Getting Over Picky

Sharon June 25th, 2007

Yesterday’s project was a serious strawberry harvest, and today I’ll make lots and lots of jam - 50 pints, I estimate. Strawberry is the univeral favorite among the kids, so we grow lots. The kids helped (hindered ;-) ) with the picking in their own inimicable ways. Eli plopped himself down on the straw and began a two-fisted strawberry eating project, with an occasional languid toss of one into a basket. Isaiah took his bucket and began a quest for only the biggest, reddest, ripest strawberries, which meant his picking rate was about 6 an hour, 4 of which were promptly eaten. Asher likes to pick, but by the time the strawberries get from his little hands to the bucket, they often must be discretely disposed of, while lavish praise for helping is dispensed. Only Simon really picks at this stage, and he takes great pleasure in bossing people around while he does it. “Don’t step there, Eli, you’ll squish the strawberries.” “Isaiah, no eating!” (Here Mommy intervenes to say that Eli is fine and so is eating - her mouth is full, so she’s no hypocrite ;-) . And when Asher accidentally ate a green strawberry and said “yuk,” Simon erupted in outrage “No saying yuk!”

Now this last is a firm rule in our household, although there are exceptions for babies eating truly gross things like green strawberries or dog food (don’t ask). But my kids are powerfully enjoined never, ever to complain that food is “yucky” or “gross.” They can say “this isn’t my favorite.” They can say, “no, thank you.” They are not required to eat anything they don’t like (although seconds and dessert, if any, depend on reasonable eating). But the first “ugh” or “yuk” gets you a very stern warning, and a second means you leave the table and don’t eat again until your next meal. The same is true about discussing food that is not present in the same terms. None of my children have ever had to have this happen more than once.

This rule also applies to regularly visiting other children who I babysit for, and has been applied by Isaiah (to Mommy’s horror and embarassment) to a visiting guest who was describing a meal she strongly disliked. And while we had a long talk afterwards about how being a good host and not embarassing guests or making them uncomfortable, I’ve never been sorry about this rule. My children can recite our reasoning as well, “This is very important to Mommy. All her jobs are about making other people have enough to eat, so we don’t waste food and we don’t say mean things about it, and we do say a blessing before we eat.”

The world is a hungry place. Millions of people world wide don’t get enough food - 2 billion are food insecure, including millions in our own country. Hunger and its associated illnesses kill millions of people every day. Saying “gross” to food that is good for you, nutritious and just doesn’t happen to suit your palate seems to me to be wrong. Everyone has food preferences - but the notion that there’s an inherent ickiness to anything someone considers food is just wrong - or rather, it isn’t anything more disgusting that what you eat.

Seriously, think about it. Grossed out by someone who eats organ meats? Why is muscle tissue somehow nicer? Don’t like the idea of fermented, spiced kimchi? But you eat the coagulated milk of live animals as cheese? Grossed out by vegemite? Well, other people think peanut butter is just as vile. You eat pringles, and you want to tell someone their rutabagas are bad ;-) ?

Me, I don’t like anything gelatinous (no aspic) and I avoid soft boiled eggs. Never acquired a taste for vegemite, and I’m only so-so about chocolate (I like adulterated with other things, like peanut butter and fruit, and in milk form - people who are serious chocolate people tell me this is heresy). I keep kosher at home, and won’t eat non-kosher animals when out, and I try to eat sustainably whenever possible, although I don’t bitch when I’m a guest somewhere else. But I don’t find anything wrong with the things I don’t eat, and there are circumstances in which I would eat all of them. Visiting a distant connection on Java, for example, we were fed an elaborate meal by a very poor family. I’m still not totally clear on what sea animal was involved, although I’m sure it wasn’t kosher - but it was delicious, and offered with generosity and kindness.

I’m one of the less-picky people on the planet. I’ve eaten things in my travels that ordinarily get a chorus of “EWW!” - and liked many of them. My husband is similar, and together we’ve managed to raise four comparatively unpicky kids. A lot of this is sheer luck - you spin your wheel, you take your chances. For example, we have an autistic son, and autistic children are notoriously poor eaters, often because they have strong sensory issues with food textures and smells. Eli is a spectacularly good eater by autistic standards (actually, compared to many of my friends’ kids he’s a spectacularly good eater, although there are things he avoids, like cheese) This is a huge advantage in our quest to cut emissions and eat sustainably - because it means that we can truly take advantage of what is fresh, local and in-season. Some of it, however, I think is a product of two things. We eat everything. And we garden.

