Picky Eater Thoughts

I am interested to hear thoughts about something that is perhaps irresolvable, but interesting: picky eaters. Often children, but sometimes into adulthood.

I’m mindful of this after a recent Hungry Onion post about kids who had diverse aversions to pasta saucing:

I have one child, now 19 years old, and I feel so fortunate that he’s spent most of his life ready to eat ANYTHING. Sometimes, I think he did so to provoke his friends, like when he ate the eyeball of a whole grilled fish (he did ask me first, and I said it wouldn’t hurt him).

But I am curious what my experience would have been with a genuinely “picky” child or partner. Could I have “broken” such a child via starvation as his/her alternative? I actually think that as far as romantic relationships go, a picky eater would be a deal-breaker for me.

I’ve read a good deal about picky eaters and am genuinely interested. One thing I’ve heard is that virtually all picky eaters are fine with french fries, for some reason. And they tend to abhor things like mushrooms and cooked onions with a texture they view as slimy.


I hope my comments here don’t steer your thread off on a tangent. One of my sons was not a picky eater; but insisted that no food on his plate touch any other: protein in one area, vegetables is a second area, mashed potatoes–or such in yet a third area. (we refused to buy cafeteria tray type dishes) To avoid foods touching one another, the son would eat by group, finishing one item completely before going on to the second…

Qwerky, yes. But we didn’t indulge him. If he wanted that struggle, he had to handle it.

If I had had children, I would have applied Jacques Pepin’s answer when asked what’s for dinner: “Food”. No options given. And involve the child in purchasing and prepping food, early. When daughter Claudine was less than a year old, he held her in his arms and helped her stir the contents of the pots on the stove, and gave her credit for making the meal. A toddler can pluck items from lower shelves in the supermarket and help put them away at home. They can wash and dry produce, and look for soft spots.

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I have four nephews and nieces. One spent his early years in Spain and, as a youngster, was willing to try anything - doesnt always like it of course. Other three spent their early years in America and pretty much only ate what I think you would say was “kids food”. I don’t think it has damaged any of them and, in fact, the youngest of the one raised in the States probably has the widest, “world view” of stuff.

On the other hand, my 87 year old father in law is the pickiest of picky eaters. There is a vast list of stuff he won’t touch. I don’t know how he has got through life - not least when he was a soldier. I used to say, almost seriously, that his idea of a varied diet was to have a small piece of meat on the plate alongside a large piece of meat. He has recently been in hospital for a couple of weeks and, almost without exception, there was nothing he was prepared to eat. Got cheese in it - nope. Got tomatoes - nope. Got mustard, herbs, spices - nope. We ended up taking him sandwiches and soup in a thermos for something hot.


So much variability in what is considered a picky eater. As a kid I ate many kinds of offal but not eggplant. Picky or “eats almost anything”?

Not at our house. We were allowed (limited) exceptions. Beyond that, you had to eat a small serving of everything. Meals were planned with everyone in mind, so never was a meal centered around, for example, eggplant to the exclusion of all else - if eggplant was the vegetable, there was an alternative for those of us who hated it, because we ate plenty of other things.

Kids often have good reasons for pickiness - allergies are one. For me, it was textural, and then a couple of flavors I couldn’t abide. Many of those I enjoy as an adult, a couple I still don’t.

I had an aunt and an uncle who each were take-no-prisoners types where food was concerned. I refused to spend time with them, and there was even once an “intervention” with one of them on feeding methods. The uncle didn’t have kids at the time - he was very different after. The aunt… well, let’s just say she enjoyed the fear.

The pickiest friend i have will eat no meat except chicken, and then only boneless, no seafood, and refuses most “meat substitute” vegetables that restaurants typically offer - eggplant/squash family, mushrooms, etc. I traveled with her once in the UK and it was the worst food experience of my life!


I do really believe that involving kids in food preparation is very constructive. Even to the level of having them smell cantaloupe stems at the market to discern which smells ripest.

All that doesn’t leave leave me to fully understand the thought-process or emotions of picky eaters, but I think involvement is one means of widening their tastes.

I once knew someone who would pretty much never eat a home-made food that was made without her observation. But for some reason, she would eat in restaurants. Something other than rationality is going on.


Vegetarian food in the UK is much improved over the last several years although I suspect such a picky eater would still struggle with our food. By co-incidence, I’ve recently contributed to a Tripadvisor thread where the British poster, married to a very picky eater, really struggled to find food in Memphis that the wife would eat.

I’m very interested in this topic and the comments. I have a 15 month old who is currently a fairly good eater. She devours vegetables and fruits with gusto. We eat healthy at home and aim to cook most days. We go out for dinner on the weekends. I see my friends kids eat chicken fingers, fries, hot dogs, etc and my daughter would love those too but I don’t give her those. I hope I am not setting her up to go crazy when she does get that stuff…

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My own very unpicky son had a “phase” of pickiness from about 2-3 years of age. It went away.


