When poor kids are picky eaters - NY Times

This piece is poorly titled, implying that poor children don’t refuse healthy foods. While I appreciate that financially-strapped American parents can’t afford to throw food away, I question the author’s acceptance of the assumption that food kids won’t eat will be wasted. That’s a choice on the part of the parent(s). They can either insist the children eat what they are given, or the parents can eat the refused food for a future meal (assuming they have refrigerators).


Insisting can wind up being a total melt down and eating the refused food at another meal can be taking a chopped up PBJ and doing what with it? One of our daughters and her family just spent a long weekend with us. The four year old found little that she would touch.

Parents have to start early and not constantly cave. The article’s right; healthy foods are often substantially more expensive and labor intensive than cheap food-stamp or government-provided food. Sure, it’s easy to say “give them fresh veggies!” but when fresh veggies are twice as expensive as frozen dinners or PB&J or mac & cheese, I can understand why kids grow up addicted to chicken fingers. I have a friend who grew up as a poor farmers’ kid, and all he eats are chicken fingers, Subway ham & cheese subs (with no vegetables) and mac & cheese.

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Correct me if I am wrong here . I heard that in the U.S. a lot of children do not eat what the adults eat . The parents feed them so called kid food . Whatever that is . And in most of the rest of the world the children eat what the adults are having .


“kid food” seems strange to me as well. I don’t have children so can’t relate to the struggle, but growing up my siblings and I weren’t allowed to be too picky. I mean, the 5 of us each had our dislikes, but mom only put up with so much of it, and what was for dinner was what was for dinner. You had to at least try things. It was upsetting when the homegrown veg had aphids but somehow we were coerced into accepting it - probably through cheese sauce :slight_smile: I’m sure it’s difficult when you have these stubborn little beings that you love to pieces, but on the other hand, how hungry does a kid have to get before s/he’ll eat broccoli? Wouldn’t poor parents have more leverage by being able to honestly say ‘that’s all there is for dinner, there is no alternative’? Not in a force them to eat it way that will give them issues, but after age 7 or 8, kids should be able to understand that reality isn’t ideal. It must be heartbreaking for parents struggling to put food on the table that is then refused, but I agree with Greygarious, hopefully some of it can go to the parent or be re-purposed in some way.


I think this is part of the problem. When I hear people say “all my kid will eat is chicken nuggets and french fries,” I think “how does your kid know what chicken nuggets are, unless you are eating them yourself?” I know things have changed a lot since I was a kid, but my mother always made ONE dinner for all of us - she knew our preferences and avoided certain things that we didn’t like, but there was one dinner, and it was always something “adult,” that she and my dad would enjoy. If you didn’t like the main dish, you could fill up on sides or go hungry. Convenience foods were a rarity in our house, and we almost never ate out - even fast food was reserved for road trips.


First World problem here in the U.S. Processed, bagged protein, starches and carbs are far, far cheaper than fresh foods. Any “nutrients” are added at a processing plant. And then, only by Government edict and oversight.

This is your meal. Eat it or don’t eat.

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re “my kids will only…,” part of the problem so many young children are in daycare or preschool, where they’re fed what’s cheap and relatively easy to prepare – hence chicken fingers and, of course, mac and cheese in the blue box.

these days, parents (both mothers and fathers) come home from work exhausted and rather than deal with a dinner time battle every day, give in and feed the kids what they want.

the point of the original article is that getting children to eat healthy foods is expensive, time-consuming, and, sometimes wasteful. waste that is far more difficult to absorb in poor familes than those with more disposable income.


As wonderwoman says, cooking healthy foods is expensive and time-consuming. Growing up, only my dad worked, so my mom had time for cooking, but we didn’t have much of a budget, so we ate what was on sale… and, with all love to her, she wasn’t a terrific cook. So while we ate “healthy food”, it was often unappealing and monotonous. Fast food or TV dinners were a rare treat that I eagerly looked forward to. The upside? I learned to cook for myself, and became curious about new flavors and foods. I’m very much the opposite of a picky eater and can’t stand being around them.

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I look at it like this: “Healthy” food = knowledge + skills + money + time. If I have less of one or more type of resources, the others must give more to the equation.

I take it as a given that analyses about “poor and picky kids” should be based on the resources poor adults have available to them, and respecting the ways food gives kids intangible and immediate pleasures, like choice and control, that are lacking elsewhere.

If I have 2 jobs and kids, or one demanding job and kids, I likely have little money, very little to no time to thoughtfully plot out my shopping list/meal plan; I may not feel myself to be a skilled cook even if I do know what “healthy” eating actually is. My kids may be eating school food which is quite possibly reinforcing a love of chocolate milk, pizza, and chicken fingers. The treats I can afford to give them are “bad” snacks and chain restaurants, while their friends may be getting vacations and high-end gifts.

