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Expanding Young Palates Now Might Prevent Picky Eating Later

By , SparkPeople Blogger
One of my biggest pet peeves about eating out with my family are kids menus. Many times I end up ordering food for them off of the adult menu, because the variety of their menu leaves a lot to be desired. I have to bite my tongue to keep from telling the restaurant manager that buttered noodles and corn dogs aren't a staple of every young child's diet, and that it's okay to offer something other than French fries as a side item. I understand that not every parent wants to order food the way I do, but at least having more options would be nice.

My kids don't love every food I make them try, whether it's something at a restaurant or something I cook at home. I attempt to introduce them to a wide variety of foods because I want them to know that there's more to life than pizza and grilled cheese. Sometimes it works well. For example, my daughter loves black beans and my son willingly eats zucchini. (These aren't particularly strange foods, just things that some kids won't eat.) Sometimes my strategy doesn't work well. We've had nights where I make dinner, they take one look at it and say "I don't want to eat that." But I keep trying. Research shows that introducing young children to a wide variety of foods, and even eating a variety of foods during pregnancy, can make them willing to try more foods as they get older.

"Nutritionists say toddlers are naturally open to a wider range of flavors. “We don’t challenge toddlers enough by experimenting with food,’’ says Jamie S. Stang of the University of Minnesota, a specialist on child and maternal nutrition. 'As long as the textures are appropriate for kids and there are no known food allergies, there is nothing wrong with introducing different foods.'" Some research has shown that expectant mothers who eat a lot of spicy foods, for example, have children who are more likely to have the same taste preferences. Flavorings like garlic and vanilla can also be transmitted through breastmilk, making infants more likely to accept these tastes easily.

Nutritionists recommend introducing a food 20 times before deciding that a toddler doesn't like it. For me, that's been frustrating. I don't like wasting food or having to prepare more than one meal when I decide to give one child a food they've rejected in the past. But I have found times where I make a dinner that wasn't well-received the first time I served it, and this time they gobble it up. Unless I'm sure it's a food one of my kids totally hates, I don't make multiple meals and I do make them at least try a few bites. I've found this makes meal time more agreeable for all of us, and makes them more likely to choose something more adventurous than grilled cheese when we go out to dinner- at least some of the time.

What do you think? Do you (or have you) use any strategies to help your kids avoid becoming picky eaters? Do you introduce them to a wide variety of foods?

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ERIN_POSCH 9/7/2020
thanks for sharing Report
One son was very picky and one son ate everything in sight. Report
This blog is very useful for kids. I would like to share this informations to others. I should try to follow this informations. This is very helpful for all. https:// / Report
I have read that haveing the kids help make the dinner helps them be more willing to try foods. Also I have learned that sometimes it is more of a sensory issue rather than taste. Starting with having the child get used to the feel of a food by just holding it. Gradually introduce it by then smelling, then Kissing the food then licking, then small nibble, and finally a bite. Its less evasive this way. Children are more likely to build negative feelings about these foods. The steps should be done over a matter of weeks not just at one sitting. move forward as the child gets comfortable and don't force it. I wish I new about this when my daughter was young. All though as a teenager she is now becoming less picky as she gets older and has tried some foods I never expected her to. So be patient. Report
I feed my 9 month old everything we eat (with the exception of anything with honey). He eats eggs, deep greens, brussel sprouts, wild salmon- you name it. I also still breastfeed him, so whatever is harder for him to chew, he gets the flavor through my milk.

I met with a group of the moms I had my birth class with and they're still listening to the pediatricians who recommend diets for babies that are outdated. One of the moms said her 7 month old refuses to eat vegetables without a fruit snuck in for sweetness. I think that's nonsense.