In a global sense most people on this site are really good not too picky eaters and are enamored by the entire spectrum of food as a means to sustain our planet…
That generalization put forth…lets ask who was a picky eater when they were kids and what did they not like to eat?
For me…there was never anything that my mother put in front of me that I would not try…
Lobster tails, steamed clams or mussels, chicken parmigiana, spare ribs, cheese burgers, chow mien, …All of this from someone who was raised in a kosher home…
Thus corned beef and cabbage, beef stroganoff, etc, etc.
For me , I guess it was in my genes…I was willing to taste anything, contrary to my brother who would order chicken noodle soup and white rice in the local Chinese restaurant (we are talking 1958 ish)

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I think it’s about the young palate being exposed to the different natural flavors before being overwhelmed by the processed ones.

My nephews adore grilled cheese, but they’ll happily eat half a plate of broccoli or cauliflower or whatever vegetable alongside (actually, they inhale the vegetable first, then “focus” on the sandwich…)

But they didn’t eat most “junky” things until a few years in - my SIL did mostly vegetables and fruits and “normal”/healthyish food at home. I picked up a lot of good habits from her too - when the natural/“healthy” things are always available, they’re easy to sample, and to develop a taste for.

Now that the kids are in school, they take chicken nuggets and hot dogs in their lunch rotation once a fortnight, with veg on the side. Pizza (usually homemade and with a salad) once a week for dinner, etc. Rotation being the key. Sometimes they go “off” things too, and something else gets substituted. And sometimes it’s a bad week and there’s more takeout than usual. It works out on average!

I think it’s mostly about what’s “normal” for kids at home - I ate weird stuff with gusto long before I knew what it was - it was normal for us :wink:


Yeah, I think making variety and purity “normal” early on is often key–that’s what I did without a second thought–but I also expect that even that approach doesn’t always do the trick with young ones. It’s really a topic deserving of sociological/anthropological research.


My childhood dining also had a kind of rule that we had to have at least a bite of everything (and as mainstream caucasian Americans working from a mainstream ingredient list, that really wasn’t a big stretch–not like we were asked to eat fermented Chinese black beans!).

One personal story that’s stuck with me: at about the age of 4-6, I was first asked to eat asparagus, which I did but did not want to do. I didn’t eat it again until 10 years later, when I actually felt a direct craving to try asparagus again, and went and got some. (I now love asparagus.) I’ve always wondered if I could have had that craving without that early compulsory exposure.


Now that’s a fun question!

I was considered a picky eater in my family - parents and one sib ate everything. I hated the flavor of cucumber, I didn’t like “squishy” or “slimy” things - squash family, tomatoes, beans/lentils, cooked greens.

I ate many things none of my friends did, though - my dad would frequently stick something in my mouth and say “eat it, it’s good” - that’s how various offal varieties became normal, and things with bones/shells (crab anyone?) didn’t faze me. One grandmother would chastise us if we didn’t crack chicken leg bones open for marrow :grin: - actually, she stole the bones off our plate, which made us wonder what we were missing!

As an adult, some friends still consider me picky but I only have 2 or 3 won’t-eats. Meanwhile, I’ve taught many friends to eat marrow (now that it’s widely on restaurant menus), I happily order sweetbreads and liver which they won’t touch, and I’ll carve up a whole fish at the table which still grosses some of them out.

So I go back to - picky means different things to different people :grin:


My niece , whose father who ate only noodle soup with white rice,grew up devoid of vegetables because of her father and mother…that said her boyfriend , and now husband opened her eyes and she loves vegetables and all fruits…when she visits, her littlest daughter asks me to teach her how to peel apples, cucumbers, mangos, etc…she then eats all of the skins before we eat the “fruit”…Such a joy to feed my great niece a salad that she made with lettuce, cukes, tomatoes, apples, almonds, swiss cheese, red peppers and celery…all topped with olive oil…nothing more…

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That’s wonderful!

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I know someone, too, who likes to keep foods separate–like, she wont stir fruit into yogurt, but wants the fruit and yogurt always distinct. Same with Mexican platters, etc. No mixing!


My brother was the same way. My parents indulged him and let him have a divided plate for YEARS. Like through high school. He went to college and began mixing all his food in a bowl to cut down on dishes HA! And now spends half his year traveling around the world eating anything, everything AND it touches!


Just like my brother now!!! and he is 65 years old!!!

Reading the replies here I’m beginning to think picky eating might just have an external motivator as strong as an internal motivator.

Growing up I learned to dislike chicken as food. My Mom had such a fear of the danger of mishandling chicken that she baked it until it had the consistency of loose leaf paper. It was always dry, stringy, and tasteless. Likewise, I was never exposed to Cottage Cheese, any kind of fish, fresh or frozen; and Latin foods. (my Mom had scores of endearing qualities. She just wasn’t a culinary Goddess).

As a newlywed, my bride was pretty frustrated by my food “likes” and “dislikes”. YOU DON’T EAT CHICKEN? I can still remember the occasion she cajoled me into a bite of cottage cheese; another time she baked Gorton’s Fish Fillets for dinner and offered me no option, and a third time when my better half insisted we go to Taco Bell and get–what was then, a nicely portioned soft beef taco. Revelations, all.

We’ve grown old together being a bit more adventurous trying new tastes.

So, I think “set” menus and family dinner “routines” just might contribute to making a picky eater