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So, It's Your Fault... Your Kid's a Picky Eater


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To all the parents with children who cringe at food they can't pronounce -- would you agree? Is it your fault?

Meshelle Armstrong in the Huffington Post

It's absolutely the parent's fault if the child is going out to restaurants and ordering spaghetti in butter sauce, and downing it with dinner rolls and Coke at age 10. There's a big leap between this and having a child eating pan-fried sweetbreads with sea urchin foam, but I think a lot of people will be nodding their heads in general agreement with this piece; also that a lot of people will be angry and in denial. More people still will never see it, or acknowledge it - this type of piece should be published in Parenting magazine; not on a food blog.

May I offer, as a really good first step that the entire family can do together ... put your utensils down after taking each bite of food, and pick them up again when you're ready for your next bite. This alone could solve a non-trivial percentage of our country's obesity problem.

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Isn't this just another application of the nature vs. nurture argument? It's the parents' fault only if you believe people have no inherent personality and everyone can be molded. I don't disagree with offering the kids a variety of food, but I don't agree that if you have a picky kid, it's the parents' fault. For example, my brother grew up hating seafood (and offal), and he still does for the most part. In contrast, there's not much that I don't eat. Yeah, the title of the article bothers me because I think it's B.S.

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She makes some good points but wildly overstates how much you can control your kid's palate. Mine were raised eating exactly the same meals, and have very different tastes. In my son's case, his Asperger's Syndrome informs a lot of his food aversions.

That said, both got good, fresh vegetables and fruit with every meal and still eat a lot of green stuff.

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Really totally off-topic but I was reading this and had a moment:

Meshelle: "I'm "picky" about the shoes on my feet. Imagine what I wouldn't allow in my mouth."

The movie "Clueless" (1995):

[about keeping her virginity]

Cher: You see how picky I am about my shoes and they only go on my feet.

(To me, this is not a bad thing: I love that movie, and I love pop-culture shout-outs.)

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I love this article. To me, it's well written common sense but know others won't see it that way. As to nature or nuture, I think it has to be both. Also that we, and thus children, are all unique in many different ways--why generalizing is generally such a bad idea, divisive and destructive.

So, with kids, though I'm sure some of what develops is genetic, surely some other (perhaps majority) component is what they're taught or exposed to. Surely, setting examples has to be a good discipline. And, I'd have to think that what Meshelle is advocating would be a 'right answer' for nearly any parent concerned about developing children's palates, minds and healthy habits.

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Really totally off-topic but I was reading this and had a moment:

Meshelle: "I'm "picky" about the shoes on my feet. Imagine what I wouldn't allow in my mouth."

The movie "Clueless" (1995):

[about keeping her virginity]

Cher: You see how picky I am about my shoes and they only go on my feet.

(To me, this is not a bad thing: I love that movie, and I love pop-culture shout-outs.)

Meh, she married Cathal - she can't be *that* picky about much of anything except duck tongue and veal testicle. (*).

Then again:

Sous Vide : Oven Braising

Jimmy Jane : Sex

Rachmaninoff Op. 32 No. 3 : Chopin Op. 23 No. 1 (both written for one moment; Rachmaninoff gets there quicker)

Internet : Journalism

Rock,

Man in off.

This post brought to you by Buy Buy Baby.

"Big Values for Little Tots!"

(*) "Tell Rockwell to get that damned thing off his website!" :mellow:

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Can I force my parents to eat sushi 17 times so they appreciate it? No? OK, in that case, we're just dealing with differing palates which probably will sort itself out as it did for Ms. Armstrong.

Oh, and kids palates are a lot more sensitive to bitter flavors. So what you think they should like are not going to come across the same way.

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Can I force my parents to eat sushi 17 times so they appreciate it? No? OK, in that case, we're just dealing with differing palates which probably will sort itself out as it did for Ms. Armstrong.

Oh, and kids palates are a lot more sensitive to bitter flavors. So what you think they should like are not going to come across the same way.

Depends on the specific kid(s). I have close friends with a 5 year old who has been eating and loving sushi since he was 3. They didn't make him try it 17 times. But they themselves are sushi fiends. Some nature and nurture melding there methinks.

