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Children Who are Fussy/Picky Eaters


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Manager note: This and subsequent posts were split from https://forums.egullet.org/topic/162779-classifying-dishes/?do=findComment&comment=2302621

 

The rest of the comments are all very interesting. 

 

With the exception of chicken pot pies, I grew up with the expectation that if it's in a pie shell or form, it must be sweet. Of course I grew out that, but as someone mentioned, beans with sugar (or sweetened rice) are unthinkable in some cultures. 

 

One thing I can tell you about this, if you want to get your kids to eat more vegetables and not complain, this is the way to go. ;) 

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2 hours ago, cteavin said:

 

One thing I can tell you about this, if you want to get your kids to eat more vegetables and not complain, this is the way to go.

I think trying to “hide” vegetables is the complete wrong way to do it. It’s more important to clearly show them which vegetables they are eating and get them thereby involved and interested. Our daughter would ask why she has to eat baby food

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2 minutes ago, Honkman said:

I think trying to “hide” vegetables is the complete wrong way to do it. It’s more important to clearly show them which vegetables they are eating and get them thereby involved and interested. Our daughter would ask why she has to eat baby food

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1 hour ago, Honkman said:

 Our daughter would ask why she has to eat baby food

 

There was a cross-cultural study done a few years back that sought to answer the why and how Asian culture is different from Western. One part of the results detailed how Western society has in place structures that encourage kids to make decisions while Asian society has in place structures of trust (in authority). A simple example is in Western countries a parent/guardian is more likely to ask a child what they want to eat whereas in Asian countries the food is prepared and the child trusts the "elder's" judgement. 

 

That came to mind when I read your comment. 

 

:)

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12 hours ago, cteavin said:

A simple example is in Western countries a parent/guardian is more likely to ask a child what they want to eat whereas in Asian countries the food is prepared and the child trusts the "elder's" judgement. 

Apparently we must then be Asian as we never ask our daughter what she wants to eat but she eats the same dishes as us since she is one (but I would argue that is more the German way as our parents have also done it). Your example is generalizing the western countries too much as there are very significant differences between many European countries and the US for example especially around food (with and without context to children)

Edited by Honkman (log)
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I think I've mentioned this before, and everything I'm about to repeat or say is purely based on my own observations of acquaintances, lovers, friends and enemies alike. Please take as you find it and don’t complain to me that it is unscientific – I know, thanks. Yet, I am sure what I have to say is valid.

In my quarter of a century in China and even more in Asia, I have never once come across what we call fussy or picky children when it comes to food. I have questioned knowledgeable friends and parents, but they didn’t even understand my question – the concept was beyond them.

 

Regularly, I eat in restaurants from the small noodle joints to lavish banqueting rooms, and have seen children pick out the vegetables to eat first. I’ve seen recently weaned children happily eat their greens, but be more hesitant about the proteins before getting there.

I’ve spent my life working in universities around the world, seeing college students eating in canteens. Only here in China have I seen every student eating healthy fresh vegetables, rather than the burgers or pizzas I always saw in British universities. The typical lunch the students select here consists of two dishes plus rice. One dish is always vegetables – usually green. A dish without some green vegetables is almost unthinkable.

 

I’ve never seen a restaurant in China with a separate children’s menu or children’s section on the main menu. Children eat what everyone else is eating. With famine and hunger still a living memory for many people, children are brought up to respect food and eat (to use a famous Chinese phrase) ‘every grain of rice”. Wasting food is seen as sinful.

 

Beyond that, I am not qualified to venture as to reasons for the difference betwen cultures and I’m not going to guess, but given how often the topic comes up, usually in threads about something completely unrelated, I thought it may benefit from a topic of its own.

I look forward to everyone’s thoughts and stories.

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6 hours ago, Honkman said:

 Your example is generalizing the western countries too much as there are very significant differences between many European countries and the US for example especially around food (with and without context to children)

 

Maybe, but it's just a study. I threw the idea out there because it came to mind. And now that I think of it, that part of the study was more specifically about The US and Japan. 

