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Picky Eating – Where Does it Begin?

Is it the parents’ influence and guidance, or are children genetically predestined to be particular about the foods they prefer to eat?

Maybe we’re just lucky. To date, we’ve been fortunate to not deal with picky eating with our two sons.

I’m not a picky eater, so during my pregnancies I continued to eat EVERYTHING. This allowed the tastes of these foods to transfer through the amniotic fluid to my growing sons in utero.

Yep! According to an NPR report, a mom’s tastes have a direct impact on the growing child’s future preferences. Fascinating!

When we were at the point of venturing into the world of baby food, I was adamant about starting with vegetables – green veggies to be specific. These were likely the least tasty, so I figured it was best to start with those before the sweeter foods.

I clearly remember my oldest son’s reaction when I spooned the peas into his mouth. They were spit right back out at me, but we persevered until he accepted them. Soon he was eager to eat his peas!

And don’t judge me here, but I didn’t always heat them. We traveled a lot, so we knew there would be times when we wouldn’t have access to a stove or microwave.

After all, parenting is so much about conditioning, isn't it?

Looking back, it was one of the best parenting choices we made. He was happy to eat his peas, warm or cold wherever we went. (And for the record, we never had one of those baby wipe warmers either!)

Once the mediocre-tasting foods were kid-approved, we moved into the tastier foods like sweet potatoes, peach cobbler and applesauce. These were eagerly welcomed, but I was excited that the veggies were still being eaten without complaint (or spitting).

As the boys became toddlers, we fed them everything we ate. When we dined at restaurants, we shared our steak, fish, and sushi. And thankfully, they have continued their openness to new foods – even squid and jellyfish in some cases, mostly for the shock value.

But as we’ve met other families with children, it’s clear that there are children with very distinct tastes. When invited to dinner, some have to bring a meal to make for their children because they will only eat chicken nuggets and not the meatloaf we’re serving (for example).

I once read an article in a parenting magazine that discussed the science behind taste. Interestingly, our babies’ taste buds develop in a similar fashion as their vision during their first year of life…and mostly in utero!  

Initially, they prefer light and dark contrasting images, but gradually their eyes develop to focus on sharper, brighter and more colorful images.

In comparison, they prefer sweet tastes over anything else, which is why it’s important to condition them to new and different tastes and textures in that first year.

I understand not every child or adult has a taste for every food in existence. I don’t care for fishy-tasting seafood, and my sons have an aversion to sticky peanut butter and mayonnaise-based foods.

All in all, I’m happy that we never have to pack a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or bring our own chicken nuggets when we are asked to dinner at a friend’s house.

Call me a tough mom, but our kids eat what we eat and that's that. So far, it's worked!

Mary Anne Looby November 28, 2012 at 02:13 PM
I have a strong dislike for veggies. I was forced to eat them as a child. Had I not been, maybe I would have developed a taste for them. I made my own baby food by pureeing whatever we had for dinner. If there were lefovers I froze them in ice cube trays for a later meal. I made sure that my children like veggies. From the time they could chew, I would steam broccolli and give it to them for lunch. They ate it everyday. Now in their 30's the joke is "a day without broccolli, is like a day without sunshine"! They have developed into inquisitive eaters with palates much broader than mine, for which I am grateful. My kids are not picky eaters, sadly, their Mother is!
AnnaMarie Zeravsky November 28, 2012 at 06:48 PM
I definitely feel that children's eating habits come from their parents and what they are first introduced too. For example, my oldest daughter (almost 3 years old) was born with a severe milk allergy (No, not an intolerance, an actual allergy where if exposed her throat would eventually close even from milk being passed through my breast milk). Because of her allergy and my unknowing of the possibilities of non-dairy food, we only feed her fruits, veggies, and beans. She NEVER had anything prepared by anyone else or prepackaged for fear of contamination. No chocolate, no ice cream, no cake. When she turned 2, we decided on milk-challenges with her allergist and now she has "out-grown" her allergy and can essentially eat anything. However, she still loves just about every fruit, vegetable, and bean but refuses to eat pizza, mac n cheese, casseroles and even chocolate or ice cream. I think her distinct choices are because of what she new. I am grateful that she loves her fruit and veggies but am saddened that she is unwilling to try new things because she was so limited as a baby.

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