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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.

                            1. My kids like a variety of foods, including McDonalds. They watch me cook every night, and often help, but are still somewhat picky. I do have the rule that they have to try a bite of anything new on the table. I don't let them say before they try something that they don't like it. I am fine if they taste it and don't like it. I also know this goes against the article, but it seems to work for us and our kids have found some foods they otherwise wouldn't have liked. My oldest son's favorite food is pesto with noodles and my youngest loves the baby carrots and mushrooms in Chinese food. I also think that praising my kids for trying new things has really helped them to try other new things on their own. They ask now to try different foods.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: kprange

                                My mother always made me take a bite of everything on my plate - only one bite, but I had to try it. And she was right to do so - often my tastes had changed and I found I liked something i hadn't liked before.

                                1. re: LulusMom

                                  That is what I have already found with my kids. I don't force them, but it is a rule in our house - all of us have to follow it. I don't expect my kids to try anything that either my husband or I won't try.

                              2. Recently started a new tradition of a weekly Try New Foods dinner with some success. The kids really like a theme for the meals and at 7, 5 and 3.5 really enjoy helping to prep and cook! So far, the biggest hits have been Food on Sticks and Chopstick Night. The 5 year old is the least interested and wants nothing to do with trying most of the foods. He does however now want bologna sandwiches served as a kabob, eats popcorn with Training Chopsticks and will eat tempura green beans, plums and Kermit's Dip (avocado + yogurt dip). It's not duck breast or brussel sprouts but it's a start!

                                1. Since the memories of endless hours in front of cold, unseasoned green beans with only the stove-light to keep me company is burned into my psyche, I don't force my 2 yr old to eat anything. But I've found that if I keep offering the same new item, it becomes more familiar and eventually he regards it as normal and will consume it...most of the time.

                                  It was also a relief to see that they recommend allowing kids into the kitchen at an early age. Since my husband travels most of the week, the only way I can make dinner is to allow my son to participate and yes, he is allowed to stir hot items on our gas stove. I admit, initially that was supposed to be against the rules (and we don't do it when Mom-in-law visits) but he enjoys it so much and it allows me to actually create a home-cooked meal much more quickly than if he were hanging on to my legs demanding attention. As a working mother, I’ve got enough guilt hanging over my head, so I was very happy to see that NYT article.

                                  But everyone needs to understand that child vary wildly and I think that in a lot of cases it isn't always about food but really about control and independence. Children HAVE to go through these stages and it's a very important developmental step. My child has been eating mashed potatoes since he was 8 months old. I never peel the potatoes. Two nights ago he refused to eat the skins. (No skin! No skin!). There's really not much I can do about it, he'll just have to eat around the skin and that eventually he'll get over it. Besides, even a negative response is a response and can reinforce behavior.

                                  1. Wow this is great. I don't have kids yet but when I do nutrition will be important. My parents did a heck of a job raising us for children. Fast food was not something that was often consumed, nor was soda.

                                    My parents would actually go and by the happy meal toys for the ones we wanted instead of taking us every week to get the toy. To this day I have never ordered at a fast food drive by myself and only eat fast food when on road trips with friends who suggest it.

                                    I worked at subway going through college. The subway was right next to a burger king. At around 5pm we'd get obese parents coming in with their obese kids. They had already stopped at the burger king to get there kids a whopper but the parents themselves where on a "diet". After asking us about the lower cal sandwiches the mother picked a foot long tuna with american cheese and extra mayo while the father picked the steak and cheese with extra mayo. Then they bought both of their two kids 2 cookies a piece. Some how they thought they were eating healthy. I was disgusted that parents could not realize how their bad nutrition habits where being passed on to their kids.

                                    I really enjoyed the part of the article about boring veggies. It makes sense but so many people don't even think about it. I bet kids would love zuccinni dressed up.

                                    as for fruit same thing one of my fav things growing up that we always considered a desesert was peaches sliced up in a small bowl of cottage cheese.

                                    I just hope that when I have kids and can do as good of a job, if not better raising my children with good nutrition. If you teach them good nutrition they will have that for their whole life, and make better food choices.