 

I often read about people fussing over people's (food) wants/preferences, but here in Japan it's rare. Mom, or the host, makes one meal and everyone eats regardless of their preferences. 

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I'm eminently qualified to respond, having no children of my own, having no background in science, no medical knowledge, nothing, nada, zilch. Therefore, except for one or two of the aforementioned, similar to the op in that regard,

 

My guess is seeing/living/experiencing the people (i.e. parent or parents, in most cases) who are responsible for nurturing, and then copying what they do, is what's going on.  So, if while that tot is sucking on his/her formula at McDonald's, while mom is shoving a burger and fries down her throat, that tot is gonna want the burger/fries at some point. On the other hand, if mom is gently sharing her stir-fired greens with tot right from the minute that tot is able to eat real food, tot is not gonna be green averse.

 

I've seen some similar stuff in our travels; I love how moms/dads share from their plates, stuff that would've never crossed my parents' minds to share with their kids. 

 

 

Edited by weinoo (log)
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7 hours ago, liuzhou said:

I think I've mentioned this before, and everything I'm about to repeat or say is purely based on my own observations of acquaintances, lovers, friends and enemies alike. Please take as you find it and don’t complain to me that it is unscientific – I know, thanks. Yet, I am sure what I have to say is valid.

In my quarter of a century in China and even more in Asia, I have never once come across what we call fussy or picky children when it comes to food. I have questioned knowledgeable friends and parents, but they didn’t even understand my question – the concept was beyond them.

 

Regularly, I eat in restaurants from the small noodle joints to lavish banqueting rooms, and have seen children pick out the vegetables to eat first. I’ve seen recently weaned children happily eat their greens, but be more hesitant about the proteins before getting there.

I’ve spent my life working in universities around the world, seeing college students eating in canteens. Only here in China have I seen every student eating healthy fresh vegetables, rather than the burgers or pizzas I always saw in British universities. The typical lunch the students select here consists of two dishes plus rice. One dish is always vegetables – usually green. A dish without some green vegetables is almost unthinkable.

 

I’ve never seen a restaurant in China with a separate children’s menu or children’s section on the main menu. Children eat what everyone else is eating. With famine and hunger still a living memory for many people, children are brought up to respect food and eat (to use a famous Chinese phrase) ‘every grain of rice”. Wasting food is seen as sinful.

 

Beyond that, I am not qualified to venture as to reasons for the difference betwen cultures and I’m not going to guess, but given how often the topic comes up, usually in threads about something completely unrelated, I thought it may benefit from a topic of its own.

I look forward to everyone’s thoughts and stories.

If only. My brother and his ex were into macrobiotic and all kinds of bizarre diets. My poor nephew couldn't believe what was available to eat when he started going to other kids' homes for dinner. The chances of a four year old eating an umeboshi plum in America are pretty slim, especially once they learn about Kraft mac n cheese and PB & J.

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Like so many things that have to do with children and parenting, this thread has already taken on overtones of morality and judgment which in my opinion are misplaced. Why is it somehow better that Chinese kids go straight for the vegetables but are hesitant about the protein, as opposed to other kids who might go straight for the protein but be hesitant about the vegetables? (As a person who will chow down happily on anything from the vegetable kingdom but doesn't like a lot of seafood and is squeamish about offal, I'm sympathetic to the Chinese kids on this one, but don't imagine it endows me with any special virtue.) What about a mom who "shoves down" her stir-fried greens but "gently shares" her burgers and fries?

 

I would be very surprised if people with food aversions did not exist in China. I am also not a scientist and have no resources to draw on but my own experience, but I can think of reasons why a single observer in China might notice fewer children with food aversions. For instance, children in general might be brought to restaurants less frequently than in other places; children in particular who have issues with eating might be brought to restaurants less frequently than in other places; people who talk about their children might be less likely to discuss a child's eating issues with outsiders than in other places; an observer who sees a restaurant with no "children's menu" might not notice a child quietly eating just a bowl of rice or noodles.

