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Let's Panic: The Book!

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How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant
who Will Ruin Your Body, Destroy Your Life, Liquefy Your Brain,
and Finally Turn You
into a Worthwhile
Human Being.

Written by Alice Bradley and Eden Kennedy

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At LET'S PANIC ABOUT BABIES, Eden Kennedy and I share our hard-won wisdom and tell you exactly what to think and feel and do, whether you're about to have a baby or already did and don't know what to do with it. → 

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Please, oh please, no advice.

This week over at Momversation, Rebecca brought up the topic of picky eaters, and I laughed; oh, how I laughed. If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you may remember my periodic rants about Henry's eccentric eating habits. I wish I could report that my son's diet has evolved even a little since that time, but alas, I cannot. We are dealing with it, in our usual clumsy manner, with the help of a nutritionist. It is not easy. Our son is more than a little strong-willed. It is a characteristic I'm sure I will someday come to admire.

As you may have noticed from the title, up there, I am not seeking advice, thank you anyway. But feel free to share your own picky-eater stories.

Reader Comments (127)

My daughter was a formula baby, my son was breastfed. My son is the picky one. I don't think it has any bearing.
June 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie
Aw, Slim, didn't you hear? All people without kids are self-righteous. Self-righteous is the new black.

For the record, not in any way meaning to sound self-righteous, though it may have come off that way. Just saying that there are picky adults out there too, and while part of me blames his mother for him being this way, there is another part of me that just thinks he's got a really specific palate, and there's nothing anyone can do about it.
June 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKat
Hmm, I didn't read your comment as self-righteous, although I must admit I was muttering post hoc ergo propter hoc to myself.

By the way, self-righteous looks good on you, Kat!
June 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAlice
I won't give advice. I don't really have any, anyway- I'm a picky eater, somewhat reformed, and my daughter is following in my footsteps. I have ideas based on what works for me and for my daughter, but who am I to say what would work for someone else?

Advice on how to make my child eat "better" is second only to advice on how to make my child sleep "better" on my global list of things I hate.

Two points, from my sciencey inclination:

1. For most of human history, being suspicious of new foods was GOOD behavior. A lot of plants are poisonous. How were you to know which ones weren't? I think there are genes that make some of us inclined to be more selective in what we'll try, and for most of evolution, those genes were fairly adaptive. Hence they have persisted in our gene pool. Obviously, being willing to try new things is adaptive, too, particularly in a time of shortage. So the versions of those genes that make some of us inclined to be more adventurous also persist in the gene pool. Overall, this is probably a great survival strategy for our species, even if it does cause some serious frustration for some of the parent members of the species.

2. The same food item won't taste the same to two people. We all have different taste receptors. So to some of us, peas really do taste terrible. No amount of telling us to "just try it" is going to change that. One extreme of this are the "supertasters" who are very sensitive to the bitter flavors in food.

Yes, I now use my science education to tell people to back off when they give me grief about how my child eats. This seems like a good use of the 9 years of college and grad school education to me.
June 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCloud
My oldest -- who will officially become a teenager this year -- still subsists on a diet of next to nothing. We used to make him "try" a bite of everything. He'd retch and gag at the dinner table until we all wanted to throw up. Then we'd leave him in his seat until he ate ONE PEA. He'd outlast us all the way to "The Tonight Show." We then became convinced that he is, indeed, John Lee SuperTaster (of "They Might Be Giants" fame), and we left him to his own bizarre eating neuroses. Eight years later, he still begins his day with a few giant bowls of cereal knowing that he may not like anything that comes his way for the next 23 hours. He once told me that rice was just too "spicy." White rice.

My other 2 boys will eat anything.

My 8-year-old daughter claims she's a vegetarian, but she still manages to choke down the occasional chicken nugget and McDonald's cheeseburger. The boys like to occasionally remind her (in their gentle, brotherly way) that she's actually a "carb-a-tarian."

June 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKatrina
Why thank you, Alice. I've officially replaced my little black dress.
June 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKat
No advice. I was the really picky eater. I eat well now but my Mom still comes to my house, looks in my fridge and says things like "Oh, Alice, I'm so proud of you. There's squash in here." So far, God had ignored her prayers and given me non-picky eater children. I'm expecting #3 so that could change.

June 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAlice
Life's too short to eat things you don't like. That's my motto for adults and kids alike.

After I've said "I don't care for any thank you" for the 2nd time, back off, OK.