If I’ve got kids and am lucky enough to have access to public benefits because I can’t work or I do work but STILL live in poverty, maybe I’ve got time but I have very little money, maybe some food-bank food (think non-perishables like white bread, canned goods, cereal), and my kids are relying on free school lunch, possibly breakfast. Frankly, I could be Jacques Pepin (he’s wonderfully frugal) but chances are I’m not Jacques Pepin and don’t know how to turn dried lentils, bodega mire poix, and hotdogs into a budget cassoulet the kids will love.

My childhood started with a mother who stayed home, who learned to cook on a farm, was comfortable in the kitchen, and had enough – not a lot but enough – money. Time, knowledge, skills, money. Of course we ate healthy food. Then things changed and she had to go out to work and take care of 3 kids. Sometimes 2 jobs because why would a teacher working 50-60 hrs/wk make enough to live on? We ate a LOT of frozen food, a lot of stuff people look down on. Pizza and Friendly’s were the big treats. We still ate better than many but that was because she had knowledge and skills. One of my sisters-in-law was in foster care; she has a decent amount of time and money but she feels utterly lost when it comes to food knowledge and cooking skills.


This superbly written. Thanks for taking the time and having the skill and background to explain it so well.

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Hey, thanks! That’s so sweet.

Not sweet. Totally true. We all learned from this.

i was an only child of a single mom from age 5 until age 10. dad was frequently mia before they split for good too. to pay to keep me in catholic school, she sometimes had to work 2 jobs, since there was no help from my father or her family. was she exhausted? i can only imagine. she still cooked dinner every night from scratch and there was never an option of me getting a “kid’s meal” instead. i think a huge part of the problem is people not knowing how to cook and this becomes a generational thing. your parents relied on convenience foods so you do too.

secondly, your kid isn’t going to die if he doesn’t eat cauliflower or green beans. plenty of ways to get good nutrition into your child, but this again means a certain ease in the kitchen and a basic understanding of what feeds a human child.

lastly, kids often refuse foods as a measure of power and autonomy. if they know you will cave, they will continue to behave that way. if there are no frozen burritos to make instead? what are they going to eat? i am not suggesting the dinner table becomes a battle-field, but there are plenty of parenting skills that don’t involve capitulation.


Our daughter and her family were here recently for a long weekend. The four year old said she was hungry so her mother listed all the options available (and there were plenty cause I stock up when they’re coming!). Nothing suited her so her mother said “well, I’ve told you what you can have and now you can let me know when you want to eat.” No hysterics, no threats.


we took the tactic:

you don’t have to eat it, but you do have to try / taste it.

I’m absolutely stunned at the stuff our kids crave in adulthood - especially the stuff they gagged on at 11 years . . .

like . . . when was the last time your 31 year old asked:
“Gosh Dad, how did you cook that liver & onion?”

calamari, anyone?

I got a panic call just prior to Christmas, “Heh, can you pick me up a pound that scrapple please?”

there’s a good reason to have your recipes in a text file on the computer -
“No problem, I’ll send you the file.”

I just noticed in this thread (which I hadn’t seen before) that people believe children being fed children’s meals is only done in America. It’s done in Italy all the time. There is really no expectation that children will want to eat what adults eat. Children who are picky eaters are very often indulged by their parents with a separate meal – as are adults. Italian women are sometimes criticized for all the domestic work they do, but there is not an ideology that children should be forced to eat or even try foods they don’t like.

Within living memory in Italy there have been times when the majority of people in Italy had almost no choice at all about what to eat, no matter what age they were, poverty was so rampant. People simply ate because they were hungry (and there are still poor people in Italy today). In a better economy, given an opportunity to choose and eat delightfully, Italians don’t see any particular virtue in forcing themselves to eat foods whose taste they dislike.

Where I live in Italy, seasonal vegetables are simply chopped and cooked with pasta in the same boiing pot of water all the time and fresh fruit is available year round. Vegetable soup is a staple of most Italian households. Meat is expensive and eaten sparingly where I live. There is snack food (and Italian children do get fat), but not a lot of “fast food.” In my town, it is impossible to get a meal “to go” during the lunch hour or the dinner hour! There is no pizza delivery.

Just thought I’d add that. Personally, ideologically, I feel children have the same rights to refuse food they don’t want – even refuse to try it – as adults do. I know people who have disliked certain cuisines and foods all their lives and they are quite cultured people. I know people who never were given anything to eat at home other than American processed food and recipes who in adulthood eat the foods of all nations, with no prompting. Kids who show a persistent tendency to avoid a balanced diet need a check up. But kids who’d rather eat chicken than duck or liver should have their personhood respected in my view. Their tastebuds might be telling them “that food is not for you.”

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there is a serious difference between
“food the kid does not like”
“food the kid does not like but has never tasted”


Curious if you have children. Our daughters and their husbands all work very hard outside the home and putting a half way nutritious meal on the table every night is barely doable. To think that they’re going to cook a separate meal is beyond ridiculous for them. They’re not going to deliberately cook something that’s likely to be yucked by their children but they’re not fixing a separate meal either. At that age (preschool) they’re getting a multi-vitamin so they’re getting that part anyway.

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