Picky Eaters Aren’t Born, They Are Made

by Jen on November 21, 2012

Picky eaters.

I’m pretty sure we have all come across a picky eater at some point in our lives.  Most people think of their own children when the term “picky eater” is used.  Or, you could be married to a picky eater.  Heck, you might even be a picky eater yourself.


When I think of a picky eater, I think of someone who doesn’t like many different kinds of food.  I’m not just talking one or two foods, I’m talking one or two food GROUPS.  I’ve been around picky eaters, and let me tell you…they are a pain in the rear to cook for.  And since I like to cook, I vowed never to marry a picky eater or raise kids that are picky eaters!

But what makes someone a picky eater.  Is it something they are born with?  Do they have a different set of taste buds than the rest of us?

Brace yourselves, because I’m about to cause some controversy here:


Think about this statement for a moment…

What do you do when you are exhausted and one of your kids refuses to eat what’s in front of them?  Do you:

a) make something else for them to eat, something they will like?
b) make them sit at the table until their plate is empty?
c) wrap up what’s on their plate and save it for later?

If you chose A or B, then you are encouraging UNHEALTHY eating habits in your child.

If you chose C, then you are definitely encouraging healthy and diversified eating habits for your child.

If you constantly let your children dictate the food they eat, you are hurting their eating habits in the long run.

In our house, we have the ONE BITE RULE.  If there is something on my kids plates that they don’t like, they have to take ONE bite of it, no exceptions.  And if they don’t eat it at the dinner table, then I wrap it up for them to eat later.  Either way, they are going to eat one bite before the day is over.

Yes, it’s going to be a struggle at first (believe me, I know, I struggled with my three boys for 2 years!), but eventually, they get over it.  I can finally say, that after all of our hard work, my kids eat healthy foods, foods that we enjoy as a family.  I’m sure some of you look at my weekly menu plans and think, “do your kids really eat that?”  YES!  Sure, there are days they don’t enjoy everything I make, that’s NORMAL.  But I make sure each dinner includes a component that everyone will like (in our house that’s usually baked oven fries!).  Then, they have to take at least one bite of everything else on their plate, even if they don’t like it.

I want my children to enjoy healthy foods, not turn their noses up at it.  And so far, it’s working.

So tell me, are you raising a picky eater?  Do you agree with what I’ve said?  How do you encourage your children to eat healthy?

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Melissa November 21, 2012 at 12:25 pm

I think to a point you are correct. Most of the time, picky eaters are probably made. However, you are completely ignoring things like autism and sensory perception disorder. Some people are born with disorders that make them picky eaters.


2 Jen November 21, 2012 at 4:27 pm

Thanks for bringing up that point Melissa! Unfortunately, I’m not educated or experienced with children and disorders, so I can only speak for my own children. I’m sure some of my readers do deal with these issues, and they have to deal with their children much differently than I do mine.


3 Jane November 21, 2012 at 4:01 pm

I have to say that I disagree completely with what you are advising. I grew up in a very large family…9 children. If we didn’t like what was being served for dinner, we could make a peanut butter sandwich. My one brother only liked plain white bread for much of his youth. Now we are all adults and NONE of us is picky. I have two daughters. I raised them exactly the same way. Food was NEVER an issue. We never fought about it. The younger one was somewhat picky as a little child but she is 17 now and eats everything….even sushi & all matter of interesting culturally-inspired foods. I am a nurse and I think the most important thing is that people have a healthy relationship with food. What I mean is that a person understands that you eat to live….you eat when you are hungry. Food isn’t something to fight about or be punished for. That sets up a battle of wills. Food should not have those negative connotations and memories tied to it. I only hated two things when I was a kid and that was liver and turnips. Now I am okay with both. I don’t think it would have served any purpose for my parents for force it down my throat or keep the plate for later. I appreciated my choice to make a peanut butter sandwich. If you ask me, my parents had a great attitude and just so you know….they were not picky about eating either.


4 Jen November 21, 2012 at 4:32 pm

Thanks for posting your comment Jane! Wow…9 kids, your mom was one busy lady! I’m so glad you, your siblings, and own kids love all kinds of food. I hope you didn’t read in my post that I punish my kids for not eating, because I certainly don’t. But I refuse to be a short-order cook and only cook what they want. If that were the case, they would be eating hot dogs, chicken fingers, and fries every single day. I want to give them healthy foods, and like you said, learn the benefits of eating to live! If I didn’t make them eat broccoli, carrots, peas, or any vegetable, how would they get those nutrients?


5 Melissa November 21, 2012 at 4:23 pm

Hey there!
Great post…. Picky eaters are totally made and not born with it!!!!

