Children can be taught to be less picky when it comes to their food. There have been studies done linking picky children to genes, but simple observation of times past and kids eating behaviors in other cultures proves that despite their genes kids can learn to eat a wide variety of foods.
There was a time when children would eat what they were served. The idea of cooking two separate meals, one for the kids and one for the grown-ups, was completely foreign. Today things appear to have changed and not necessarily for the better. Not only are kids pickier, there are more picky eaters. It seems that the number of kids who eat only a handful of items, processed foods devoid of vital nutrients at that, is increasing. A mother who does not keep chicken nuggets, tater tots, pizza, french fries, and sugary cereals around the house may find herself with a house full of hungry kids. And the statistics support those observations. A poll done by KidsHealth.org asked 959 kids how many vegetables they had eaten the day before and 55% had eaten one vegetable or less with 33% not eating a single one.
Every kid and adult will have a few items that they will not like and that has not changed with the times. What has changed is a child’s ability to eat something that displeases them. A few decades ago, a child who hated fish could have been invited to a friend’s house and served fish. He would have ate it out of politeness even though it was not his favorite. Even at a very young age that child would have appreciated that it was food and would have been thankful that someone had been kind enough to make dinner.
Today the concept of eating something that one does not like is becoming foreign to a greater number of kids. They do not like it and they will not eat it! And it goes a little further than that, if it is not their favorite, they will not eat it! Therefore instead of not liking a few things, kids are not liking most things and that does not bode well for their future health. Some parents may not want to admit it, but by allowing this type of behavior in children they are creating a society of picky eaters, and no, most kids were not born that way.
Ask a Japanese mom what she feeds her children? Or observe what kids eat in other cultures when traveling. In Peru you might see a four-year-old girl wolf down a large portion of quinoa. In Korea you might see kids eat things American kids would not touch with a ten-foot pole. Why are these kids eating a greater variety of foods than what American kids eat? Because it is culturally ingrained. Because they grow up accustomed to those types of foods. If these other cultures can get their kids to like fruits and vegetables and a wide range of other types of foods, so can Americans.
It is hard work getting children to eat their vegetables. It is also hard work introducing them to different types of foods, especially in today’s American culture where the culture seems to be working against parents. Chicken nuggets and fries is easy for parents in a rush. There are no fast food places that will serve grilled fish with a side of green beans through the drive-through. And there is certainly greater planning and time involved when feeding kids nutritious meals and getting them accustomed to a large variety of foods. However, believing that kids were born that way will only serves to absolve adults of the responsibility of helping kids become better eaters.
Here are some parental behaviors that create picky eaters.
1) Failing to introduce healthy foods early on. The best chance of having good eaters is by starting early. If Japanese toddlers can eat natto, fermented beans, then American kids can be taught to eat their vegetables.
2) Making separate meals for kids and adults and consistently ordering from the kids’ menus at restaurants. By making separate meals (or ordering “kids” meals) parents send the message that there is a kid food and an adult food when in fact food is food and in most cases, anyone can eat it, kid or adult.
3) Failing to relay the message that the nutritional value of foods is more important than the taste. Kids are pretty smart and even a four-year-old can understand that peas may not taste as good as cupcakes, but they will help make them stronger and smarter and that is why they are eaten. It is also why peas are more important than cupcakes and eaten more often.
4) Giving up after kids refuse something the first or second time around. Most experts seem to agree that kids need to be given something to try numerous times before they start to like it. They may fight it the first nine times, but the tenth time is the charm.
5) Taking no for an answer. Most parents have no problem ignoring a “no” from their kids if it was regarding cleaning their rooms or getting their vaccinations, but somehow for food it is okay. Healthy eating is just as important as getting vaccinations. It is preventing a lifetime of disease and illness.
This is not about forcing kids to eat foods that they truly and utterly find repulsive. It is important to make the distinction between things that a child truly finds inedible and foods that they do not like because it is not their favorite. There are probably some things Japanese kids do not like and some things Peruvian kids do not like, but like one Peruvian mom said, if her “picky” daughter is repulsed by fish, no problem because she will still eat lentils, vegetables, quinoa, etc. It takes trial and error to know what these foods are, but for every vegetable that makes a child gag, there will be another that will not.
Therefore, instead of engaging in behaviors that will make kids picky eaters, parents need to get back to the basics of why food is there, to help kids grow and to help them stay healthy. This fast-paced culture works against parents, but when it comes to food, parents need to create a new culture for the sake of their children’s health.