Wasting food makes me crazy. Someone I know buys all this food and continually prepares it and puts it in front of her kids who will not eat it. She then throws it away while swearing into the garbage can.

She knows what her kids like and will eat but insists on keeping on with this charade each and every meal time.

I told her that if her principles about making people eat the things she wants them to eat are so strong, she should find some really hungry, needy people and feed them and leave her "ungrateful" kids alone.
June 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterEatWhatIWant
It's so hard because it feels so personal when kids reject something; like they're rejecting you. Because we equate feeding with love, and so it offends us when we offer "love" and the kid turns up their nose at it. It cuts deep! And then we go crazy and tie them to the chair. Or at least consider it.

Add that to mama-guilt about "my malnourished child who will die of scurvy because I don't stuff oranges down their throats" and it's a wonder that all picky-eater moms don't run off to Tijuana.
June 30, 2009 | Unregistered Commenteremjaybee
I think all of us are self-righteous about something. Having kids just moves it around, like fat.

I think some parents do things that make matters worse, but for the most part, it really is out of our control. My parents raised all of us on the same "You must eat it" principle, and now some of us are adventurous, some of us not. But the stuff they had to make me eat is still stuff I hate, which makes me disinclined to force the issue with my kids.
June 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSlim
My advice is this: HA HAA HA. Ahem. I don't know why I find this remotely funny. But evidently I do.
June 30, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterkristi
my child is that freak of nature - the foodie.but my husband....if served a tomato-based dish (pastas, chili, etc) he will sift slowly through the food, in search of bits of tomato(even from marinara sauce). once finding them, he'll REMOVE them from his plate/bowl. only then can he eat his if that isn't odd enough (in a grown man)- he will put slices of tomato on his pizza before cooking it. yes! he will take cooked tomato bits out of prepared food, but will place tomato bits on his pizza to cook them.
June 30, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterkat
If my son sees a SPECK of green in his food, his mouth's on lock down. I'm seriously considering chopping up green M & Ms to use as garnish/camouflage.
June 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSusan
I don't have a big bag of tricks, either.... and my kids go through their phases of food pickiness. But this one trick worked for all 3 of them: cocktail spears, little umbrellas, and any other accessory you can find in the "adult" beverage section. Plastic, fun-looking drink cups are great to serve fruit in.... if it's crazy-fun looking, they may just give it a try. Like I said, not a big bag of tricks. But if you give my 4-year-old a toothpick instead of a fork, for some reason she's more likely to try whatever food you put in front of her. When we go grocery shopping, I make a trip to the alcohol section (for myself) and let them pick out "accessories" for themselves. This isn't advice - just something to try. If it doesn't work, pour yourself the ice cold beverage you so deserve... and don't forget the umbrella.
June 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterReneeG
Last year I read this article about a chef in Europe who had just received like a million Michelin stars for his restaurant. He said that as a kid he was the pickiest eater ever. He remembers that food just smelled too strong and that he basically survived on noodles (with nothing on them!) as a child.Now he is this amazing gourmet and loves food.This really revolutionized my way of thinking about my very picky little girl...I just relax now and think about her becoming one of the great chefs of Europe one day!!!Funnily enough she has started cooking with me sometimes with great verve and actually tries what we produce...

July 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterElanni
I have a picky eater. It's waffles or pb sandwiches or bust with him. And I don't know what to do.
July 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJenny
To get my little guy to eat, I pretend the kitty can fly by saying, "Oh look, I think the kitty is flying," or I scold the fish. It gets him to open his mouth wide - not sure if this is because he is afraid or because he is totally distracted...