I was talking strawberries to a friend of mine the other day, and she was saying she buys them all year ’round for her daughter because they and bananas are the only fruits her daughter will eat. We, on the other hand, eat strawberries like mad for a month in June, and then enjoy dried strawberries, strawberry sauce and strawberry jam until the next year’s harvest. When the first strawberries come in, everyone eats the few bites with reverence. A few days later, when there are enough, we gorge until the juice pours down our faces. By the end of the month, we’ve eaten strawberries every day, canned dozens of jars of jam, lived with the scent of dehydrating strawberries, and we’re ready for something else. And here come cherries, peaches, plums, raspberries and blueberries to take up the slack.

But, of course, my children *eat* cherries, peaches, plums, raspberries and blueberries. But a child who eats only strawberries and bananas can’t eat a seasonal diet - even imagining a modest importation of bananas, that’s a tough, fruit-free life. And since this child also doesn’t eat whole grains, chicken in non-nugget forms, greens, peppers, carrots, broccoli or any vegetables other than corn, peas and cucumbers, that lack of fruit is a real problem, health wise.

And why doesn’t this sweet little girl eat any fruit? Well it is possible that there’s a real underlying issue to her pickiness - that she has sensory issues, unrecognized food allergies or some other deep reason. But I know her family well enough to guess not - I’m guessing the root is simply that her Mom is a picky eater too. Her Mom doesn’t eat cranberries, eggplant or beans of any kind, squash, sweet potatoes, any cheese but cream, brown rice, brown bread, or drink unflavored beverages (ie, water). And Mom, perhaps because she too knows the pain of eating something she doesn’t like, doesn’t require her kids to try things, and gently passes along her own prejudices. When they came to dinner, older child would eat only plain rice (white) or pasta (also white) at my house, and they would ask me to produce a seperate bowl of these, even if they weren’t on the menu. Now I’m big on guests being curteous to hosts, so I did, but there was some discreet eye-rolling.

Now I’m not talking here about food allergies, medical conditions or religious and ethical scruples, or distaste for stuff we shouldn’t be eating anyway (hostess snowball prejudices are good with me) but about garden variety pickiness, the “I just don’t like it.” And most (not all!) of the picky kids I know come from picky parents, or non-picky parents who make food into one of the BIG DEALS. I’ve never met a little kid whose parents made a big thing about not liking things who didn’t do the same
, or one whose parents scrutinized every bite and worried a lot about it (and again, I’m not talking about people with medically fragile kids who need to worry about these things) who didn’t appear, at some point to have thought “Cool, found a button to push - fun!”

The thing is, most picky parents don’t really admit the connection. A friend of mine’s son suddenly went from eating all vegetables to nearly none, but his Dad ardently denies it has any connection to the fact that Daddy only eats lettuce and peppers. Friends of mine wince when their kid complains about the food at my house (and no, not because we make a big deal about it - they don’t even know about our rule), but I’ve heard the mother say, “No, honey, you won’t like that. I’ll get you something else.” Hmmm…

I’m going to take the risk of ticking a lot of people off by saying that at least 80% of food pickiness in the absence of aggravating conditions (sensory stuff, toddlerhood, etc…) is of parental creation. We’re tolerating it, even encouraging it - and there’s a real and serious price. We’ve somehow got the wacky idea that their health is less important than that they screw up their courage and eat some brown rice. Yes, it is fine to hate lima beans. Everyone is allowed a couple of things they don’t eat simply because they don’t want to. But if you also don’t eat tepary beans, black beans, soy beans, pinto beans, adzuki beans, along with 20 or 30 other things, you’ve cut signficantly back on your ability to adapt to a changing world and diet. Dealing with children’s picky eating, which is really important, starts with dealing with adult pickiness.