 

It wouldn't surprise me if in general, as a rule, children take their eating cues from their parents and surrounding culture and have tastes more or less like those with which they were brought up. However, my experience as a parent of an autistic son (now-adult) has reminded me that there are outliers everywhere and that not everything in human behavior can be attributed to the skill or virtue, or lack thereof, of a parent. Yes, he's a picky eater. Yes, he has perfect pitch. I claim very little credit or blame for either one.

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1 minute ago, Katie Meadow said:

If only. My brother and his ex were into macrobiotic and all kinds of bizarre diets. My poor nephew couldn't believe what was available to eat when he started going to other kids' homes for dinner. The chances of a four year old eating an umeboshi plum in America are pretty slim, especially once they learn about Kraft mac n cheese and PB & J.

 

Please don't misunderstand me. Despite the stupid, racist saying that the Chinese eat everything on legs except the table, many Chinese people are very conservative about eating foods they have never seen before. But that's as adults.

I've never seen children with the same reaction. They still pile into KFC and McDonalds', but also still eat the greens and pig's tongue and goose intestines that their parents eat.

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Personally, I'm more qualified than @weinoo - I also have no children of my own or medical knowledge, BUT I was an EXTREMELY picky child.  Vegetables were my nemesis.  But, as I've talked about ad nauseum (especially in my travel food blogs), I love the vegetables in Asia. Why?  They're really tasty.  I don't know what it is about them that I find so much tastier than typical western vegetables, but I find it still true to this day.  Put a plate of western broccoli in front of me and it will remain in that state in perpetuity.  Put a plate of stir fried gai lan (chinese broccoli), morning glory (ong choy/kangkung/pakboong), bok choy, pea shoots, etc. and it will be devoured in no time.  As I've done more research, I'm starting to wonder if the reason why they're so much tastier than their western cousins is because they have that trifecta of pleasure - pork fat, salt and a touch of sugar (and probably a touch of MSG), but that's a hunch.  When I make them at home, I use either grapeseed oil or rice bran oil.  When I was growing up, my mother would either steam or boil vegetables - usually long past their prime.  To make them more palatable, she might have covered them in the melty orange cheese - like velveeta, which for some reason always elicited a very strong gag reflex in me.  I still can't look at that stuff - not that there's anything wrong with it - millions of people love it, I'm just not one of them.

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21 minutes ago, munchymom said:

Like so many things that have to do with children and parenting, this thread has already taken on overtones of morality and judgment which in my opinion are misplaced. Why is it somehow better that Chinese kids go straight for the vegetables but are hesitant about the protein, as opposed to other kids who might go straight for the protein but be hesitant about the vegetables?

 

No one said it was better. It was just used as an example. I see no overtones of morality or judgement other than as noted below.

 

21 minutes ago, munchymom said:

I would be very surprised if people with food aversions did not exist in China. I am also not a scientist and have no resources to draw on but my own experience, but I can think of reasons why a single observer in China might notice fewer children with food aversions. For instance, children in general might be brought to restaurants less frequently than in other places

 

I already said, this was only my personal observations and there may well be fussy eaters, but in England I know many - usually regarding vegetables, especially greens.  Also. anecdotally in most western countries. Isn't it surprising that I've never met one in 25 years in China? 

And children are most certainly taken to restaurants. I seriously doubt any fussy eaters are left behind at home to fend for themselves.

 

21 minutes ago, munchymom said:

an observer who sees a restaurant with no "children's menu" might not notice a child quietly eating just a bowl of rice or noodles.

 

Ha! Now who is being judgemental? It's my fault for not noticing that child lurking in the corner? If a child were to do so, and I'm pretty observant, the bowl of rice or noodles wouldn't have come from a children's menu! That was my only point there - they don't have children's menus.

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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I've read that the notion of picky eating kids was nurtured by the food companies of the 50s in the US. 

 

I completely believe it since they've done it as long as I can remember.  There's a particularly foul one right now with a young mom chasing a kid with a forkful of broccoli  (good luck with that little turd when he reaches his teens)

 

And gullible parents buy into it and serve mac and cheese all the time.

 

And kids learn that they are allowed to fuss over food.

Edited by gfweb (log)
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21 minutes ago, gfweb said:

I've read that the notion of picky eating kids was nurtured by the food companies of the 50s in the US. 