Start healthful eating habits young and hope it sticks as they become autonomous, opinionated adults.
Yes, it works to keep introducing the same foods. Our 3 grandchildren, ages 9, 12 and 15 have proven that. The youngest has always been a good eater enjoying anything the adults ate. The other two have grown into the pattern of eating almost all foods because their parents insisted they have a little of everything. Now we even have Salad Bar once a week with a big variety of toppings and everyone loves it. Report
my kids had to eat what ever I fixed for dinner always did a lot vegies and salad to this day they like a wide variety of food they are all in there 40's Report
I agree with this! I do not have any kids, but my husband & I LOVE to cook, try new recipes, foods, etc., & plan on teaching our kids how to cook, while also instilling good nutritional habits as they grow up. I am overweight as a 25yro & unfortunately, am finding it hard to break bad habits that were what I grew up with. It seemed my parents started eating better AFTER I was no longer living with least my Dad & StepMom. My mom always had some sort of veggie & a lot of home cooked meals, but I didn't live with her much growing up, either. Report
My kids are now 25 and 28, but when they were little we seldom ate out, and almost never at fast food places. I don't think they've eaten more than one corn dog in their lives. As a treat for report cards, they got happy meals (3 times a year) which they seldom finished. Both my girls were willing to try things. and both enjoyed stir-fried asparagus and roasted brussel sprouts. My youngest, especially liked unusual vegetables--raw mushrooms seldom made it into the refrigerator without her raiding the package. I didn't set the best example as far as chocolate and ice cream were concerned, but they learned to try and like many vegetables, whole grains, bean soups and other healthy foods. Report
This is so true! I wish I could go back and give my children more nutritious foods so they will like them more now. Thankfully they are eating more now but it would have been easier if I had of been more proactive back then. Report
While I do not have children yet, I agree. While I think my parents did a good job giving us balanced meals, my sister and I were slightly picky when we were growing up. It wasn't until I was cooking on my own at grad school that I developed a more diverse palate. It is more fun eating when you like different foods. My sister is still really picky, and it is difficult making meals for our family when all she really eats is white rice, pasta, chicken, and vegetables (not mixed). Report
I am proud to say my daughter gets excited about eating zucchini, broccoli, peas, asparagus, green beans, etc. and even begs for it! There are other veggies she is not so hot on, but for the most part she's a very healthy eater. I have bigger trouble getting her to eat meat. She doesn't like a lot of meat, but no matter what I make for dinner I always make her try at least a couple bites. Sometimes she loves it, sometimes she rejects it, but it never hurts to try. I make a wide variety of food, but when we only go out to eat once a month or so, I am OK with her choosing a grilled cheese sandwich for dinner, because she always has milk and fruit with it. The kids menu isn't all bad. A lot of places have healthy side dishes. Report
The horrible choices on kids' menus is why we never had our kids order from them. Their choices always came from the adult menu, and they split the plate. Report
We're big into the whole "You don't have to eat all of it, just one bite." And that one bite will turn into two if you spit it out, lol. Sometimes it doesn't work. My daughter still hates salad, even though I've tried lots of different dressing and toppings. But sometimes it does. She LOVES edamame in the shell and last night she tried the brocolli and cheese soup at Panera and wants to get that next time instead of mac and cheese. She'll still go for chicken fingers or a cheeseburger (plain!) 90% of the time, but she'll have brocolli instead of fries. Sometimes, that's all you can ask. Report
I totally agree. I never say no to my daughter when she asks to try something new, I let her try it and decide for herself. I do think it's ridiculous that restaurants don't offer a better selection at meal time, I usually give a portion of my meal to my daughter. Great article. Report
Personally my children were always given whatever the rest of us were having (sometimes in a modified form with slightly different seasonings depending on their age). We did and do all types of different foods that include different ethnic styles of same foods. Now the children are grown and feel comfortable eating almost anything (some do stay away from certain things due to allergies). All my sons love to cook and experiment with new things while including their children and others in so doing. My daughter loves to try new things, but hates to have to make them. lol Our children will accept or not whatever our expectations are of them. This is true with food or anything else we teach through our example. Report
@ JENN26POINT2, You sound like you are a very nice lady who is very concerned about her children eating a healthy diet.