Growing up my family and I travelled a lot and they vowed they wouldn’t take us anywhere if we didn’t adapt to different cultures and try new foods. Thank god that was the case because I could not imagine what life would be like if I were a picky eater. However, my boyfriends situation was slightly different. Turns out he lived off Cheerios and peas until the age of 10. His Mom got so fed up with it and created “Try Something New Thursday’s” where she would make him a new food every week. He would get so traumatized and she had to stop doing it!!! THANK GOD he is done with that phase and eats everything and anything now. He said when we get married and have kids he will let them be picky eaters because he knows how upsetting it is to not like certain foods. YEAH RIGHT! Kids can’t do what they want… Especially when it comes to food. How do they know they don’t like it when they’ve never even tried it!? Sorry but that’s life!!! Doing things you don’t wanna do.
Well thats my rant for today…. Thanks for posting this!!!


6 Jen November 21, 2012 at 4:34 pm

Thanks for your rant Melissa! I totally agree….kids turn their noses up at too many foods, and if I didn’t make them eat one bite, then they wouldn’t eat it nor would they get anything healthy into them. I knew this post would cause some controversy 😉


7 Jill November 21, 2012 at 6:06 pm

I sure hope you are right! I definitely agreed with you before having a child. I was confident that any child of mine would be an agreeable eater. I grew up eating whatever was served and never even considered refusing a meal. Then I had my daughter. She is 2 years old and has refused most foods since she started on solids. I was in for a real wake up call. We have seen a string of specialists and exhausted so many avenues that I’ve concluded it must be genetic. How can she be so stubborn about food? Shouldn’t hunger drive your need to eat? I don’t want meals to be a battle so I try not to let her see my frustration. I cling to a hope that I can change her despite the mounting evidence I am going to lose this battle. I would love to know how to cultivate a good eater when she is only 2 and extremely opinionated.


8 Jen November 21, 2012 at 7:50 pm

Thanks for sharing your story! I know most moms go through the exact same things…as did. All I can say is, don’t give up. Keep doing what you are doing. The power struggle with toddlers is just that…a power struggle. From my experience, it’s not even about the food! Best of luck and keep me posted 🙂


9 Jean November 21, 2012 at 6:27 pm

Would have to agree that picky eaters are cultivated not born. Sure everyone has 2-3 things they absolutely hate. Fine.

As well I grew up in a poor family of 6 children. I was the oldest so I do have memory how parents dealt with us. We were expected not to throw tantrum, cry nor throw food but politely not eat something, keep quiet, if we tried to eat it and didn’t like it. However my mother didn’t go out of her way to prepare a separate dish if child didn’t like it. Usually at our meals she had more than 1 dish choice (but we were expected to eat something from each dish she cooked). She didn’t overfocus on a child if s/he didn’t like food. It just was never made to be a big deal. That is the start of a healthy relationship with food.

One of my sisters is a doctor..and mother of 2 young children under 5 yrs. Her advice to every parent: try a healthy food on a child even up to 10 times, but prepared in different ways. Let them eat it at their own pace. Focus the conversation on other things of the day, etc.
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10 Jen November 21, 2012 at 7:54 pm

Love, love, love your advice! You are so right, parent’s shouldn’t make a big deal out of picky eating. It’s more of a power struggle than it is about the food (at least that’s what I found in my case.) Thanks for your comment 🙂


11 Jean November 21, 2012 at 6:33 pm

I should add: my doctor-sister doesn’t have a nanny, caregiver except occasional help from mother-in-law. So she tries just as hard as anyone else along with her hubby to feed their children. So yes, kids were eat cooked boy choy at 2 yrs., mashed butternut squash (courtesy of my mother), ….even olives. Gee.

It amused me once to see a bunch of adults walking by with “ewww” on their face as an Asian mother was feeding her 2-3 yrs. some sushi. Our food preferences and tolerances do begin young in life.
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12 samijoe November 21, 2012 at 8:25 pm

I agree that some picky eating is parental controlled. My mom told me lots that she hated spinach, but did she ever once serve it to me?

That’s my rule. We try everything. I cooked unconventional things sometimes but it is all for our benefit. Try it… up to 20 times. That is how many times it takes to likes some things.
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13 Not Picky November 21, 2012 at 8:28 pm

I concur! Picky eaters are made not born! I don’t care if you come from a family with 15 other siblings or are an only! Whether you parents were passive or stubborn! Whether the picky eater is Autistic or not! It has everything to do with upbringing! Yes, there are a multitude of individuals that:
A) Don’t like certain foods. Whether they are chemically imbalanced or not! Who dictates that a person with Autism is imbalanced? The majority that aren’t? Talk about discrimination!!!!!
B) Can’t eat certain foods, be it intestinal, allergic, etc….
C) PICKY! NO! It’s NEW! I don’t like anything new!
D) I won’t eat THAT!!!! My Mother never made THAT!!!!! If she never made it, it can’t be good!!!!!
As for anyone that doesn’t agree, here is a Raspberry for you! NO WAIT I am allergic to raspberries have Milk instead! No wait, I am lactose intolerant! And the list goes on and on.

