The moment I saw the headline “Picky Eaters? They Get It From You” in The New York Times on Wednesday, I knew it would rise to the top of the most e-mailed list. Sure enough, it did.
As well it should, since parents like you and me are constantly trying to get our kids to eat broccoli instead of Meal Number 1: “Chicken Nuggets and French Fries.”
Actually, our daughter, Lael, will eat anything. It’s our son who resists all new foods (though lately he is becoming more willing to try things – like different brands of bread.)
The good news, parents, is that we’re only partly to blame, according to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. In fact, only 22 percent of our children’s eating habits are because of parenting flaws. The other 78 percent comes from our genes, which we can’t do much about anyway. (Of course, when you add it up, parents are still 100 percent to blame.)
Still, I find it comforting to know that my genes were actually designed to make Seth, who I’ve nicknamed “Starch Boy,” love flavorless foods. Who knew that those miraculous genes favor Alphabet Fries, Trader Joe’s Fish Sticks and Joe’s O’s? (Sadly, I don’t receive any cash for product placements.)
The Times story goes on to explain how children are willing to try a large variety of food until they’re 2. After that, a sort of safety switch turns on that says, “Don’t try anything new because now that you can walk, who know what you might put in your mouth?”
Translation: “Ah mom, I hate salad, but that reddish looking toadstool looks really delish.”
Great theory. Unfortunately, my son hated all foods except breast milk from the day he was born. We literally had to yank him off the nipple because he wasn't gaining weight. Our doctor assured us our son wouldn’t let himself starve. Hah!
As for Lael, her taste for exotic food has only increased since hitting 2. Hot peppers? “Ow daddy, hurt mouth. … More, More!” But then, we already knew our kids were, um, different.
While I find some comfort knowing that Jessica Seinfeld – as in Jerry Seinfeld’s wife – faces some of the same struggles we do, I’m not so keen on tricking our kids into eating veggies. Seth’s sense of taste is so acute – he probably gets that from me – it would never work anyway. I suspect we both would notice the strange avocado flavor in chocolate pudding. Yuck!
And while I appreciate the tips offered in this Times sidebar, I have my own system for getting my boy to try new foods: I take him far from home on a long walk or hike. Over several weeks, as my supply of bread and crackers runs low, I find Seth will eat whatever I offer him, whether it’s brown celery or moldy carrots. Just as long as the food items are not peas or lettuce or spinach or asparagus or avocado or ….