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Depends on the specific kid(s). I have close friends with a 5 year old who has been eating and loving sushi since he was 3. They didn't make him try it 17 times. But they themselves are sushi fiends. Some nature and nurture melding there methinks.

I loved it myself on the first outing. But I'm just using my parents (those poor people, they had to raise me and my brother) as an example of people who don't care for something.

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I'm going to walk this back slightly. I have a bit of pique being branded as a picky eater as a child, despite the fact that I ate and liked 80-90% of what went on my parents table. But because a few dishes were traditionally southern, and I didn't care for them, I got the picky eater label. We're not talking just eating buttered noodles. So I push back on that. Anyway, carry on.

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Sigh...

Unless you are going to live in a bubble and never socialize, you can't control for what your kid sees other kids, including family members, eat when you are out and about. Peer pressure is powerful.

BLPre-Ker used to eat everything. And because he had an egg allergy, we got to have extra super control over his diet at school and when we went out with family. So while his cousins were eating grilled cheese for the 4th night in a row, he was eating grilled veggies and 95% of the mussels off my plate.

And then he outgrew the allergy.

And his cousins continued to eat grilled cheese every single time we go out to dinner. Or pizza. I don't think I've ever seen either of them eat a vegetable. So now he can eat what the boys he hero worships can eat.

Hmm... We can have a temper tantrum in the middle of the dining room or we can let him eat the crappy food.

We talk about how he feels when he eats lousy food. We talk about how artificial food dyes making him jittery. We talk about how there are some foods that we just don't eat if we can't find an organic version (corn and soy) unless we know the farmer personally.

It is still damn hard most days.

But he did pull out a package of mushrooms and ask for them for dinner last night. He eats saurkraut as his vegetable in his school lunch at least once a week. Often if there is something on my plate and I suggest that maybe he won't like it since it is too grown up for him, he'll try it.

And in a pinch, he will happily eat frozen lima beans or frozen peas if I turn on a book on cd for him to listen to.

Jennifer

PS: There is something about the way that she writes that makes me want to stab my eyes out every single time AND never set foot in another one of their places again. Is it just me?

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PS: There is something about the way that she writes that makes me want to stab my eyes out every single time AND never set foot in another one of their places again. Is it just me?

The implication of her personal story is that she broke out of the "mold" despite her parenting - so is she hinting she's exceptional? There's a saying "you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink."

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With the smug certainty of a recent convert, Meshe projects the (apparent) failures of her own parents onto the untold millions of us yuppies who actually forced foodstuffs that were utterly unknown to Americans in the mid-70s into our offsprings' mouths, only to find that -- despite having 17 fish courses between a CityZen desgustation and one at Goldoni in its glory days -- our son doesn't like fish. Surely it's impossible not to like fish unless you parents have failed. Hence my own dislike -- despite the best efforts of my Alabama-born mother -- of watermelon. Because she failed.

Nothing says "healthy attitude towards food" like the sentence "While many believe eating is an intimate act, in our family we also view it as a sport. We train and train hard. I am now so proficient my stomach could win medals." Good for her. Between grades, puberty and sibling rivalry, I, personally, never had the guts to add yet another contentious element to dinner with the kids. Jesus, it took enough effort to get them to pick out a pair of shoes for their feet, imagine the battles about what they were going to put in their mouth. Why end dinner with pleasant-if-resigned "no dessert if you don't eat your squid," when you can get the girl(who "trains and trains hard" for her rowing team) to burst into tears?

In the end, though, we all benefit from the fact that M. was forced to find solace in a Big Mac, rather than the arms of her date, after dinner at my old boss's restaurant -- her penitence seems to include a commitment to the type of dining that we all appreciate, now that we've overcome our parents' failings. If only her success as a restaurateur didn't give her license to publish such self-righteous drivel.

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I think Meshelle's point is valid for the vast majority of families with picky eaters. The exceptions are kids with sensory issues -- no amount of exposure and modeling is going to get them over that. Parents are not eating a wide variety of food in front of their kids, not modeling enthusiasm for new and different foods, and/or not finding an approach that works for their kids to try new foods.

