravies and sauces weren’t really an issue! Forget about casseroles! He hated it when his meals came “all messed together.”

Unfortunately, coming from the midwest, his grandmother’s served up Sunday dinners resplendent in sauces, gravies, and casseroles! Family gatherings were frequently sprinkled with comments from other siblings about my “picky eater.”

Fortunately, as my son grew up, he began to get hungry – and hunger as a teenager must be asuaged – by any food in the vicinity! He soon found that some of the foods (i.e. potatoes, pasta, rice, etc.) would fill that empty spot left over after he had downed the allotted number of pork chops and veggies. I am proud to say that as a young adult he has left his “picky eater” tag behind (although still having a preference for “just plain nothin’ on it” choices).

So – my advice to parents of children who blissfully consume anything on the menu – cherish them and keep your mouth shut – or you too could be deemed by the fates to produce a second child that through no fault of your own is a “picky eater!” Remember the hardest dish of all to digest is our own words!
Dr. John October 26, 2007 · 2:02 pm

Joan is right – a lot of the battle over picky eating has little to do with nutrition and a lot to do with control. This is true of other adults as well as our own children. I personally just don’t enjoy being around people who are excessively finicky and picky, where every action and decision has to be thought out with care and attention. (This is a matter of degree, of course. I consider other people’s feelings, but exactly how choosy people should be is debatable. About as choosy as I am would be perfect!!) I suppose that more particular people are annoyed by my laissez-faire attitude. Each parent can decide how much they want their kids to make it a point to change each and every thing they don’t like, and how much they tolerate anything and accept what’s in front of them.

As far as nutrition, OVERWHELMINGLY the biggest health risk in the US right now is OVERWEIGHT and OBESITY. Diabetes is a terrible disease and now 8-10 year old kids are getting obesity-caused type 2 diabetes, a disease of 40 and 50 year olds. Healthy eating is not eating “healthy” – it is eating LESS. “Quantity is a quality”.
Mercedus October 26, 2007 · 2:13 pm

I have to agree with Laura- a hungry child will eat, regardless of what you put on their plates. Arguing with a toddler only makes you upset and keeps them entertained. They want to see how many shades your face will go through in your desire to make them eat.

The only thing I insist upon is that our children join us at the table for dinner. Don’t want to eat…I’ll take their portion for lunch. But I will not ruin the meal for everyone else over a serving of carrots.
Sarah October 26, 2007 · 3:13 pm

I still remember my mother’s trick – if you didn’t like something served, you could make 2 piles of it. The catch – she got to pick which pile you ate. Soon, we learned to make 2 equal piles because if we didn’t, she would pick the larger one for you to eat. This way, we ate at least half of whatever it was – usually veggies.

We all grew up to love our vegetables, and my youngest sister is even a vegetarian!

I am thankful every day that my mom “tricked” us in this way.


Ellie Taylor October 11, 2007 · 6:50 am

Having raised “the world’s pickiest eater” who is now an adult gourmand, and watching him raise a daughter who is also exquisitely sensitive to the taste of foods (at 14 she still rejects fruits) — I agree that minimizing response to the rejection of food is extremelyl important. I’ve spent two years researching picky eating for a book. Strategies that work include continued exposure to all foods without pressure to eat them, positive responses or polite ‘no thank you” as the only food comments allowed at the table (that’s a NO BAD MOUTHING THE FOOD rule), and no short order cooking (just include one thing that the picky eater WILL eat). Each family has to find what brings peace to their household, but forcing any person (even adults) to eat something they hate just creates more stress and often lasting resentment. Ellie Taylor — Feeding the Kids: The Flexible, No-Battles, Healthy Eating System for the Whole Family.
Felice October 11, 2007 · 10:40 am

I believe in the “rule of 15,” i.e, that parents should set down a food at least 15 times before a child will begin to like it. I always made chopped salad for dinners when my children were younger and always made broccoli for them too. My kids wound up being the only ones amongst their friends who ate those foods on a regular basis. Now teenagers, my kids eat very healthy, and for my 2 daughters especially this has helped combat weight gain.
MARK KLEIN, M.D. October 11, 2007 · 10:59 am

Agree 100% with Ellie’s comment above about not turning the dinner table into a war zone.

Family meals with young children are stressful enough without adding even more arrows to the kids’ dinner time behaviorial quiver. What worked for us was feeding the kids what they liked so long it was nutritious. That’s easier said than done unless, as was the case in my home, the mother was a fulltime homemaker who liked cooking and meal planning.

