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Sep 19, 2008 07:56 AM

6 Food Mistakes Parents Make -NYT


This article reminded me of all the people who had proudly posted about their children's eating habits, about how broad and eclectic their diets are, even at a young age. This article indicates that the CHer's are the rare exceptions rather than the rule. And it also makes cookbooks like Jessica Seinfeld's and Missy Chase Lapines look silly.

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  1. Thanks for posting that article. I serve my kids a very wide variety of foods, welcome them in the kitchen to help cook, and do all the things the article recommends, but my seven- and six-year-olds remain incredibly picky, seeming to get pickier the older they get. My son won't even touch any kind of fruit anymore and complains about the sauce on his pasta (that he's been eating his whole life). He would live on chicken nuggets, french fries and cake if he had his way. I have cookbooks for kids full of supposedly kid-friendly recipes for dishes he won't touch with a ten-foot pole. I don't know how to get a vegetable into this kid and am almost ready to resort to stealth techniques like in the books you mentioned--although I don't think it's right to sneak stuff into kids because it doesn't teach them to eat healthily.

    9 Replies
    1. re: jerosoma

      Hi Jerosoma-- I'd be very curious to know how you introduced your children to different foods. I've always been confused by the fact as to why children are averse to one thing or another.... for example, do kids in India complain when their food is too bland? As for your kids, there must have been a zero hour where your child ate their first chicken nugget, his first french fry, etc... how early in their life was it that they were introduced to these junkier foods? I've got a friend who raised his kids for the first few years of their lives in Jamaica... basically their diet was bland-free, chicken nugget free, etc.... when they wanted chicken, they caught one and wrang its neck. When they were babies, they drank breast milk (perhaps the mom's more spicy diet found its way into the breast milk and acclimated the child?) and then they ate what their parents ate, blended up into mush. No formula, no little jars of bland baby food....

      This is all sort of coming to me stream of consciousness, so forgive me if it all seems a bit randon, but I really am curious. If chicken nuggets didn't exist, the kids would eat something else... if no junk food existed, the kids would eat something else. So what exactly has happened to all of our kids in America, who default to the french fries and chicken nugget diet? Seriously?

      EDIT: At what point in their upbringing were your kids introduced to the junkier stuff, and more importantly, if you could do it over what would you have changed to discourage their developing a taste for it?

      Mr Taster

      1. re: Mr Taster

        There have been studies (or at least, one study) that show that, on average, children that are breastfed are less picky eaters than ones raised on formula. Breast milk always tastes different, depending on what the mother eats (and probably other factors as well), while formula always tastes the same, so babies become accustomed to a variety of tastes. But as jerosoma said, some kids will go through a picky phase where they won't eat things they ate before. Who knows why. But if there weren't chicken nuggets, there would be some other form of minimally flavored food (pasta without sauce is one I hear a lot, plain bread or potatoes, chicken without seasoning, etc.).

        1. re: Ruth Lafler

          But what I'm really asking is what if the kids grew up in a culture like India where a "minimally flavored food" was likely to not exist? (Well okay, I suppose rice pudding, sag paneer can be a little bland, etc... at least when prepared badly in the USA) But in India? Are there picky eaters? And then the question would get further split out into rich vs. poor.... perhaps the rich Indians are pickier than the poor ones? (certainly moreso than the impoverished ones, I would think)

          The point is, people do not have unlimited freedom of choice when it comes to food.... we can only choose from the selection that is presented to us, or that is easily available at the time we're hungry. It's not like at any given moment we can materialize either chicken nuggets or lamb vindaloo, hot dogs or stinky tofu in front of our faces at any given moment...

          I think there's probably something very truthful about the cultural influence like another poster said here.... that at home they eat mama's cooking, but out with their friends they eat the "normal" mainstream food they see on TV. I certainly understand that, because there was a time in my life (not terribly long ago) when I would have considered TV advertised food (think hot pockets, Applebees, etc.) "normal" and found comfort in it.

          But Jerosoma still hasn't answered me.... at what point did her kids eat their first nugget/fry/junk food? Could it have been avoided or delayed? Were your kids breast fed at the same time that mom ate a diverse diet? Did they start wanting food from the TV (maybe chicken nuggets?) that you never brought into your home? Where did your kids get the knowledge/urge/etc for these junky mainstream american foods?

          Mr Taster

          1. re: Mr Taster

            There are undoubtedly picky eaters everywhere. They're just picky in different ways. I think it has more to do with the psychological stages the child goes through than the actual foods themselves.

            1. re: Ruth Lafler

              And on second reading of this thread I see it was you who posited the idea of TV influence.... well done :)

              Mr Taster

            2. re: Mr Taster

              There was a thread about this somewhere else on the board and it was discovered that yes, there are picky eaters everywhere, both children and adults.