In children, elderly people and the sick, this can actually be fatal. Studies done in World War II Britain on dietary changes caused by the war showed that young children, elderly people and sick people will, when confronted with a major, sudden, crisis induced dietary change will simply stop eating - the medical term is “appetite fatigue” and it is real and serious phenomenon. Most of them eventually adapted, but periods of malnutrition can have long term consequences for babies, young children and people made vulnerable by illness and disability. And sometimes people just died, unable to make dietary adaptations.

So (and g-d forbid) given a situation where favorite foods became suddenly unavailable, people in your family who don’t have a wide-ranging diet, particularly one of foods that are often available without trucking, could really suffer from this. The solution is to get used to eating your local diet now - while also trying lots of new things - new grains, new tastes, new ways of eating things, particularly those that suit your area.

It certainly reduces your ability to eat locally and sustainably if you are a picky eater. You can join a CSA, but you are likely to get a basket full of things that you don’t want to eat sometimes - maybe if you have a friend whose pickiness is a perfect mirror image of yours it would work, but otherwise, it means wasting food. You can grow a garden, but a lot of the best storing crops and the things that get you through a winter are “hard” foods - if you don’t any root crop but onions and potatoes, it’ll be one long winter. How much richer would things be with beets, celeriac, shallots, carrots, parnsips, parsley root, kohlrabi and turnips?

How do grownups get over long-ingrained habits of not eating things, of thinking “yuck?” Well, first we realize how high the stakes are. In a rich, priveleged world, where your emissions don’t matter and you can buy the three vegetables you like every week, and if you don’t enjoy the meal at the dinner party, well, you go home and eat again, it doesn’t matter what you eat much. You still get fed. You still get a reasonable approximation of balance (in some cases - we’re most of us not eating enough produce, and we’ve certainly got dietary health problems up the wazoo). But we don’t live in that world any more - none of us do. Pretending we can is lying to ourselves.

We don’t have the luxury of not caring about our impact. We don’t have the luxury of wasting food - food I waste at home means more at the store out of my budget and more ecological impact, and moral problems in a increasingly food scarce world. And the day may not be too far away when more and more of us can’t afford to be picky - food prices are rising rapidly, in large part because of the ethanol boom. Millions of Americans are hungry now - it may not be that long before we are affected. So we simply can’t throw good food out, or demand only expensive, extra meals for ourselves. Health care costs are rising fast enough that we simply can’t afford to get sick because we don’t eat well. And if hard times do come, not being adapted to a locally, sustainbly available diet could actually kill people, harm our children’s growth, and make us sick.

The same is true for even healthy people about abrupt dietary transitions. If you eat a lot of meat 3 times a day, and suddenly your protein source has to shift to legumes because of poverty or lack of access, you are in for some serious intestinal distress. Have you only been eating processed foods and bleached grains? Well, tolerating whole grains, especially lots of whole wheat will not be a pleasant or easy experience. Have you always, always, always used canned cream of mushroom soup in your Christmas greenbeans? How traumatic will it be in hard times to switch to chard with a homemade sauce? It is far easier to adapt to eating whole grains right now, to put some beans in your diet gradually, change your holiday specialties one at a time.

But if you’ve hated broccoli for fifty years, it will be a challenge to start eating it. Now if you have plenty of locally available, healthy green options you love around, there’s no reason to choose the broccoli over the kale. But what if broccoli is it - if the bugs got the kale crop? You need to eat it and you might as well like it. Or what if you are a meat and potatoes person, and now you are being told that you can only eat grassfed meat, and not that much of it? How do you get there? Now the good news is that you only have to do this for local, seasonal, sustainable foods - if you think twinkies are vile, you don’t have to do anything about that. No worries about your extreme distaste for barbecue chips, and go right on hating McNuggets - in fact, we encourage that. The other good news is that the things your are learning to like - whole grains, fresh vegetables, not so much meat - these things are really good for you. There’s really no down side.

The first thing to remember is that you have overcome instinctive food preferences before. There are exceptions, but comparatively few people loved coffee, beer, wine, tea, sushi or strong cheese the first time they tasted it. It took a while to develop a liking for these tastes. Similarly, I’m going to bet that your idea of a perfect day no longer involves candy for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Tastes change. You can change them. We just have to do the work. They say a toddler often has to see a food on their plate 20 times before it seems familiar enough to eat it.