I have to admit that what is a good technique for one family doesn't work well in another, but when your doctor recommend the child go to bed with nothing to eat, he is basing his recommendation on the health of your child.

My parents had a simple rule that was always followed and taught my brother and I more than one good lesson.

The rule was,"If you don't like what the chief cook (Mom or Dad) fixed, you had two choices. #1, go to bed hungry, or #2, fix your own meal". That worked very well for my parents and for my DW and I.

One of my sons best friends while in elementary school stayed over at our house one summer evening. We had meatloaf, corn and a chopped greens salad for dinner and we had cherry cobbler for dessert.

Robbie cleaned up his plate and asked for seconds of the meatloaf.

When his mom came down to walk him home, she told us, "I hope Robbie didn't make too much of a fuss at dinner tonight". My DW said, "Robbie was no trouble at all. He ate what Eric and Blake ate and even asked for seconds on meatloaf".

We thought Kathie was going to faint. "Robbie Never eats meatloaf. When I fix it for Tom and I, I always have to fix him chicken fingers or a hamburger. What else did you have?"

We told her and she said, I already mentioned the meatloaf, but he hates corn will not eat salad at all and the only way he'll eat cherries is if they are in ice cream!"

There is one food I don't make my kids eat, or even try, and it was a favorite of my Mom's - Pickled Pigs Feet.

I'm pretty sure one of the reasons my DW has put up with me for 40 years is that I will cook, especially if what she has scheduled doesn't strike my fancy.

At 90+% on the weight tables, I don't think you will hurt your child if he goes to bed not having eaten for a few hours. It didn't hurt me, nor my brother, and it hasn't hurt my two sons or my nephew. Report
Conditioning is a big part of it. If the parents don't eat vegetables, or complain loudly about having to, that's what the kids learn. Proper cooking helps too; who wants to eat a plate of mushy gray smelly overcooked peas?

Kids' tastes are different too. Children have a heightened sense of bitterness, which is rather helpful because many poisonous things are bitter. What may taste pleasantly complex to you (e.g. coffee) could taste wretched to them. I don't know about the twenty-try rule, but if you provide a variety of options, you're bound to find something that they like. Report
I can't understand why such a problem exists. As a child we always ate as a family. I can't remember an issue being made as to what you did or didn't put on your plate when the food was passed around. As an adult, our family always ate meals together. We all liked the food served and served ourselves as the food was passed around the table. No issue was made about what we did or didn't eat. No separate meals were made special for any and no one needed to be coaxed into eating a particular item or finishing every morsel. Report
When my kids were in a "I'm not eating that" phase, I'd give them what I knew they liked, then I'd fix MY foods & if they asked to try it, I'd say no several times until they INSISTED on trying the new food! Got 'em every time!!! Report
I have been feeding my kids a wide variety of fruits and veggies and healthy things. My oldest at around 2 loves asparagus and salads. She still loves them and now has developed other loves as well. My middle child loves carrots brussel sprouts, and fresh peas. She is very excited about the peas and carrots growing in the garden right now. My youngest loves broccoli. I involve my kids in cooking as well as now growing. I do let them have not so great food here and there. I don't agree that anyone should make a special meal for their kids just because they don't want to eat what I make. If they don't eat oh well. I have sent my youngest to bed many times without dinner since she won't eat. I know it won't hurt her since they say dinner is not as important as say breakfast or lunch. Stop catering to the picky eater is what I say. My mother in law does this. She will make special food for every grandkid and child. My husband refuses to eat any veggies or fruits because he never had to as a child. It DRIVES ME CRAZY. If his mom had made him then he would not be so stubborn about what he eats. Kids aren't going to starve they just need a good example and options. Even if they refuse to eat some days they will learn that they need to eat or starve. No kid will ever starve. My kids will actually usually pick the healthy choice rather than the sugary choice on most days. Last time we were at my in laws they were surprised my kids preferred the whole wheat multigrain bread over the white bread. I agree restaurants need better options. Some do have them but it make me mad to pay extra for the apple or milk. Why not include it in the price. I was charge an extra 60 cents for apples and 1 dollar for milk in one of my kids meals. Really. I can go buy an apple for less and for 2 dollars buy a whole gallon of milk. But I would rather pay the extra and have a better option then fries and soda. I am not saying my kids don't have these here an their but they understand it is a treat not something to have every meal. Plus little kids love to dip. Give them some veggies and some dip like low fat/sugar yogurt and they will usually gobble them up. I get a variety and I don't mind if one only eats the broccoli, one only eats the carrots, and the other mainly eats the celery, at least they like it and know that is is good and good for them. Report
My son is soooo frustrating to me! He used to eat so well! Would gobble up broccoli, eat his carrots, chow down on peas and califlower and would even eat his steak, pork chops, or chicken... Since he turned 3 though (he's 4 now) he won't eat probably 90% of what I make, then I'm forced to make him something else just so that he doesn't go hungry. Our doctor has told me to stop making him something else b/c if he's hungry enough he'll eat it, but I have seen him go to bed with no food in his tummy recently. (He's 90th percentile in height and 95th percentile in weight so she told us to watch his consumption, despite the fact that he's ALWAYS moving and ALWAYS running).