            3. re: Ruth Lafler

              I'm not doubting that the study exists, but I have to say that I'm tired of the breastfeeding vs formula debate. As a mother who intended to breastfeed and ended up feeding formula, every time I read a post like this, it sounds a little "holier than thou" to me. Excuse my touchiness.

              That said, my daughter may be the exception that proves the rule. Formula fed for her first year of life, the girl will eat just about anything. Her favorite restaurants are Sichuan Gourmet and Fugakyu (sushi) at 3 years old. I'm very proud.

              Of course, she likes chicken nuggets as much as the next kid. The difference is that we've exposed her to *everything* and never dumbed down food for her. I like chicken nuggets too (admittedly, we buy the Bell and Evans ones that seem a little more like real food) and we eat them together for lunch sometimes. So while she likes the nuggets, she also knows that there are so many other things out there that she likes as much or more.

              Seriously, the girl likes more vegetables than I do. Maybe I just got lucky with this one?

              1. re: MrsCheese

                The fact that the taste of breast milk varies and the taste of formula doesn't (unless you feed different brands of formula, and even then, it's not going to vary was much as breast milk) is a fact. People can assign whatever value judgments they want to it. No one in this thread said one was better than the other, just different. Even if it's true that breast-fed babies are less picky eaters, so what? Being a picky eater isn't some kind of horrible failing.

            4. re: Mr Taster

              If insanely picky nephew (spent years living on graham crackers, plain pasta and peanut butter sandwiches) had grown up in India, he would have likely subsisted there on a diet almost entirely of plain rice, naan, and a little bit of cheese.

          2. It's so true about the chocolate diet in the intro! So many parents are like "hmm let's add some chocolate chips so my kids will eat it".

            1. I agree with the point about allowing the child in the kitchen, when I am cooking my 2 year old daugther pushes her chair into the kitchen, and stands on it by the island, watching me cut veggies, stirring soups I am making, or watches me make, and tastes sauces I am making. She also wants to try my sauces, and gives her critique of what I have made. She is always wanting to see what is in the oven, the smoker, or the grill, as well as what is cooking in any pan.. She always is playing on her toy kitchen set, seemingly re-creating what I have made(soup, chicken and rice), etc, tasting as she goes.

              3 Replies
              1. re: swsidejim

                My two year old does the same. And lately she pretends to cook things and then brings them to me on a spoon to "taste." Current offerings have included sushi, biscotti, samosas, bean salad and raita. I just hope it keeps up. I hear rumors about kids (see jerosoma above) who suddenly don't want to eat things they've had their whole lives. But I intend to stick to the "well, thats what we're having" model. My mother-in-law assures me that kids won't let themselves starve.

                1. re: LulusMom

                  My two year old daughter refuses to eat fresh fruit these days. She will eat endless amounts of broccoli, asparagus, or green beans. But she refuses even a single bite of melon, a grape, or a berry, if they're fresh. Dried, no sugar added versions? No problem. There is no rhyme or reason to any of this. I think it's just some strange side effect of how the brain grows, learns, and matures.

                  1. re: davis_sq_pro

                    The one thing I try try try to remember is to stay zen about it all. Not easy sometimes.

              2. I would add a seventh: "Not allowing the child the opportunity to like or dislike a food." That's kind of like the list's sixth, but much more Draconian. "My kid won't eat that" means that the parent is impressing his / her own expectations of how finicky the child can be upon the child, without the child having a chance to be finicky or not.

                Part of the problem, too, is that nobody cooks any more, so kids don't grow up with "real food" being "normal." My fifth grade niece doesn't eat anything but chicken nuggets and fries. She is also the only child in creation who does not like ranch dressing.

                12 Replies
                1. re: jmckee

                  I wish it were that easy. Unfortunately, a lot of this behavior starts at the toddler age (when reason and rules don't necessary work). As the mother of a very picky and also skinny toddler (although, not a consistently picky one) it's VERY hard not to fall back on stuff I KNOW she'll eat (usually hot dogs and fruit). However, I try to keep offering other stuff so that it becomes familiar, and sometimes I'm surprised at what she will take (Last night when I was cooking dinner with her on my hip, she grabbed a dried porcini mushroom and chewed on it for 20 minutes. Crazy kid).

                  1. re: Amuse Bouches

                    take heart. I was one of the pickiest and skinniest you could find. My mother didn't do any of the "wrong" things in the article and did many of the "right" ones, to no avail. Eventually I outgrew it (and the super-skinny-ness) and am now a healthy eating Chowhound. My Mom has often said she was desperate to get me to eat ANYTHING, because I literally would starve vs. eat something I didn't like. She did cook with me though, and I have good memories of that, and it informed me being a decent cook later on, I think. It was a great basis, even if I only observed it as a child and rarely ate the products of the cooking.

                    1. re: rockandroller1

                      rockandroller1, you just gave me hope! you've basically described my son (including the 27 inch waist) and now that he is in college I pray he takes proper care of himself and eats at least 2 good meals a day...but emphasis on pray...because he is incredibly picky, detests buffets even though as a toddler ate cold green bean puree without issue ;)

                      you gave me hope.