What’s the magic trick? Lie. Like a rug. Lie to yourself. Lie to your kids (but don’t do in an obvious way - kids are really not stupid). Explore your acting talent. You are going to convince yourself to not only like X hated food (one at a time), you are going to enjoy it. So the first step is to tell yourself you will like it, and to eat a little. Trust me, it won’t kill you. Try the kindergarten method - three bites. And then keep putting it on your plate. Smile at it. Think friendly thoughts. Think how wonderful it is to try something new. Think how lucky you are to have it. Find something you like about the taste.

Perhaps the problem is the cooking method - do you cook vegetables until they are grey? Do you like highly seasoned foods, and most veggies are kind of bland? Try a quick steam,
or eating it raw. Or perhaps you should add hot sauce, lots of garlic or herbs. Learn to cook your food well. Throw it in with something you do like - put the greens in with the bacon, or toss the peppers in with your pasta salad. Decide to like it - and keep trying for at least a few months, introducing the food regularly to your table. Cook it several ways - my mother likes peeled broccoli stems and raw, fresh picked asparagus, but not broccoli florets or steamed asparagus. Try it raw, steamed, pureed, tossed with pasta, covered with something you like.

Convince yourself that meat isn’t the main part of every meal - a lot of this is simply attitude adjustment. Maybe you’ll always prefer turkey to baked beans, or no kale to kale. But being able to eat the kale and the baked beans enriches your life.

Don’t complain about your food. Be grateful for it - don’t call it names, and if you can thank someone or something for it - G-d, the farmers who grew it, the soil it came from. Food matters in this world. We can’t afford to treat it lightly.

Teach your kids the same lessons. Remember, no matter how many faces they make, it won’t kill them to eat kale. It is a time-honored tradition to torture your children with green vegetables, and as far as I know, no one has died yet. Don’t over-sympathize with their distaste - kids tastes are much more malleable than yours, and you aren’t doing them any favors.

IMHO, the best hardline method is simply to keep serving them the same meal until they eat it - won’t eat beans? Ok, but nothing else is offered, and there will be beans again for lunch tomorrow. When they get hungry enough, they’ll eat. Loving every bite is not a prerequisite for life, and missing the occasional meal won’t kill anyone.

I admit, I’m usually not that hardline. But you don’t get seconds or dessert unless you eat everything. You don’t get snacks between meals - if you are hungry, that plate of beans is still there. And you don’t, under pain of getting to know just how yucky hunger is, complain about the food.

But hardline alone isn’t enough to make your kids really good eaters - they also need to know what’s wonderful and fun about food. That means getting them involved - bringing them into the kitchen, the garden, out to the farmer’s market. Get them involved in the process - where did that carrot come from? Take them to the pick your own and let them get their own apples. Let them have their garden and have them help in yours. Let them have their own chickens, care for them and be in charge of the eggs.

There’s something really different about food you’ve grown yourself. Kids who wouldn’t touch a zucchini or eat eggs normally will beg their parents to help them cook zucchini frittata (assuming someone’s mentioned that there is something you can do with both those things) if it is *their* zucchini and *their* eggs. Simon and Isaiah were very resistant to salad, but they’ve invented their own - rainbow salad. It has chopped nuts, dried fruit, greens they pick and edible flowers - johnny jump ups, daylily petals, begonia petals, borage flowers, nasturtium blossoms. With lemon-herb dressing they’ll eat their weight, and pick the ingredients as well.

Food is, afterall, fun. It tastes good. If they don’t have to compete with sugarfrosted flakes, there’s really nothing not to like about a ripe peach, or a berry. If you act like you like homemade tofu marinated in garlic sauce as much as steak, your kids will never know that the two aren’t supposed to be equally good. And since they both *are* good, your kids will grow up liking them both, most likely. Who knows, after a little practice at this deception, you might even believe it yourself.