i've pretty much learned that if it's not a hotdog, chicken nuggets, ravioli or some other form of pasta, or pizza, my kid's not going to eat. I even made "clean eating chicken nuggets" the other night that are cooked in olive oil and breaded with almond flour and he wouldn't eat them. what the heck do I do??? Report
My 9 year old orders off the adult menu because she likes things like sea food alfredo and salmon. We recently went to Panera and they offered the kids sandwiches dry on white bread, my daughter was scandalized (she wanted mayonnaise and mustard and pickles on wheat)! All of my kids (including my pickiest 4 year old) prefer grilled chicken to fried "nuggets" anyway! Report
My children were eating artichokes as soon as they got their teeth. I held the leaves and scraped the artichoke meat off on their little teeth....just one way that I introduced them to different foods. Report
I was a very picky eater as a child. No one could make me eat what i didn't want to. If the choice was eat it or go hungry , i'd rather go hungry. I now eat a wide variety of foods, i love vegetables, fruits. I am still not fond of milk or cheese.
I agree kids should be introduced to new foods, and have it offered them lots of time before it tossed out as a food choice. But they should never be forced or have to sit there until they do try it. Report
I agree with you about restaurant kid's menus. Grilled cheese, chicken fingers, fries. Every time. Report
I agree that variety is great for kids and while it might not prevent a picky eater, it certainly opens many doors. We love to cook and try new things, so it was natural for our kids to try what we were trying. We also got them involved in the kitchen as soon as they could help out and now they love helping pick out and cook new recipes. Luckily they are not picky at all and have tried so many things. Report
I remember being forced to sit at the table for hours until I could choke down disgusting, overcooked broccoli, asparagus, brussel sprouts, etc. Now the smell of any of those vegetables makes me nautious. Introducing foods is one thing. Forcing them on children will not make those foods loved. Report
We lead by example when it comes to my boyfriend's 10-year-old daughter. She's been exposed to Chinese, American, and Filipino food all her life, including crazy things like baby octopi (she loves them) and fish with the head on. Her friends may turn their noses up, but she thinks she's even cooler when she eats food they freak out about without even flinching. Report
My SIL tried to feed her children different kinds of food and used to scoff at my picky eaters. My oldest teenager now eats a large variety of food (except the typical breaded or fried food) and her kids in grade school eat very few things. So it isn't a guarantee. But I have always refused to make 2 dinners. If I make something either of my kids truly hate, they are welcome to any leftovers in the fridge, so while even at their pickiest, they have at least tolerated most things. Report
We did introduce our son to everything adventurous. Now that he is a teen (17 1/2) he eats well but I am amazed to see how picky he's become lately. So it does happen and you can prepare for it. Report
We make it a point to introduce our boys to different foods. We're total foodies and want to pass that on to them. They know that you can have delicious and interesting foods that are healthy. They love cooking already and know that you can use fresh herbs and spices in place of the other "bad" stuff. You just have to offer it to them when they are young. Report
I don't think you need to force kids to try foods, but good examples of eating it yourself with comments like "wow this is good" from you and others sure can help. My grown kids will try most anything (didn't always as kids) and they eat a whole lot of fruits and veggies. Report
Our kids have been eating a variety of foods since they started solids. People seem surprised that they eat cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprouts, carrots, etc. We've also taught them the importance of being thankful for what you have and how the nutrients in different foods nourish your body. We have not yet found a fruit or vegetable that they do not like. Report
When our children began eating food we served variety of Fruits, Vegetables, lean protein (chicken, turkey, Fish, Sirloin, seafood). We only served brown rice and whole wheat pasta and whole grain breads. They are Teenagers now and prefer to eat at home where they know what's in it. They read every label and refuse to eat anything with trans fats. They don't drink any soda. They drink Water, Skim Milk and 100% fruit juice.