When I talk to parents who are complaining about their kids picky eating, I start asking about family meals. In most cases, there are very few family meals, particularly for younger kids. One or both parents get home late enough that there is a kid's meal and a grownup meal. Where there are families who have family meals and picky eaters, when I've had a chance to observe what the parents eat, the parents have had a very white bread approach to food. The kids are actually no pickier than their pickier parent.

In contrast, we have family dinners almost every night from a wide variety of cuisines and our daughter dines with at least one parent when we're not all together. No one is eating Cup-o-noodles in the car for dinner. Our daughter eats what we eat, except when we have a main dish that she tries, but does not enjoy. At that point, we hit the emergency stash of shelf-stable tofu. The messaging is that you tried it, you didn't care for it, and we will offer a palatable but boring alternative---we are not going to starve anyone but we also aren't going to cook a whole second meal for her, either. While we went through a peer-pressure induced contraction of her palate during early elementary school, we seem to be mostly over that.

At age 11, she is all over the place with what she likes and dislikes--generally dislikes spicy food, but will eat ALL the cashews at Ray's, and requests and devours the spicy cumin lamb at Hong Kong Palace. Our biggest challenge right now is leafy green vegetables. Something about the texture of fresh or cooked leafy greens seems to be a turn-off, though she will happily munch on fresh basil or mint leaves from the garden. She devours asparagus, broccoli, tomatoes, cukes, sweet peppers, carrots, jicama, and edamame, so we're not without vegetable options. Given the chance, she will also happily eat the heavily manufactured foods like Chef Boyardee, Kraft Mac & Cheese (though she does prefer my from-scratch version), so there's no question that the manufacturers of those foods have found something that makes them extra palatable to kids.

But like Kraft, we are able to influence our children's reaction to new foods through a bit of marketing. We introduced asparagus with the line, "it tastes great AND it makes your pee smell funny, how cool is that?" The Iron Chef Broccoli battle turned her into a big fan of broccoli. And it is pretty hard for a kid to resist things they help grow in the garden.

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I've got 2 kids, 11 and 13. The younger was more adventurous until he was about 6. The older is now starting to expand her palate. I consider both picky regardless of the fact that they are both proficient with chopsticks.

My son only eats clams in Catalonia, I think he prefers the beach over the city for this activity.

Eat and let eat. Tastes, like people, change with time.

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I think Meshelle's point is valid for the vast majority of families with picky eaters.

When I was in high school, I was asked if I eat to live or live to eat. Being a punk at the time, I said I live to eat, which statement was received with some rolling of the eyes. Now that I'm an adult, I realized that I do live to eat. But the fact that i eat more weird shit doesn't make me better. The fact that your child is a less picky eater also doesn't make her or you any better. Having a wide palate is not a talent.

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When I was in high school, I was asked if I eat to live or live to eat. Being a punk at the time, I said I live to eat, which statement was received with some rolling of the eyes. Now that I'm an adult, I realized that I do live to eat. But the fact that i eat more weird shit doesn't make me better. The fact that your child is a less picky eater also doesn't make her or you any better. Having a wide palate is not a talent.

it kinda does, since for the most part picky eaters are usually eating garbage. chicken nuggets and mac and cheese several meals a week. sure it's easier than trying to fight the battles of getting kids to eat a varied diet, but it also means that you let the terrorists win.

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it kinda does, since for the most part picky eaters are usually eating garbage. chicken nuggets and mac and cheese several meals a week. sure it's easier than trying to fight the battles of getting kids to eat a varied diet, but it also means that you let the terrorists win.

Maybe I need to read the piece again, but my takeaway wasn't so much that the goal was to enable your child to discern between the various Roqueforts (Matt still does not tolerate anything more than a speck of strong blue cheese, and he recently compared Indian pickles to drain cleaner). I don't think this level of discernment is any more important than blind-tasting wine (it's a nice parlor trick, but at the end of the day, that's about all it is). Maybe a pork chop with fresh mashed potatoes and broccoli (purée) to start with? It's sure a lot more balanced than bagels for breakfast, PB&J for lunch, and mac-and-cheese for dinner. As an aside, does anyone in the entire world like Scotch the first time they try it?