Maggie at
July 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMaggie
Both of Bossy's kids put the ICK in Picky eating. They wore Bossy clear out. And then they grew up.
July 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBOSSY
my children (almost 9, almost 5) have eaten more pizza in their short lives than I did in my first 30 years of life. If it weren't for multi-vitamins and the occasional glass of juice, the older boy would probably get scurvy; the younger thinks that nutella on cinnamon bread constitutes a healthy lunch. Which I put in his lunchbox every freakin day b/c his nursery school won't let us send in anything that has peanut butter on it. Basically, I'm pinning my hopes on the fact that we're reasonably sane parents whose diet is reasonably healthy, more or less, so that eventually - magically? - our children will find the joy in a summer tomato or sharp cheddar or god forbid that most poisonous of all: strawberries (truly, at this point, they hate them).
July 1, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterdeborahlquinn
I am also fond of that theory about kids shutting down on most foods around the same time they become independent. Because, you know, cave babies needed to avoid putting poisonous berries in their mouths when they started walking and running and gambling about the caves. It's evolution! Seriously, though, doesn't it seem like so, so many kids do this? I can imagine your frustration. I wish you luck. Or patience. Please know that I spent age 20-22 eating nothing but Cheddar and Sour Cream Ruffles with no long lasting ill-effect.
July 1, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterbri
In an attempt to get our son to eat his veggies at dinner, we repeatedly explained to him that he needed to eat certain foods so he could grow up "big and strong". He will sometimes take one bite of a vegetable but 9 out of 10 times, he just leaves it on his plate and foregoes dessert willingly (the reward for eating a bite of everything on his plate is dessert which doesn't work too well but we keep plugging away). Two years later, his two (very) picky eater friends are both taller and bigger than he is. He has told us many times, "Sammy only eats Pop-tarts and he NEVER eats fruit or vegetables and he's the biggest boy in the class" like we are bald-faced liars and he's on to us. Our daughter, by the way, has never met a fruit or vegatable that she didn't like and she'll try anything once. Same family, same meals, same incentives, different kids.
July 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKellie
So, no one has mentioned this here... this is largely an economic luxury, picky eating is.I am all for identifying food aversions that have to do with allergies, I am lactose intolerant, so I don't eat dairy.But, living in a country where there are so many choices available (boxes of mac&cheese etc.) and enough money to buy food and throw it away, has made people forget that we eat to live, not the other way around, we don't always have to love what we are eating. Ideally we have access to a balanced, healthy diet.Kids will eat when they are hungry.In a lot of places all kids get each day is a couple of serving of rice or millet and serving of vegetables, and most of them still grow up just fine.We are lucky to have so many healthy and calorie rich foods to offer our kids.When I was growing up you ate what was offered or went hungry.I know it seems mean to send a kid to bed without dinner, but do it once and it's unlikely you'll have to do it again, plus they will be extra hungry for whatever you offer for breakfast.School aged kids are old enough to understand that wasting food has an impact on other people and the environment, resource are precious, and just like we teach them to recycle, we need to teach them not to waste food.My son is four and he already knows this, he eats things he doesn't like, he complains about it sometimes, but he knows it will fill his belly and that is the point.And no, we are not food nazi's making him revisit old meals and depriving him of mac & cheese, he gets that Annie's stuff one every week or two.

July 2, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterohkwarimama
I got my boy to eat 2 tiny bites of broccoli the other night. TRIUMPH! What was funny was, he tossed a bite in his mouth, chewed frantically, screwed his face up into a parody of a smile and said "yum, this is good!"

As though pretending to like it would get him brownie points (or brownies, even).
July 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHaus
My 3 year old daughter will refuse to eat just about anything I place in front of her at dinner.

Although she will eat anything I have on MY plate just after I tell her "No, you will not like this, it's goat cheese, or olives stuffed with prosciutto, or monkey brains..."

Works every time.
July 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda
Growing up a picky eater or one who dissects her food... I realized in occupational therapy school that I had oral tactile defensiveness (aka processing disorder). I finally had a real reason as to why I & how I ate as I did growing up & as an adult. I have also worked w/many children w/ the similar issues. Looking back over my childhood, what was a sensory problem turned into a behavior, what when, who knows?

I have turned into a relatively normal adult. I worked as a cook through college, so I cook many things I may or may not eat myself. I have greatly expanded from my beige sauce-less food, but exert a level of control regarding what goes in my mouth. The key was becoming an adult & realizing there was a physiological reason for initial responses. Now I am aware of what things I dislike & why & can adjust for the situation I may be in. I may have friends tease me, but it has been huge knowing there was a reason behind it all.

Its a fine line to be on w/ a child, especially w/ all the social messages we receive about food. Our country has serious eating disorders across the board & the messages we receive about eating are so mixed. And thats where the physiological issue becomes a behavioral one.

Children's bodies & needs are different from adults & will change over time. Just like people have different personalities, people will have different "tastes." Then there is the genetics & biology of it all. I can imagine ancient cavemen/women saying... "He wont touch the mammoth..." or "Did you finish your orange juice?" Children didnt get their 5 veggies servings a day & survived & evolved... The only thing I cannot understand is how on earth did we survive w/out chicken nuggets or mac & cheese? Funny how the picky one's will eat some of the most gross pre-made food; when did the "processed food" gene suddenly appear in our genetics?
July 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJane

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