Small children are naturally Curious and will follow YOUR example. Key is to Serve several fruits/veggies for variety and encourage a small taste of what's not favorite and larger serving of favorites. Set example to have plate filled with 2/3 Colorful fruits/Veggies.

They don't eat a lot of candy and pass on cookies/cakes if not homemade. They save dessert for special occasions.

We grew red Lettuce, spinach, kale, other dark/purple leaf veggies in patio pots. Kids help plant, Water, and harvest their own salad. They didn't even know what iceberg lettuce was.

Start when their ypung and set the example!!!
I agreee 200%. Kids need to be taught at a very young age how to eat healthy. Report
We always did this with our children, "at least try it" and as adults they all eat a wide variety of foods. I would never make two meals (unless my husband and I were dieting and most of the time the kids wanted what we had in larger portions) Report
My 2 1/2 year old loves to eat just about anything. He's on a huge strawberry and grape kick now. It's so easy, he eats what we eat, and we just say "try it you might like it". If he dose not the first time it's ok, he can try again another time. Report
I have found that real hunger makes food taste even better. With so many snacks, some kids (and adults!) just aren't hungry enough at mealtime to try new foods or enjoy healthy, natural foods. Report
I breast fed my 2 for 12 months each I ate a varied diet.
All 2 never were fussy eaters they were the I couldn't fill them up type. Son is still a skinny man daughter watches her weight.
Their children eat what ever is on their plates. One grandson does'nt like anything too sweet Report
The rule in our house growing up was you had to try everything that was served - the theory being that it was good practice for having good manners when eating in other people's homes. The power of suggestion is strong with little ones. I remember eating eggs cooked in any manner (fried, poached, deviled, etc.) until a family friend said "Eat your eggs! It'll put hair on your chest!" I didn't touch an egg again until I was 21 - and even then I will only eat them scrambled. Other than that, I was a pretty adventurous eater as a kid.

My husband grew up in a home where they were allowed to be picky and they weren't exposed to many varieties of food. He never tasted garlic until he was 18. Now, my mother-in-law marvels at what I've 'gotten' him eating. (I did nothing but encourage him to try things I enjoyed.) We have agreed that if we have children, we will insist on them trying everything - but will not insist that they clean their plates.

The rule in our house growing up was you had to try everything that was served - the theory being that it was good practice for having good manners when eating in other people's homes. The power of suggestion is strong with little ones. I remember eating eggs cooked in any manner (fried, poached, deviled, etc.) until a family friend said "Eat your eggs! It'll put hair on your chest!" I didn't touch an egg again until I was 21 - and even then I will only eat them scrambled. Other than that, I was a pretty adventurous eater as a kid.