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Maybe I need to read the piece again, but my takeaway wasn't so much that the goal was to enable your child to discern between the various Roqueforts (Matt still does not tolerate anything more than a speck of strong blue cheese, and he recently compared Indian pickles to drain cleaner). I don't think this level of discernment is any more important than blind-tasting wine (it's a nice parlor trick, but at the end of the day, that's about all it is). Maybe a pork chop with fresh mashed potatoes and broccoli (purée) to start with? It's sure a lot more balanced than bagels for breakfast, PB&J for lunch, and mac-and-cheese for dinner. As an aside, does anyone in the entire world like Scotch the first time they try it?

I don't think it is either. But I do think the point is that kids should be exposed to a wide variety of food and that it's the responsibility of the parents to make sure that they are.

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A few things:

You can serve your kids a wide variety of food, but you can't make them like it. This does not make you a failure as a parent. I have been trying unsuccessfully for nine years to get my son to eat soups, stews, things in sauce. He does not like them, and I have quit trying to force them on him.

You can learn to be adventurous as an adult. My mother's cooking was of the thrifty Ladies Home Journal-variety - lots of casseroles, iceberg salads, frozen veggies, canned peaches, etc. (it was mos def the early 70's) and we sure as hell were not eating sushi while both my parents were working full time and going to school full time. My palate expanded as a grownup, although I didn't have a date that could afford to take me to a swanky dinner joint like Le Pavillion until I was almost 30. :mellow:

Good food is expensive and frequently takes time to prepare. I went from comfortable stay at home mom to single working mom in one year. Guess what gets cut? Farmer's market trips, restaurants, expensive cheese, fresh fish, organic anything. Not everyone can afford duck and radicchio, and to make value judgments without knowing someone's economic situation is more than a little obnoxious. There are many, many parents worse off than I am, and variety is probably not their first concern when trying to feed their kids.

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What's wrong with buttered noodles?

Nothing, unless it is the only thing you are willing to eat. As Heather has so aptly pointed out, food restricting can be symptomatic of underlying health issues with some children that are not something a parent has any control over. There are no always or nevers when looking at this issue--children are unique individuals and the dinner table and the toilet are often the first places where they begin to assert their own will. That isn't to say that there aren't lazy parents who'd just as soon put chicken nuggets in the microwave every night rather than make the effort to cook something more nutritious that could appeal to their child given the exposure.to it.

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I don't think it is either. But I do think the point is that kids should be exposed to a wide variety of food and that it's the responsibility of the parents to make sure that they are.

The problem with "food" is that it's such an accessible pretense. Instead of just exposing your child to a wide variety of food, why not also a wide variety of music, art, and cultures? (Not just yogurt cultures.) Diet, rest, exercise ... that's the key to a healthy life for the majority of people - this is all just common sense wrapped in a banana leaf.

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As if parents don't have the work of Sisiphus already, now they have to worry about raising kids with sophisticated palates lest the likes of MA judges them and their lineage for not eating what a restauranteur's children eat.

I'd rather children learn about tolerance and acceptance than goose liver and fish eggs-- two things I do not like despite my mother's homemade and wonderful, if pedestrian, cooking.

That rant put out there, nobody but nobody and their brood need to be exposed to offal, sea urchin and brains to have good manners, including judging others behind their backs. That's free and learned at home.

"but since you didn't insist that they eat a proper dinner -- properly, your babies end up looking like real gits" Really? To whom?

"then feign "allergy" " Why? Because they feel they need to lest you deem them a git.

"Sorry, but truth be told, 'the eaters' kinda make fun of you. So parents, you if want your baby to play in the good sandbox, know it's not too late to sway their gustatory organ in favor of the food gods." Unreal. To the "eaters", I have some words of advice to give you that my first grade teacher, Sr. Patricia, taught me: MYOB, it's a 24-hour job.

eta: Sadly, there is a message in MA's piece, but it's lost in all that Clintonian finger waggling.