If you are looking to eat a local diet now, when in many places options are at their broadest, try joining Liz at Pocket Farm on her “One Local Summer” project



29 Responses to “Getting Over Picky”

  1. Stone Fence Farm says:

    Thanks for this post Sharon. I have to be more aware of my view on food. I see my toddler being picky already. He’s not much of a veggie guy.

  2. Crunchy Chicken says:

    Sharon - this is a fantastic post.

    I must admit to being guilty of catering to my daughter’s “pickiness”. Fortunately, my son will eat pretty much any green or fruit. Even stuff straight out of the yard (like handfuls of marjoram and cilantro, which is a bit too much for me). My son will, however, balk at what’s at the table too.

    But the whole process of creating separate meals each night is wearing on me. So I might just get the fortitude to make them go cold turkey. The problem in the past has been that they just won’t eat. They wait until the next meal (usually breakfast) and then gorge. My mother’s guilt sets in and I feed them more since they are already so skinny. I suppose then I’ll just have to limit the amount of food at breakfast, huh?

    The other issue with breaking this habit is that if they don’t eat what’s at the table, then they get soooooo crabby.

    But today’s post has inspired me. There’s no reason why she shouldn’t eat what I’m making for dinner. She’s 3.5 now and certainly capable :)

    Perhaps I’ll make this part of my Local Food Month participation.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Sharon — I’ve always wondered with the business of getting the same meal until you eat it — what if the child outlasts you until the food is spoilled? Haven’t you lost the war at that point?

    I’ve added 2 new foods to our table, garlic snapes and fennel roots. But I have to confess I give the dandelions from the CSA to my friend’s rabbit (ancient pet, who, frankly is more likely to eat the family than feed them) because once they are over 1 inch long I find them too bitter.


  4. KMH says:

    When my children were small we had a “no yuck” rule too. Only in our house if you complain you get doubles and no getting up until it is gone. It worked. I have two nearly adult children who will eat anything!


  5. Jana says:

    We are of the “eat however many bites you are old” mindset. They don’t have to like it. Just eat a few bites. Also if they serve themselves I expect them to eat what they take.

  6. Liz says:

    Really fabulous post, Sharon (and thanks for mentioning my project)! I was reminded of how my visiting 8 yr old niece (from the Boston suburbs) couldn’t get enough of our carrots right out of the ground. :)

    When I was a kid, I only liked carrots, corn and potatoes, much to my parents frustration (I was required to eat the other veggies, & got really good at holding my nose and choking them down). My sister on the other hand, ate every vegetable she could get her hands on.

    Considering the size of my garden, I think I’m making up for it now. :)

  7. Crunchy Chicken says:

    Just wanted to give you all an update. I implemented “Operation No Picky Eatin’” at dinner tonight.

    Henry did well, but Emma ate only a few bites of watermelon and a sip of milk. She went through her laundry list of replacement foods, but I didn’t budge.

    I just kept offering her what everyone else was eating (and it wasn’t like we were eating anything exotic) when she said she was still hungry.

    How long do you think it will take her to break?

  8. Anonymous says:

    Thank you, Sharon. I hope you don’t mind if I print this essay out and give it to my DIL. She is extremely picky-no veggies, very little fruit-all meat, cheese, bread. She takes vitamins to balance out (she breast feeds my 7 month old granddaughter). She intends to prepare organic veggies to feed the little one, but I’m afraid little GD will acquire her mother’s pickiness. My son eats anything.

    Mary in Central Florida

  9. e4 says:

    The rule at our house is “This is what’s for dinner. You don’t have to eat any of it, but you’re not getting anything else.”

    As a result, my son will eat almost anything. And he’ll even try things he hasn’t liked in the past.

    I think the “eat X bites” strategy can turn into a power struggle. It makes it more adversarial, and kids of certain ages or temperaments love to test boundaries. That, and I still have a memory of almost throwing up at the dinner table when I was required to eat three bites of a particular food (the smell of which can still make me gag to this day).

    With our strategy, it’s just a simple choice. Eat it or don’t. Nobody else is affected by the decision.

    As a side note, I think kids have an inherent interest in food that they see coming out of the garden. My son didn’t really like lettuce until he picked some himself. Now he likes it - as long as it’s got bleu cheese dressing anyway.