My husband grew up in a home where they were allowed to be picky and they weren't exposed to many varieties of food. He never tasted garlic until he was 18. Now, my mother-in-law marvels at what I've 'gotten' him eating. (I did nothing but encourage him to try things I enjoyed.) We have agreed that if we have children, we will insist on them trying everything - but will not insist that they clean their plates.

This picky eating thing is a very strange phenomena that I just wish I could undertstand. I grew up in a family that had eight children and my mom did not let us have snacks, unless we had permission, and when hungry enough, everyone ate. I have to think that my mom's method was right on. Thanks, mom!
I agree with introducing a child at a young age a variety of foods. That was the norm in our family and while we didn't like everything there were no picky eaters. That's probably why I never thought of fixing something different for my children. They ate what we ate even if it was only a few bites. They never starvedstarved Report
our rule has bee that our daughter can only say she doesn't like something AFTER she has taken X amount of bites ( the X amount is determined by her age; so when she was 5, five bites and now that she's 9, nine bites). One of her favorite veggies are brussel sprouts, broccoli, or califlower & carrots with feta. She only started saying she didn't like something when friends would come over or she would visit friends and they would say "I don't eat that". I tell the friends that at our house we have to all take a taste of whatever is on the plate before I can ever think of hearing " I don't like that". Report
I do not understand what is going on with this issue. I am a terrific cook, and thankfully, I have two people in my life, my husband and son, neither overweight, who appreciate and devour whatever my efforts at cooking have delivered. But my grancdchildren, both of my daughter's preschool and elemenary kids, are awful, to the point of asking their parents why there grandma is fat. My daughter's have followed the books on how to handle picky eaters, but these kids are ridiculous. I just don't get it. Is it a social bias that has kicked in, somehow, at a younger age? Are these kids just plain spoiled? Or is there some kind of physical or psychological issue with the properties of certain food, ie texture, that is turning these kids off? I don't remember myself, any of my seven siblings or my friends having these kind of issues. My husband cannot figure this out either What in the f... is really going on? I think it is scary. Report
as a 24 year old picky eater(and literally one of the pickiest ever) i remember my parents trying EVERYTHING to get me to eat. there are some kids that you cant do anything for. its like anorexia and bulimia. its not necessarily a choice and for all those nutrionists know its nothing to do with tastebuds, could be psychological. i tried eggs for the first time at 16 and started they really expect me to try them another 19 times?

and who says it's picky? maybe i have better taste buds, maybe i'm subconsiously just selective...i bet way back when kings didnt just anything that was put in front of them because it could have been poisoned...maybe picky eaters have evolved and it's not really a bad habit or disease...maybe it's evolution... whatever the reason, forcing your kids to eat somethign they say they don't like more than once will get you nothing but resentment. Report
My daughter is now 18 and is a horrible picky eater. :( I really wish I had worked harder to get her to eat more vegetables. Unfortunately when she was little was when I was at my heaviest and didn't really think about what either of us were eating. It wasn't till she was older that I started to pay attention. She eats healthy whole grains and lean meats now but she still won't eat many veggies. Report
My daughter turns two in five days and I take great pride in the fact that she eats no high fructose corn syrup, very limited sugar, and no processed foods I even went so far as to make my own baby food and I refuse to feed my child anything off of a children's menu. I have yet to see anything healthy on any children's menu so when going out to eat I bring healthy food from home for her. I have had a server say something about bringing my own food and I told him if he could provide my child with a meal as healthy I would be happy to pay for it. So if your child(ren) are young enough just provide your own healthy meal and save some money. Report
When my now 12 year old daughter was a toddler, she bought in to the concept that cut up veggies (namely broccoli, cauliflower, carrots) were "after-preschool" snacks! To this day, those are the very "snacks" she packs in her school lunch! She has been picky about other foods but will try almost everything presented. Report