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As if parents don't have the work of Sisiphus already, now they have to worry about raising kids with sophisticated palates lest the likes of MA judges them and their lineage for not eating what a restauranteur's children eat.

I'd rather children learn about tolerance and acceptance than goose liver and fish eggs-- two things I do not like despite my mother's homemade and wonderful, if pedestrian, cooking.

That rant put out there, nobody but nobody and their brood need to be exposed to offal, sea urchin and brains to have good manners, including judging others behind their backs...

In my browser the alleged rant does not demand a sophisticated palate, nor does it recommend eating offal, sea urchin, goose liver, caviar, sushi or other prejudiced items. It suggests promoting exposure to variety and healthy alternatives to repeatedly eating overly abundant servings of high calorie, higher fat and highly processed foodstuffs. Tolerating and accepting (complacency) unhealthy overweight children and their associated health/social liabilities is irresponsible, particularly for parents who condemning nefarious grown-up vices, drugs, booze, porn, cigarettes, Huffington Post, crime, gambling, violence; insist on peripheral security measures such as helmets, seatbelts, locks, cell phones, warm coats, hats, baby sitters, etc…; encourage betterment that comes from education, reading, art, athletics, culture, discipline, manners and patience while what fuels them physically is too much of a hassle and not worth the tantrum.

As for the economics of lean coffers and limited time associated with the apparent burden of raising children; grains, frozen vegetables, necessity inspired curiosity, refrigeration, access to a food forum and boiling water will stretch the dollar.

Anyone who feels they are enabling a child’s health decline by perpetuating a regimen that a trusted medical professional, proven science and/or Rev. Michael Pollan would not recommend should feel offended.

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Encouraging kids to eat a variety of foods is important. Not everyone will like everything, but learning to have an open mind and try new things is a critical part of growing up, whether you’re talking about food or something else. Everything is new the first time you encounter it, and that’s obviously the case for children. It becomes weird when it’s a 30-year-old who has never had tomatoes. “Ooh, they have seeds in them,” or whatever. Given enough time most people will adapt okay.

Parents who don’t have a broad knowledge of food are not going to raise children to look for that, but it doesn’t mean the children won’t when they are older. If they are raised to be interested in new things (as I was), it won’t matter that the parents never ate pizza or Chinese food (which mine didn’t). It didn’t damage me severely that I didn’t eat pizza until high school or stir-fry until after that. What strikes me now is that I was raised with the notion that not everybody likes all kinds of food. I’m (mostly with the occasional grumble) okay with the fact that people I’m cooking for may not like this or that. Not everybody likes the same things. That’s okay.

I’m not a huge fish person, but I will eat it. I don’t hate it, but it’s not my first choice. My husband doesn’t love fish either, but ditto. I feel like it’s healthy to eat it on a semi-regular basis, so I build into my shopping schedule that we will usually eat fish or seafood the day I go grocery shopping. That’s part of being an adult.

If I look at what I ate at 12 and what I eat now, there’s a big difference, but I grew up. I discovered many foods I didn't even know existed then. My parents didn’t do anything to stunt me. (They even bought Stouffer’s french bread pizza when I was teenager and really wanted pizza. Then I learned to make it myself.)

The thing that bothered me most about this article was actually the whole competitive training thing. Despite the Black Widow (etc.), eating is not a competition. It seems that, based on her Yannick Cam experience, it's very important to eat what other people expect you to, but other people seem relevant to me only in that you aren't rudely declining food when dining with them. I'd never had duck when I was that age, but I would have eaten at least some of it, because it's rude not to. While I'm sure there's more to it, the way this is written, it sounds like this argument is based on her guilt at refusing food and the feeling that she lost status by doing so.

HA. I rewrote this several times before I posted it, and ended up leaving out the fact that the only food I was served as a kid that I wouldn't eat was canned wax beans. I then referred to that in a later post, but it makes no sense because I edited it from here. D'oh!