                      1. re: HillJ

                        My change happened in college, but it wasn't til towards the end. I went in eating basically nothing but hot dogs, corn, and "white" foods (noodles, plain spaghetti), etc. Came out eating more processed foods, but definitely a variety of foods. I started to realize after a couple of years the processed stuff was just nasty, it all has an undertaste of chemicals and that's when I started to call my Mom to try to duplicate some of her recipes.

                      2. re: rockandroller1

                        I was the same way- pretty much at the 1st-3rd percentile in weight as a kid but normal in height. My mom tried to make me try foods, but like rockandroller, she just wanted me to eat something. I actually ate a reasonable amount at a young age (maybe ages 1-4), but then as I got into elementary I started to be really picky. Luckily after college I grew out of it.

                        1. re: rockandroller1

                          My experience is similar to rockandroller's. I was an extremely picky eater and very skinny. But I was inconsistently picky. If we had something for dinner one night and I claimed to love it, my parents might make it a week later and I would refuse to eat it. It was difficult for them to "fall back" on anything because it differed from week to week.

                          There also seems to be an assumption that picky eaters want to go for processed food. This wasn't the case with me. I would gladly eat an entire bag of alfalfa sprouts over a bag of potato chips. In some cases, I ate much weirder food than a lot of kids my age--pickles, jalapeno peppers, olives.

                          I think the change for me happened around age 8, especially once I got involved in sports. After a hard sports practice, I wasn't going to argue over how many bites of chicken I took. I was hungry and I was going to eat pretty much whatever my parents put in front of me.

                          As an adult, I like to think I'm a fairly adventurous eater. I love sampling different ethnic cuisines. The only food I can think of that I actually dislike is cactus. So being a picky eater hasn't harmed me for life.

                      3. re: jmckee

                        As a part-time stepmother, I have a unique perspective on this. When my stepdaughter was younger (4/5ish) she was kind of picky, but would still try everything that we gave her. She liked sashimi, hummus, calamari, anchovies and a lot of other things that you wouldn't expect a kid to like. She's now seven, and is forever telling us that she actually doesn't like any of these things. What's changed? As she's become older, more social, learned the names of more foods, etc, I think her mother and stepfather have told her what they don't like, and implied what she's allowed not to like. "Well, I felt like sushi, but I knew Emily would never eat that, so we went to Friday's." She, and most kids I know, are perceptive little buggers eagerly seeking loopholes that will allow them to eat white flour and HFCS all day. With a side of ranch.

                        1. re: yamalam

                          Yes, an awareness of what other people eat, or what appear to be societal norms can be very influential. I used to volunteer with an organization working with innercity kids, and sometimes we took them on fieldtrips that included a meal. These kids would refuse to eat anything but fast food, chain food, etc., even the kids from immigrant families who I knew for a fact (because I ate in their homes) ate all kinds of foods at home. Out with a group of their peers, they felt like they had to eat "normal American food" -- which basically meant food they saw advertised on television.

                          That's actually one aspect of television advertising that doesn't get much attention: not only does it create a desire for the particular food or restaurant advertised, but it creates an idea of for people -- mostly children but also to some extent adults -- of what they are *supposed* to eat, especially kids who are trying to assimilate either culturally or economically. That's also why chain food and fast food and name brands have such an appeal to the poor: these products are aspirational, and consuming them allows them to feel part of the mainstream of our consumer culture.

                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                              You hit the nail on the head with the assimilation aspect, Ruth. I was the only Latina in a very blue-collar/Irish/Italian town and all my peers ate things like bologna on Wonder. This was the 1980's and diversity was definitely NOT in. My mom sent me to school once with some left over rice and beans and roast pork. I got strange looks from the other kids and refused to bring stuff like that ever again. I would go home and beg my mom to make meatloaf and pot roast because I wanted to be like everyone else. I also always wanted my parents to take me to places like IHOP and TGI Fridays because I wanted to fit in with the other kids...alas, my tastes have changed and I now treasure my ethnic background and rarely go to places like that.

                              1. re: HungryRubia

                                Perspective is such a funny thing. If you'd been at my school and brought a meal of rice, beans, and roast pork, you'd have been my friend for life. I had terrible, taste-free, white-bread lunches at school and yours sounds amazing.

                            2. re: yamalam

                              If children patterned their food preferences based on what the adults around them were eating/saying, we wouldn't be having this discussion.

                          1. My son ate nothing but Cheerios, grapes, pretzels, and bacon until well into his 6th year. Then he added crusty white bread, cold meats, and carrots. His diet improved tremendously when he went away to school and started cooking for himself because the food on campus was so bad. He now enjoys, Indian, Thai, Japanese, and Lebanese food. Still won't touch cheese, though, or cake. Loves fruit. Patience is required.