 

Very true. 

 

And convenience foods, to say nothing of the convenience they offered, probably helped with addicting kids to sugar and salt (a whole other subject for sure).

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5 hours ago, cteavin said:

often read about people fussing over people's (food) wants/preferences

 

That is something I have never understood living now 20+ years in different parts of the US that way too many parents adjust their meals to what the kids want and are used to. It’s sometimes ridiculous to see at school potlucks what some of these kids are not eating because they have never experienced it. And as with so many other things, e.g. languages, behavior in many forms throughout life (including how to behave in restaurants) are deeply formed in the early years of life and should have the full support of the parents (and I have never seen anywhere on this level in different countries in Europe)

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I have children, well they are now adults, but I have no intentions of putting myself up as a model parent. I could give you many reasons and excuses but I won’t. Obviously it is relevant. We tend to perpetuate parenting patterns but I don’t think it would add much to this discussion. 


What we are discussing here I think is much more of a cultural difference than it is of a taste difference. (Although I admit that my first thought when reading this was how much easier it must be to enjoy Chinese vegetables!)


We’ve been through multiple versions of the appropriate way to raise children here in the West. Not sure if the same occurred in Asia. One of the worst was the idea that children knew what was best. They were allowed to run the show.

I had friends who permitted their child to only eat white food. When the paediatrician suggested a little tough love be applied, they were horrified. 
 

Food is one thing children can control. It’s a power-play. In my completely unqualified opinion, how a culture regards and nurtures the interaction between parent and child will influence whether the child believes he or she can control things through food. In different cultures there may be other means for a child to manipulate its parents.

 

Picky eating is probably not an issue in subsistence economies either!

 

 

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We are also ignoring individual taste.   I have three grandchildren with three diverse palates.   One is a meat eater who eats vegetables as required but not by choice, but will consume more protein than I, given the chance.   One craves sugar and eats vegetables by fiat.   The third could easily be a vegan, requesting unadorned broccoli for breakfast during a sleepover.  

But/and, all three avidly consume Chinese or Thai greens.   As mentioned upthread, salt and as Mary Poppins instructs, a teaspoon of sugar, maybe MSG, are delicious enhancements.

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Yes this road was been well traveled here. As in many things, everybody is different. Exposure is also a strong factor. My son had a lot of Japanese and Chinese friends so what some kids might think unusual was usual to him. His father is no vegetable fan and the kid was a vegetarian for quite a while as a young adult. Possibly modeling a therapist who was vegan who he truly admired. Why he told his 2nd grade teacher that lobster was his favorite food? His only exposure was the live one the dog and he chased around the kitchen (rubber bands left on) while we waited for water to boil so I could carefully remove shell for the cover of his report on "The Life of Lobsters". But he knew I love lobster. Motivation is a many layered thing.

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Here we go!  This is what I was trying to say. @cteavinsaid it so much better. 

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Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

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31 minutes ago, Anna N said:

Here we go!  This is what I was trying to say. @cteavinsaid it so much better. 

I don't know....  my parents never asked me what I wanted (unless it was a birthday dinner) - my mother made the same thing for all of us and that was that.  She tried to make things I liked because she knew that if I didn't like it, I just wouldn't eat at all - willpower is much stronger than hunger unless you're hungry for real, but that's a totally different issue.  There used to be the threats that if I didn't eat all my vegetables I couldn't leave the table, so I was content to sit there all night long and stare at the wall if I had to.  I was never tested, but I imagine that even if I was threatened with bodily harm, I would take it rather than eat something I didn't like.

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3 hours ago, munchymom said:

It wouldn't surprise me if in general, as a rule, children take their eating cues from their parents and surrounding culture and have tastes more or less like those with which they were brought up. However, my experience as a parent of an autistic son (now-adult) has reminded me that there are outliers everywhere and that not everything in human behavior can be attributed to the skill or virtue, or lack thereof, of a parent. Yes, he's a picky eater. Yes, he has perfect pitch. I claim very little credit or blame for either one.