Was determined with my kids not to do the “starving children in Europe” shtick which turns dinner time into D Day on Omaha Beach!
Cwinters October 11, 2007 · 1:06 pm

The No Bad Mouthing Food OR What Other People Are Eating At The Table were hard and fast rules at our dinner table. Also refer to the excellent recent article in the Times about fixing a variety of foods for a meal, not mixing them (i.e. pasta and sauce separately) so that everyone can eat their preferred foods. Offer a wide variety. My son went through a few picky spells but drank milk and ate broccoli consistently through childhood. Now he is a tall, slim, healthy 20 year old who will eat just about anything (still working up to shellfish, however).
E October 11, 2007 · 6:13 pm

I never second guessed anything put in front of me as a child–my parents regularly took me out for Thai food–I was eating sushi when I was 8! Honestly, my parents never acted like anything was special or different,a plate of lima beans wasn’t different from a spicy tuna roll. My mother began serving me processed or chopped up portions of whatever the adults were having for dinner before I was one, I believe. No bland gerbers for me!Honestly, feed kids that crap and they’re not going to want anything with real flavor.
I never thought that eating Indian food or anything with lots of flavor was off putting. I remember going to a fancy family dinner in fourth grade and I just had to order the escargot-and loved it.
I actually hated the food that my neighbors would make for their picky eaters, lots of bland foods- like corn chowder and hated eating at their house!
minu October 11, 2007 · 11:52 pm

It is depend on a child behavior what he likes to eat mostly but the varieties of food does effect a child in eating habit. If we give them the same food time and over again, they start to hate them, changing or alternative is very important. As a mother of two, once my 2 years old starts to feel like not eating her favorite food, I stop to give her for few days. After few days, I start to give her again and she likes again too.
JB October 12, 2007 · 1:19 pm

All this pandering to children’s wishes is a hallmark of the capitulation of today’s parents.

When my kids were little, I put dinner on the table and just acted as if everyone were expected to eat it. I cooked whatever I liked, not what I thought they might eat. My youngest did not like vegetables. The oldest adored them. The only “rule” was that everyone had to taste one forkful of everything that was served and skip the comments please.

When I was in a hurry, I’d bring home fast food like McD’s or KFC, until they finally rebelled and refused to eat any more of it. So, I switched to making casseroles ahead, and they dealt with their food preferences by scooping out whatever they didn’t like and leaving it on the plate – quietly.

The veggie-hater is now a vegetarian. The oldest is an omnivore. They both eat wholesome, freshly prepared food. They can cook almost as well as I do. They don’t eat fast food – their idea of carryout is Sushi or Asian food.

If parents stopped worrying about their children’s behavior and just served a variety of meals, their life would be much simpler.
Felicia October 17, 2007 · 1:03 am

My sons are open-minded, even adventuresome eaters. I never made a fuss about what I set on the table, never offered to make anything additional, and when they questioned a dish, I said only that they would enjoy it someday, and since today might be that day, they had to try it. I made cooking seem like a lot of fun when they were young, and, at 16 and 21, they both cook now. The best specific meal advice I can offer is not to let them pour a whole bowl of sugared cereal in the morning. Fill most of the bowl with a plain healthy cereal and let them use the sugary stuff only as a “garnish.”
Griffin October 18, 2007 · 4:13 pm

I’ve often wondered at the crazy “kid-centric” products available in the grocery store, specifically the de-crusted bread and frozen PB&Js. I had to ask my mom (a former home ec teacher) exactly who the market was for these things: “Kids whose parents cut the crusts of the bread for them.”

Asked I, “Did you ever do this for me?”

“No, I never gave you the choice.”

Then again, Mom had to keep me out of the garden so I wouldn’t eat all the brussels sprouts raw of the plants…
Anne Harris December 15, 2007 · 5:28 pm

And then there was my mother (I’m 79 now, she’s gone). She was bedridden with emphysema for several years before she died. I took time off from work in CA to visit her in VT about twice a year. When I did visit, she thought it hilariously funny to have her housekeeper serve foods she knew I hated, such as steak and kidney pie, or creamed sweetbreads. This couldn’t have been simple to arrange, as she lived in a very small town. I usually just went “Pfui” and made a peanut butter sandwich instead. Perhaps I should have vomited on her bed.
Julie Lesman January 14, 2008 · 9:52 pm

If the parents eat vegetables and other healthful foods their little ones as well. We have a two year old that eats almost everything.
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