Thursday, September 13, 2007

Picky Eaters Poll

When I first met my husband, he warned me that he was a picky eater. He hated peas, tuna, Thai food, most Chinese food, chowders and many miscellaneous other foods. He also stressed that he didn't share food and would appreciate it if I kept my fork off his plate. From frog legs (yummy) to oysters on a half shell, I'll eat, or at least try, just about everything. I was a bit disappointed and pictured us forever eating at steakhouses.

Five years and two children later my husband is, what I'll call, a Recovering Picky Eater. While he still doesn't like to share food with me (aside from dessert), he will let Olivia eat off his plate if she refuses to let him put some of his food on her plate. Hey, it'll prevent a tantrum in a restaurant.

While living in Columbus, Georgia, I dragged him to a Thai restaurant insisting that he could just eat rice (he loves white rice). Starving, he decided to try a rice and beef curry dish. If he didn't like it, I'd eat the left-overs for lunch the next day. Well, it wasn't long before he was trying other curry combinations. He was hooked.

Recently, he was "tricked" into eating chowder. I made fish soup. And, my husband loves fish. I made it with potatoes, onions, chicken broth, milk, bacon and halibut. I mashed up some of the potatoes to make it thicker, more chowder-like. He eyed it suspiciously and took a bite. After his second bowl he exclaimed, "This is chowder, isn't it? I knew it tasted funny." A couple of weeks later, he ordered clam chowder on a sea life wilderness day cruise we went on with the girls. I did a double take when I heard him order and he looked at me and said, "Well, you tricked me into liking it."

And, just the other day, I caught him placing a Portuguese tuna-dip on his bread. I let him eat several bites before informing him that there was tuna in it. Since it didn't smell like tuna, he insisted it must be some other kind of fish. But, I love tuna and I'm certain that's what was in it. It was then that I realized that my husband isn't really a picky eater. I doubt he ever was. He just thought he was. And, I don't think it was the fault of his mother or father. I think he was (still is) strong-willed and refused certain foods for such a long time, everyone thought he must really not like them.

As I watched Olivia eat spinach pizza the other day, it occurred to me that she has a broad palate. She'll eat calamari, chowders, salad, peas, broccoli (her favorite veggie) more varieties of fruits than I do, all kinds of fish, stews, tofu, etc. You name it, she'll usually eat it and since we arrived here in Portugal, her palate has expanded even more. I'm amazed at some of the things our two-year-old will eat.

However, often, she'll exclaim that she doesn't like something and she'll even go on for weeks that she doesn't like a certain food (yogurt, for example). I'll continue to serve it and, eventually, she'll start eating it again.

And, even though Olivia was "underweight" and at least two doctors insisted I bring her in for weight checks because they were concerned (I never went in because I wasn't concerned), I've never allowed Olivia to eat junk (okay, unless I'm sick or 9-months pregnant) because she didn't like what was being served. She just went to bed hungry. I've been pretty strict about this; following the advice of my parents and a few friends who have, pretty much, the same rules. I just don't think it's possible for toddlers to starve themselves to death. And, if a toddler isn't eating much, there's those yummy things most toddlers like called vitamins.

Of course, I'm not talking about children who have health issues or developmental issues. Many children with food allergies refuse certain foods. It's their body's way of protecting itself. Those children are picky for good reason. And, I'm not talking about children liking everything. We all have foods we don't like and that doesn't mean we're picky.

So, what am I getting at? Well, I've recently read some questions posed by parents about their children being picky eaters. My favorite, "Dear doctor so-and-so, my toddler will only eat frozen pizzas. How do I get him/her to eat a better variety of food such as fruit and veggies?"

The doctor always responds with something like, "How did your child begin eating frozen pizza's in the first place? And, don't give up on your child yet! It may take 10 or more tries for your child to like something placed in front of him/her. " The doctor will then go on with tricks for getting your toddler to eat this or that.