 

In general, I think you're right, but individual taste comes into the equation as well. Else I would not have declined turnip greens in favor of making myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and I would happily eat calves liver and onions; but I did and I won't. Both were regulars on the table when I was a kid. I still use bacon fat as my seasoning of choice for lots of things, a holdover from childhood (fortunately, I have excellent cholesterol).

 

I have an autistic grandchild. He will eat fruit (except strawberries). He will eat peanut butter, if it's smooth. He will eat grilled cheese, pancakes, French fries and chicken nuggets. He will eat some sweets, but prefers crackers or potato chips. About the only vegetable he'll touch is a dill pickle. And he will cry with hunger before he tries anything else. We keep trying, and hoping we'll eventually get him to expand his horizons.

 

My other two grandchildren, by contrast, live in a home where there's never any junk food on hand, and rarely is anything prepared with sugar. Their mother has celiac disease, so bread is something of an afterthought. The eight-year-old's favorite snack is raw bell pepper strips. I try not to retch at that. The 10-year-old will eat three over-easy eggs at a sitting. With bacon.

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1 hour ago, Margaret Pilgrim said:

We are also ignoring individual taste.   I have three grandchildren with three diverse palates.  

 

Plug those same children into WWII where there's nothing to eat and those tastes will disappear quickly. One thing I haven't seen in this thread is role of choice: If you teach a person (I'm not singling out children) that they have choices and that they are individual and express that individuality through those same choices, you get picky eaters. 

 

I have watched clicks of feral teenagers suddenly declare themselves vegan -- and then just as quickly, not. I've seen adults take on all kinds of diets (keto, macrobiotic, paleo) just because they learned that this option exists and found something that either pulls them into a (new) group or separates them from the people around them. In other words, picky eaters.

 

 

Here's a random thought: Vegetarians are to blame. 

 

Here's my thinking. From the 60's, when vegetarianism gained acceptance in North America, families had a choice, watch their child pick off the plate or made a dish just for them. That family goes to another person's home for dinner, that new family feels an obligation to oblige and so creates a special dish. Community functions, the same, people start to bring special foods to cater to a minority and that new food becomes part of the norm. Lather, rinse, repeat. 

 

I said blame to be tongue in cheek, but I can imagine an alternate reality in which parents refused to make something special and so this idea that there were options out there would never have caught on. This is the Asian model. But for those of us living in a multicultural area, picky eaters may be inevitable as every group has their own preferences and prohibitions. 

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I can only speak from the example of my family. When my girls were growing up, we sat down to dinner together and everyone ate the food that was set on the table. They all grew up pretty normal and will eat just about anything except green peas. Oh, except for my oldest daughter and her imaginary food allergies, but that's a whole chapter for another time. Her own daughter is perfectly normal. My youngest daughter's partner is a picky eater and they raised 3 very picky children. The children were indulged in every whim and at times they were cooking 4 different meals at a time. My grandson is an entirely different story. He grew up in an adult world and from the age of two he was introduced to all the different cultures in all the different style restaurants available in Seattle. From the very beginning he was taught manners, correct Behavior, the art of conversation, and appreciation for all the people that made the meals possible for him. At 3, his favorite things were escargot and sushi. For him, the child's menu didn't even exist. To this day there isn't anything that he won't eat. In Costa Rica, he has eaten everywhere from The Humble huts in the indigenous reservations to some of the finest restaurants. He loves it all.

I can't say that I know what makes picky eaters, but I feel so sorry for them. The most enjoyable part of learning about the world is trying the food of different cultures.

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I think we are chasing tail at this point with generalizations. People, for many reasons, feel judged. As parents it can be strong. Eating "perfectly" changes with nutrition fads. Doctors are often not really nutrition trained so recite some mantra they learned in med school. If the kid is eating colors and variety I'm cool. You wanna try dragon fruit ($$$) at Granville Market - ok we will give it a shot. it is one awesome visual. The white only eater, then the Caesar salad only eater - my nephew - is in med school now and we've had this discussion, He appreciates the perspective. His experience and bent is to places like areas of Africa where REAL hunger and malnutrition exists. So deep breath - rules are meant to be broken ;)

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