Is "Picky Eater" too Harsh a Label?

"I like what I like" kind of eater, Oliver!

"I like what I like" kind of eater, Oliver!

Guest blog post by Certified Personal Chef - Ellen Fowler.

Being a professional Chef I thought I had mastered the secrets of crafting meals that my son would have found irresistible on his own merit. I had even done the research on how to sneak veggies into his dishes without getting him to notice. We decided to follow advice on growing our own organic veggies and having him involved in the cycle of planting the seeds, watering, harvesting and of course loving the fruits of his labor. None of this worked. What to do? How can I get my son to eat the good stuff?

I came by some readings that suggested that the problem isn’t in the way our fussy or picky children are eating but in the way we frame the whole dialogue.  It’s obvious I can’t have as much control over what my son eats but I do have control over the way we use common terminology to identify the struggles we have as parents in ensuring our little bundles of joy are eating enough of nutritionally dense foods.

Can we replace the term “picky eater” with “sometime eater”, “intuitive eater”, or “I like what I like-phase eater”?  Our young'ins need to develop their own taste preferences (on average it can take as many as 20 times exposure to a food for them to finally embrace it). Parentmap.com explains that you should “Let your child lick the food, rest the food in her mouth, or chew it and even politely spit it out. If you allow your child to spit out food they don’t like, they are more likely to try it again". Children have stronger taste buds than adults, which can overwhelm their palate. It may take a while for them to get accustomed to less familiar or pungent tastes.

Children are affected by many internal and external cues about food, including;

  • During growth spurts hormones can affect how much and what they want to eat.
  • Their taste palates are sharper which lends to being sensitive to certain flavors.
  • Kids also react to certain foods differently in occurrence to how something tasted the last time they tried it (which can change from day to day it seems).
  • The food palate for a 2-year-old, 3-year-old, 4-year-old up until adulthood are ever evolving.

I remember insisting that I would never like black pepper or salads to my mother when I was young and today these are two of my basic food groups. I also can’t explain that as a child I relished in besting my father in hot chili eating. This was one of my favorite past times. So much for sensitivity. 

Let’s face it, children are predictably unpredictable. Two nights ago, my son ate a bunch of broccoli (we call them trees at our house) but yesterday he says there are yucky and doesn’t want them ever again. Or my favorite is in the morning he asks for hot cereal with blueberries and when it’s ready and put in front of him he doesn’t want it before even trying it and he’s the one who requested it. What happened in the 3 minutes time it took to make it? I’m sure we can all write blogs or even books on the topic of these food challenges with our children.

In closing, if we label our children “picky” it infers that their behavior is a problem and they are steadfast and overtly resilient to eating “good labeled foods”. Reinforcing the term picky eater creates a never-ending cycle. Breaking the cycle is as easy as changing the language we use on a day to day basis. It may not get them to eat broccoli but it might give you a bit more peace of mind. Why not give it a try?

Ellen Fowler is a certified Personal Chef who owned Market-to-Table Personal Chef Services in Seattle, WA.  Ellen's company strongly supported local farmer's markets and whose menu only included local seasonal and sustainable foods.  Today Ellen can be found volunteering at the farmers' markets in the greater Vancouver area and spending time honing her writing and event planning skills.

KidsMelissa MaltaisComment