    Our daughter with developmental problems is another story entirely. Every night for the past two years at least, she gets either yogurt or applesauce before bed, with a little medicine in it. And every night she fights and struggles and pushes away the first bite. Once the first bite is in, she seems to go, “Oh yeah, this is good!” and happily eats the rest. We’re still trying to decipher her eating code.

  10. Anonymous says:

    With all due respect to parents of children with DD and those children myself (and keeping in mind that I have sucha child) when people ask me why there seem to me more of “these children” around, I think it’s becuase more of them are surviving. It used to be the ADHD child who was more likely to be burned badly, or fall off the wagon shaft, or down the well, or just not be able to eat the food available when he or she was weaned.

    People also say that there didnt’; used to be food alergies. I think the same reasoning applied. For a couple generations, at least, all the boys in my maternal line died when they were weaned — turn out that a wheat allgery ran in the family. The babies were weaned onto bread and milk — had chronic diarrhea, and died.


  11. sans auto says:

    I had a professor in a graduate level nutrition course tell me that taste preference is a learned behavior. And here’s a link to an article that says the same:

    Great post, I think that is a real problem amongst many in this country.

  12. jewishfarmer says:

    MEA, at least in terms of autism, I don’t think death rates will explain it away. Child mortality rates haven’t fallen much since I was a kid in the 1970s, and 1 out of a 100 children simply wasn’t autistic, at least not in the same ways. That kind of statistical jump just doesn’t it - and while better diagnosis will explain some cases, it simply can’t explain all of them.

    Crunchy Chicken - Good for you - and how long probably depends on how tough your daughter is ;-) . I have one who would get hysterical and then cave almost immediately, another one who carefully weighs his options, resists until it actually gets inconvenient, and then gives in, and one who can’t be moved without a lever ;-) . He’s the one, for example, who didn’t potty train until he was 4.

    And yes, I suspect if the food rots before the child eats it, they’ve won on some level. And if the kid actually starts starving themselves, they’ll win on another - none of that has happened here.

    On my end, I think not making a big thing about it helps - rather than a “you’ll see this plate until you eat it” something more along the lines of “You are hungry - well, that sandwich is still sitting there. No? I guess you aren’t that hungry then - let’s go do something else.” Which, of course can be tough, don’t mistake me. Lord knows, I’ve caved plenty of times.

    Anonymous, what is it with people who think they can order the world to suit their children? I have a friend who I adore otherwise, but who periodically I want to strangle. She always phrases her requests as “Of coures you won’t mind…” One day I had 34 people to a sit down dinner for a religious holiday, and as I’m attempting to get the food on the table, she sings out “Did you remember to put some unsauced pasta aside for the children?”

    I didn’t throw anything at her, but it was a near thing ;-) .

    Talking about it is tough. People are *very* sensitive about their food issues. My mother and sister had a huge fight about turkey once that still gets brought up ;-P.

    The only way I can think of to address is to speak in terms of yourself - sometimes people will tolerate a discussion of a sensitive issue by saying “Well, you know I have a difficulty with Z issue, and I’ve been really trying to get over it, but it has been hard - but look how much progress I’ve made.” That, for example, is the only way I’ve ever found to talk about weight. Otherwise, you just risk pushing buttons. So perhaps if you could represent it as your challenging your own tastes (tough if you already eat everything), that might work. But otherwise, it is a minefield.

    Oh, for people without allergies or religious scruples, I’m an inveterate sneaker of things into other things. The same friend above claims parmesan cheese makes her vomit every time she eats it (NOT from any allergy - she just hates the smell) and that she can detect it in anything. Little does she know that one of her favorite dinners at my house, spaghetti and wheatballs (way better than that sounds - they really are delicious) involves a considerable amount of parmesan.

    Frittering works on vegetables, as does grating zucchini into ground meat, for example.

    I’m not really that duplicitous, but something about this subject seems to bring out the sneak in me - there are an inordinate number of references to lying and sneaking here ;-) .


  13. Anonymous says:

    I agree about the not making it a big deal thing…I’ve noticed that often ignoring the first “I don’t like that” leads to it being eaten, and after a while I realized that it was (in the case of my older dd, just an announcement of a fact, such as “this is spicey” or “this is good.”) With my godson it was a ploy to see if there was anything better on offer.