                                    besides am I the only one who sees fast food as a last resort, the stuff is just so greasey and it all taste the same.

                                    1. I have an 8 yr old son who is a pretty good eater. He has a few strong food opinions about not eating certain foods (think peanut butter, most cheeses - although he's starting to come around on this one - and mayo) that he sticks to like glue but other than that he eats a very wide variety of foods - fruits, veggies, fish, meat, grains, pasta, eggs, etc.

                                      Some things we did "right" , some things we probably did "wrong" (hey, we were first time parents and he's our only child - but he IS in both of his school's gifted and talented programs and a very talented athlete - we must have done something right ;) ) and he has definitely gone thorugh a stage or two where he refused to eat almost everything. Those periods didn't last long (mostly because I made it CLEAR that they wouldn't.)

                                      But really, I think that even the foodiest of parents can try and do everything "right" and still end up with a picky eater. I still believe that a lot has to do the personaltiy of the child themselves, outside influences etc. And I've seen this in action where two children raised in the same household exposed to the same foods etc. can have completely different eating habits and preferences. My 8 yr old niece is a pretty good eater but her 3 yr old brother has refused to eat anything green from the very first contact. He will actually take the time to carefully pick anything that even looks like it might once have BEEN green from his plate before he commences eating.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: flourgirl

                                        I am the mother of an 8 year old girl and a 5 year old girl. Both were breast fed, one for 8-1/2 months and one for 13 months. The younger one does seem to be more open about food, but still has her picky moments. She was the one breast fed longer. HOWEVER, I'm not sure I buy into that belief (about the breast milk tasting different, blah-blah, blah). I just think it's her personality. she is a very outgoing child by nature, and likes to sample just about everything. Her favorite thing is broccoli sauted in garlic and olive oil, and has been since she was about two. This makes her Italian momma VERY proud!! My older daughter is skinny and VERY picky, but we made an agreement a long time ago, back when SHE was a toddler and I was ripping my hair out trying to get her to eat. I simply explained that she HAD to try at least 1 bite of something. If she liked it, great. If she didn't, we moved on. No treats were involved.

                                        this worked for me and still does. Now, the "bites" she takes can vary in size, but at least she is trying thing. Next thing on her list is sushi with masago. For some reason, the little orange balls on it interest her!

                                        Bottom line in my house/word is, you as a parent have a responsiblity to nurture your child with both food and love. You do what you need to do and go with what works. This article is fine in theory, but honestly, it's a little preachy. Both of my children are healthy and happy, and at the end of the day, isn't this what is most important?

                                        1. re: rocks67

                                          Yeah, it's the preachiness that turns me off too - like parents don't already have ENOUGH guilt layed on them about every aspect of child-rearing. (Not that I ever pay much attention to the preachers. I've always had problems with "authority" *grin*)

                                      2. 3 'pup parent here:

                                        1. I think the person who said kids pick up clues from parents as in "i wanted sushi but suzie q won't like that" hit the nail on the head. Much of what kids like/don't like is based on what their parents tell them or are willing to accept their eatting. In our house, we never say that some kid created combo is icky and the other pups aren't allowed to say it either. Consequently in our house, pretty much everything gets eatten.

                                        2. I also agree that much is related to parents NOT "pushing" or encouraging kids to eat the foods the parents don't like, be it something that requires parents to cook or something from a restaurant. I'll grant you, the first time you make chicken feet for your kids--in lieu of going out to dim sum-- it can be a bit rough but after a while, you get used to it and may even learn to like them. And that rufflely tripe stuff grows on you. Though I've now tried kidneys three different ways [2x French 1X Chinese] and they are NOT growing on me. . . but my kids haven't got a CLUE.

                                        3. What Mr. Taster said "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." For each meal there is one meal prepared typically with multiple dishes. Eat it, don't eat---missing a meal won't kill anyone.

                                        4 Kids forget what they like. So remind them.

                                        5. Finally your kid CAN influence other kids: my kids suffer from classmates who want their risotto or Chinese leftovers and sigh over how my pups have good food and all they get are lunchables.