Edited by Pat
incompleteness
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My husband and I love seafood of all kinds, including crabs, lobster, sushi and raw oysters. My husband's parents loved seafood, my father loves seafood. My mother hates seafood. My kids hated seatood, although older son will now eat sushi, which he is not crazy about, but his friends eat sushi and he likes to hang out with his friends.

I believe that my kids hate seafood for the same reason my mother hates seafood, whatever that is. Something to do with taste, or texture, or both.

I have always hated calves liver but like chicken liver and adore fois gras (a guilty pleasure). I like some organ meats like heart, tongue, sweatbreads, tripe, but not brains. Never even tried a brain of any kind. I will eat fish cheeks but not fish eyes. Never even tried an eye, of any kind. Nor intestines (except as sausage casing) nor bungs nor uteri. I have tried chicken feet, not for me. I have tried duck tongues, not for me. I have tried jellyfish, not for me. If that makes me a picky eater, so be it.

I don't think I am a picky eater. I will gladly, willingly, gratefully gobble as many raw oysters as I can get, without any condiment whatsoever except fresh lemons squeezed over them. I cannot imagine eating a delicious raw oyster with such slop as cocktail sauce. Ack.

My kids, who are now adults, no oysters, not at all. They adore the cuisines of many different nations, but the meat they eat is red muscle meat. Mostly cow. They will both eat buffalo, lamb or goat. One won't eat pig, but he will eat bird. The other will eat pig, but not bird.

Husband doesn't like the kind of tripe that is soft, like chicken skin, but will eat crunchy tripe. Go figure.

As for me, as I have said, I will eat anything but calves liver, brains, eyes, intestines, uteri, and bungs. Probably would not eat testicles, it's never actually been on offer. Similarly, never been offered lungs. I am not likely to be offered lungs. I hope.

As for vegetables, nobody turns up their nose at any vegetable, whatsoever, depending on how they are cooked. Boiled into submission, yuck. Canned vegetables, double yuck. Younger son does demand that I blanch collard greens, which I would prefer not to do, but he hates bitter tastes. He may well be a Super Taster (extra tastebuds on the tongue ). When I am not cooking for him, collard greens are not blanched, and nobody else objects. When cooking greens for him, I must use smoked turkey, not pork. Everybody else is fine with pork.

I am strongly against forcing people, including children, to eat food they find distasteful. Example being calves liver. I don't personally know anybody who actually likes calves liver but my father. He is entitled to his preference but I won't eat it and would not force anybody else to eat it, or anything else I love but they hate. Even if they are children.

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I am strongly against forcing people, including children, to eat food they find distasteful. Example being calves liver. I don't personally know anybody who actually likes calves liver but my father. He is entitled to his preference but I won't eat it and would not force anybody else to eat it, or anything else I love but they hate. Even if they are children.

*************

I strongly support this! I was never made to eat something I did not like. Mom cooked meals almost every day, so I'm blessed to have grown up in a home where KFC was never considered a homemade meal. Even when she returned to work full time, she made dinner every night. When our parents enjoyed calf liver about once a month, my brother and I were allowed to indulge in a can of Chef Boyardee or Ellio's pizza.

Believe it or not, that was a real treat! I'm so happy I was never brow beaten into eating anything. If said vegetable was not eaten, it was OK. I only had to try it. If I didn't like it, there were no consequences.

I too discovered foods that I never knew existed as a child and certainly have exposed myself to cuisines of the world, despite my parents' "mid western" tastes.

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My one personal observation of a parent creating a picky eater was seeing a parent consistently give a child too many options of food during a meal. The few times I observed, the meals consisted of a combination of leftovers/meals that didn't make sense, causing the child to pick a bite there, here, and then calling it quits for some reason. For example, at a restaurant, the child would get an order of x, a side of y (i.e., mac and cheese), and then the parent's meal choice would be option z. Another time was a culmination of leftover restaurant A, leftover B restaurant's meal and then something cooked up on the same plate.

I think this overwhelmed the child (decision fatigue - see NYT article) or taught the child to pick and choose a bite here and a bite there is okay, creating the picky eater of a sort.

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