    I don’t think the death rate explains increase in the incident of autism, but I think it addresses some other issues. After all, until there were shunts, no one ever tried to raise a child like my younger (haha). I also have to confess that I devide the world into pre-and post 1500, and don’t alway think about the differences between 1500 and 2007.

    Because if the c. dif. there are lots of food don’t eat. Some, such as red meat, aren’t, IMO, a great loss. Others such as coffee were morned. Some, such as peppers and tomatos are so easy to grow that I’m really sorry about not being able to eat them. (Well, I can eat them — then I end up in the ED, or, and I don’t want to sound dramatic here, but one day, when treatment isn’t available, I’ll end up messily dead.) Anyway, I try to still serve them so that dds won’t avoid them.


  14. LimeSarah says:

    What a wonderful post!

    I’ve always been happy that I’ve been raised to not be a picky eater. My paternal grandmother was kind of a wonder-bread-and-bologna cook, and now (squashy) white bread is not allowed to enter my parents’ house.

    There are still things I don’t like. My immersion blender will get a workout with our winter CSA share, because I really don’t like the texture of winter squash.

    And one reason I don’t really eat land meat is that I can’t get over the “ick” reflex to eating odd bits of animal. It seems disrespectful to eat hamburger if I wouldn’t eat other bits of the cow (especially given the theoretical situation where I would be either raising it or purchasing it directly from the farmer in units of a significant fraction of a cow). Eggplant, on the other hand, is completely tasty. Bits of it are *inedible*, but that’s different. Same thing with clams.

  15. Raphaël says:

    Hello Sharon,

    I have wandered through your blog for some months and I really enjoyed this post. It reminded me of one of the duties I owe to my children (Keryann 5, and Eliott 2).

    Please, will you allow me to translate it in french and post it on the french peak oil forum ?

  16. Michelle in Ga says:

    A good post. We’re all picky eaters here. I eat a kosher
    inspired diet, hubby eats
    pork, one kid won’t eat beef.
    I have a “I won’t buy it,cook it
    or eat it” rule about pork.
    Another kid won’t eat cheese.
    We get lots of looks when
    ordering pizza without cheese.

  17. Anonymous says:


    I really enjoy reading your thoughtful blog.

    This is a completely off-topic comment, but I wanted to suggest that you dedicate one of your future posts to financial questions in light of simple living, environmental consciousness and the prospect of a peak oil world. Questions like: what to do with one’s saved money? investments? thoughts on the security not just of the stock market, but of money held in banks and retirement accounts? thoughts on how young people can best prepare for the future, even if they’re not at a point yet where they can buy land (e.g. not enough money saved, still in grad school and not sure where next job will be)?

    Thank you.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Sharon - and other commenters - I think that it’s fine to discourage (even strongly) pickiness, but forcing your kid to eat or not offering anything they like to eat can have some negative consequences. One, they could develop negative associations with foods they were forced to eat, causing them to be more picky later when they have control over their diet. Two, some children really might not eat enough if they have a lot of dislikes.

    A good alternative is to offer one simple (not cooked) option if your child won’t eat any dinner. For example, bread, or crackers, or yogurt, etc. Your child will likely start branching out once they get sick of their alternative.

    I was very picky as a child, and only found out later in life that I have a very severe mustard allergy. So all those things I hated-salads, sandwiches, mayo, and many others-I enjoy now, if I make them myself with no mustard! If I had been forced all those years it could have had very serious consequences.

    Kate ([email protected])

  19. jewishfarmer says:

    Kate, honestly, I think if you feed your kids a reasonable diversity of things at each meal, offering an alternative isn’t necessary.

    Food allergies are usually pretty recognizable, and they don’t run in my family. I certainly encourage people who have them to investigate if their kid avoids the same food over and over, or if they seem to be losing weight rapidly.

    But most children (and adults) don’t have medical conditions to explain away their pickiness, and I’m frankly willing to risk that the kids will want to discuss me making them eat kale in therapy later - as long as I don’t have to pay for it ;-) . Nobody is being forced to do anything, or being starved permanently. But being told “if you are hungry, you’ll eat the rice” really isn’t one of the deeper childhood traumas, IMHO.

