When the Pickin’ is Easy


Yesterday’s New York Times ran an article, “Picky Eaters, They Get it from You”, about a study showing that picky eating is genetic. Yep, it’s in your genes. And I’ll admit I’ve harbored a secret fear since my kids moved off baby food that they would become (the dreaded) picky eaters and force me to cajole, trick and finally, cook multiple meals. If it’s genetic, well, then I don’t have as much need to worry. My siblings and I (all five of us) have had hearty appetites since childhood. My mother’s a good cook, she didn’t keep junk food or sugar cereal in the house, and she basically starved us until dinner time which was 7:30 pm or so after my father returned home from work. We ate whatever she served.

My children’s appetites fall somewhere in the middle. They both ate well their first year or so, (S. is still going strong at 19 months!), but C. became pickier and pickier after age two. As it turns out, this is a natural occurance, according to the NYT article, and stems from a savvy protectionist gene inhereted from our cavepeople days. Hint: Once cavebabies could crawl or walk out of the cave, they needed a guarded instict not to eat every wild berry and plant in sight! This lasts until they can think a bit about what’s edible – around age 5 or so. They grow out of it (yay!) So, don’t fret nutrition-worried parents, it’s okay if your toddler doesn’t want to eat.

Toddler Food

What may not be so okay for your sanity, time management and patience, is a need to cook him whatever he wants. Or “toddler food.” (My “toddler food” includes Trader Joes chicken nuggets, fish sticks and meatballs, pasta, and hot dogs). This choice is purely individual and dependent on you and your child’s mood, that day’s and evening activities and whether you had the time and foresight to prepare a meal ahead of time.

For my part, I’m using this Fall to get back to basics. In full disclosure, I got really lazy with my cooking for the good part of this year. We moved to a new house in April and getting settled with two toddlers just didn’t leave time to prepare home cooked meals ahead of time. And it was just easier to prepare food I knew my kids would eat.

But, the truth is, my kids actually like most foods (okay, sea bass in Portugese tomato sauce is just pushing it). Lasagna, meat loaf (we’re pretty generous with ketchup around here), baked chicken and frozen veggies go down easy. So it really comes down to whether I’ve planned and managed to cook a meal ahead of the 5:30 dinner hour. I’ll tell you, my incentive increased recently after an illness scare by my father. After numerous heart, lung and stress tests; he was found to be in excellent health at 76 years. His reasoning: his regular cycling, which he continues to this day, and “your Mother’s good cooking.”

Eating Close to the Earth
This got me thinking. After all, (way back) in the 70s, we ate lots of meat, potatoes and gravy, whole milk, and eggs fried in bacon fat. Not exactly a light diet. But what it wasn’t was processed. My mother cooked every meal. The food we ate was relatively “close to the earth” as opposed to heavily processed and packaged. So, I’ve decided to cook more and save “toddler food” for emergencies: Restaurants, busy days, and sanity relief when desperately needed (if you need relief every day, let’s talk.)

Of course, I still have my tricks for helping healthy food go down. Here are some:

  • Keep cut up carrot sticks, celery, red peppers, and cucumbers handy in the fridge. Serve with a generous dose of Ranch dressing (my kids’ favorite), plain hummus, cream cheese, or peanut butter (not for children under 2 or 3 years based on your pediatrician’s guidance). This is also good to pack in lunches. Put dressing, etc. in a little tupperware container.
  • Sprinkle “crunchies” (honey coated wheat germ) on vanilla yogurt for dessert or a snack.
  • Add ham and cheese to scrambled eggs or make an egg sandwhich on cut out round bread with egg, ham or bacon and cheese. My son finds this to be an adequate substitute for our local breakfast joint.

My general philosophy is, if it takes a little bad (ketchup, dressing, the promise of dessert) to help the good go down, go for it.

Bon Appetite!


  1. Do you guys have Peas of Mind in your grocery store?? It’s great for picky toddlers, and great for me because I can get them to eat veggies finally. We have Pease of Mind in our Whole Foods here, they’re a great addition to my freezer!! http://www.peasofmind.com

  2. I think starving them until dinner is the best solution. It worked for me. But we have teenagers, and policing the snacks that inevitably end up in their bedroom (as they attempt to graze before dinner) is impossible. Teenagers are slobs. :)

  3. A recent healthy favorite in my house is edamame. I just slice off one end, and the kids love to suck the peas out!

    Give it a try…

  4. We’ve raised three into adulthood. Our second was an extremely picky eater. We tried so many things, in consultation with the doctor. Nothing worked. We finally gave up.

    I’m now of the opinion that the kids will eat what they want/need. If you keep healthy food around, and don’t keep unhealthy food around, they will get what they need.

    Here’s an odd thing. My son has cystic fibrosis. He has the digestive form, which means he can’t absorb fats. So he was always the smallest kid in the class. (He doesn’t have the lung form, which is the real killer.)

    CF is a salt thing. I’m not sure I understand the biochemistry enough to explain it here.

    But my son, before his diagnosis, loved, and still loves, very salty foods like pickles and luncheon meat. He doesn’t like chocolate.

    And one evening he came down about 10 p.m. and asked if he could have a midnight snack. Sure, we said. What would like.

    He said: I’d like a salad.

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