However, I wonder if picky eating is more of a behavior thing (as implied by many doctors) that parents let slip through the cracks. Could a strong-willed, smart child who suddenly gives up his love for peas and starts gagging when offered them be going through a stage? Do we as parents just give up offering peas because we think our child truly doesn't like them, therefore, as an adult, they (like my husband) insist they've never liked them. Do parents panic too much about their children being too thin and, therefore, allow dangerous eating habits to set in (such as the child who only eats frozen pizzas)?

Is it possible that sending Olivia to bed with nothing to eat after she decides that she doesn't like what we're eating for dinner, damaging her emotionally? Or, am I helping prevent a picky eater, setting boundies, etc.?

While Olivia appears to have a very big palate, I do have to get creative at times. I've put pumpkin puree into pancakes. I've put almond flour (for protein) into pancakes and whole-grain muffins. I've put bananas in her peanut and jelly sandwiches. Snuck sweet potato into stews and extra fruit in her yogurt. A few times I've even allowed her to eat half a bag of orange-flavored craisins when she's refused fruit all week. Just yesterday she ate a banana, two peaches, two plums, craisins and oatmeal. And, that's all she ate all day. She refused to eat peanut butter and jelly for lunch, so I saved it for dinner. She refused it at dinner and ate oatmeal instead (I didn't cook a proper dinner because I had class to go to and Matt was at a formal dinner for work). I thought she may wake up in the middle of the night starving. But, she woke up at her normal time, happy as a lark, asking to play with Lila.

I'd like to know what you all think about picky eaters. So, write in with your comments and take the poll.


Angie said...

I'm not a short order chef, but our biggest thing is that Ashlyn has to try everything on her plate. Sometimes that is the problem and she will eat more if she tries. I won't immediately get up from the table and give her something else, but I will give her crackers or cereal before she goes to bed if she didn't eat much for dinner. Also, if she tried something and didn't like it the first night, I offer her a different leftover.

I know someone here who's son is super picky and they can't enjoy going to German restaurants. Of course, she won't eat most of the local foods, either, so I wonder where he got it from?

Natalie said...

I definately think some kids are picky b/c there parents are. I know some parents who just don't eat a variety of food and their kids are pretty picky too. I don't like many fruits - but, I give Olivia and Lila all kinds of fruit I don't like and pretend I do in front of them. And, yes, if Olivia tries what's on her plate, no matter how little, I count it and she does get something a little later like a yogurt drink, crackers, fruit, etc. She doesn't, however, get a whole seperate meal as I've seen and heard some parents allow. I do allow that at lunch at times b/c she wants PB&J and I want egg salad, etc. You and I feel the same way.

House Dad said...

Heh. Are you saying that Matt can be difficult? :)

With Ellie, we do the same that Angie does... She has to try everything on the plate. More often than not, she'll like one of the things and the she chows down on that item. With beef stew, it was the carrots the first time. Then she started liking the potatoes and now she'll eat everything in the stew.

Alaska Dunns said...

"Picky" can mean so many things, like you said. Don't like the taste? Don't like the texture? Think they don't like it?

My boys are good eaters and like a variety of flavors, but when Daniel was a baby, when I first started introducing food to him at 5-6 months, I found out he didn't like anything with a liquid or pureed texture. He refused baby cereal, pureed baby food, most fruit and anything else that required a spoon to eat or was mushy when he picked it up. I'm not sure if it was purely a texture issue or if there was a little desire for independence mixed in with it. He's not a strong willed child but he has always enjoyed feeding himself. As he's gotten older, his texture allowance has expanded. He will eat hot and cold cereals, yogurt, ice cream, pudding, most fruits and veggies, and many other "spoon" foods. He still won't eat soups or chili even though he will try a bite if I insist. But I have never given in to the idea that there are just certain foods he won't ever eat. I think anyone can expand their preferences if given a chance.

I did read recently about "Super Tasters", people (and kids) with exceptional taste buds -- either more or bigger than the norm. These people often have a hard time with strong flavors and spices because it "assaults" their senses. So, there is some scientific basis to food and flavor preferences, though I think most of it is more social than biological.