    If it is, to be sure I’ll hear about it later ;-) .


  20. Anonymous says:

    Another great post. Thanks, Sharon.

    We have a rule in our family, no exceptions-we never cook separate meals for the kids. We have a family meal (and we eat just about everything under the sun!), not a nutritious adult dinner with nuggets or hot dogs or noodles for the kids. Quite a few of our friends do this regularly; they claim their kids “won’t eat anything” unless they get standard kiddie meals, which are often lacking in nutrition and are really just stomach fillers. Interesting how when their kids are eating at our house their dinners get eaten! Another downside to cooking separate meals is that the kiddie dinners are often done first, so the children don’t eat with their parents. All the pleasures of a family meal are then not experienced.

  21. Crunchy Chicken says:

    Hey Sharon,

    I liked your post so much I had to ramble on more about it. If anyone is interested you can see it here.

  22. Kimbrah says:


    This post reminds me of one of my favorite stories about my grandpa. My mom did not even realize until she was an adult with a family of her own, that her father did not like broccoli. When she was growing up with her sisters and brother, my grandpa would always take a serving of broccoli and eat it with a smile and tell my grandma how delicious it was. It wasn’t until, as an adult, my mom had them over for dinner and made her dad’s “favorite” vegetable, broccoli, that he told her, “No thank you, I actually don’t care for it much.” How cool is that?

    My husband has really taken that story to heart. He had terrible digestive issues as a child and had to be put on a special, bland diet for his first 4 years of life. Then his mom coddled him for the rest of his childhood and he turned out to be a very picky eater (by his own admission). When we started having kids, he really stepped up to the plate and he will pretty much eat anything I put in front of him. I am so proud of him and proud of my grandpa for the wonderful example he set for all of us who have come after him.

    Thanks for sharing this post! I really enjoyed it. :)


  23. [...] I think a low-tolerance policy towards picky eating is important – I’ve written more about getting over picky eating here.  And again, kids make it extra-urgent that you begin eating out of your food storage [...]

  24. Dana says:

    It’s all well and good to say “get used to going without meat” but if you were in my shoes you wouldn’t be so blithe about it. I *cannot tolerate* large amounts of grains and beans. I will get *sick* and fall apart. I suspect my daughter will have the same problem; she suffers behavioral problems when her grain consumption is too high. The stuff just doesn’t agree with us. I rather suspect it doesn’t agree with a *lot* of people.

    On a level of food justice and preparation for post-peak-oil we need to be thinking about getting animal food to more people rather than writing it off because the idea of killing an animal makes us feel yucky. There are nutrients in animals that do not exist, or at least not in their best forms, in plants. And without animals you’re not going to have much success farming unless you use slave labor. Because at this point and this population level, without tractors, that’s what it’d take to feed everybody. Unless we’re willing to distribute land to everyone-and that’s never happened yet.

    There are ways to store meat for lean times. There are even ways to store cheese and butter that make them last longer than the usual shelf life of traditional cheeses and butter. And I really wish more survivalist types would talk about this instead of assuming we will all do dandy on beans and rice.

    Trust me-Even if it was the only calories I was getting it’d still mess me up.

  25. Beck says:

    Dana- I think a larger point to consider is that not a lot of people will be thinking about getting certain food types to other people- that’s called a collapse of an economy. There will not be many ways to transport meat large distances without oil (for moving the truck and refrigerating the meat). Its true there are many good neighbors, but with fewer resources, many people will likely be thinking for themselves. And there’s a lot more to non-meat fare than beans and rice - consider the millions of vegetables. It is true that raising and butchering meat is something that can be done without oil- but it’s a heck of a lot easier to grow a squash, etc. I don’t think we need to learn to get by on less meat because it makes us all feel yucky to kill it - it just takes a bit more energy to raise and harvest animals - the old fashioned way. Meat’s only as available as it is because of oil. Well - I should say, beef, chicken, and pork are. Venison’s as available as ever. Though I imagine ammunition manufacture without oil will be a bit slower as well.

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