Thank you every so much for your article Jen. It was refreshing!!!!

A person with more allergieies than not! But it doesn’t make me a Picky eater. Just someone that will try everything at least once before using a crutch as an excuse!
Long live new recipes, I will gladly try them. As for most foods, if balanced with another. I can more often than not, eat it without or a minimal amount or reproductions’!


14 NicoleM November 21, 2012 at 9:01 pm

Hi. I agree but I didn’t know really as a young first time parent with my daughter what I was starting and now she is 3 and SO PICKY. Some of it is healthy, some unhealthy but she won’t try anything. I’ve tried to change it by trying your tactic but she is so stubborn she will not eat as long as you keep offering that meal. She will starve but she won’t give in. So what do I do? It’s so upsetting to me.


15 Jen November 22, 2012 at 8:20 am

Thanks for your comment Nicole! I know how frustrating and upsetting it can be to send a child to bed when they haven’t eaten…trust me, it broke my heart. But if I give in to the power struggle…guess who wins? My suggestion, keep doing what you are doing. It’s not going to be easy, but it pays off in the end.


16 Karen November 21, 2012 at 9:24 pm

Great article…I think the main point is missing though. Parents expect their kids to eat broccoli and are surprised when they don’t (even though they don’t touch it themselves.) If parents model good behaviour, kids will follow. Kale, varied fruits and veggies, quinoa, tofu amongst a wide variety of other healthy foods are eaten regularly by everyone in our household. My 3 year old doesn’t balk at anything. And like your kids, has to try a little of everything. Doesn’t have to eat it all, but must try it. And when she is full, we respect that. 🙂 We don’t even usually order off the kids menu at restaurants as she eats what mom and dad eat. No mac n cheese for this kid (she turned it down for dad’s order of kale salad). EAting patterns are learned. Period.
Thanks for the article!


17 Tanya November 21, 2012 at 10:22 pm

Have to say that I have a hard time agreeing. I have a very picky eater and it’s very much connected to sensory issues. He absolutely gags when he tries most fruits or vegetables. Can’t get past the texture. Smoothies – again, texture. Too lumpy. Too thick. Milk – same thing. Yogurt – somehow not a problem. Thank God. But add a raspberry to it or ONE single chunk – forget it. Gags. At this point, we are just praying he outgrows it.

We have tried the method you mention above but in the end, you can’t force a kid to eat the banana in front of him or try even a piece if he doesn’t want to. And you can keep offering it all day long – still won’t eat it if he doesn’t want to. We’ve gone as far as to say, you don’t get anything else unless you try that banana (or raspberry, carrot, peach…) – in the end, he goes to bed hungry, it’s soft, warm, mushy and disgusting and goes in the garbage. Next day I say screw it and give him what he’ll eat – apple sauce.


18 robinm November 22, 2012 at 6:53 am

While it would be wonderful to know that after just one bite a child / adult could decide whether or not they like something, it just isn’t the case. My husband eats everything…he grew up on a farm and you ate whatever you were given or went hungry until the next meal. I eat nothing…close to nothing. My mom was like you and many of your readers believing if she forced me to eat (either through starvation or bullying) I would eventually like everything. Boy did that backfire. Not only do I have eating issues, I have authority issues too! Underlying all of it, are some serious issues like food aversions which many children and adults can’t control. In a world where food governs social situations, work related meetings and family gatherings, its very difficult to be judged as a “picky eater” and know that people assume you can just flick a switch and start to love food. It’s not that easy and perhaps before you make the generalization that “picky eaters” are raised, you should investigate further and understand that there is some biology at work. I’d love to be an adventurous eater…my family would love it if I were an adventurous eater but I’m doomed to go to my grave surviving on peanut butter sandwiches and fruit smoothies. At 45 I’ve lived with the views expressed above all my life and would like to speak for all of those afraid to (because we are scorned in many settings, teased by family and friends, disregarded by those unable to consider we are not choosing to be this way)…picky eaters are born that way. Have some patience and investigate the underlying factors before you make your daughter eat the mashed potatoes and hamburger for breakfast that she couldn’t eat for supper the night before … sorry, a flashback to my 5 year old self. 🙂 PS check out a quick google search of “picky eater adults” and other variations. You’ll find there’s a lot of research behind it.


19 Jen November 22, 2012 at 8:27 am

Thanks for your comment! I sure hope you are not getting the impression that I’m “bullying” my kids to eat. Bullying is using force or intimidation to abuse or intimidate others…that is NOT what is happening. The One Bite Rule is not asking much when you really think about it. I’m not asking my children to eat EVERYTHING on their plate, I’m asking them to eat one bite of each thing on their plate…there is a HUGE difference between the two. That being said, you are entitled to your opinion and I respect everyone’s opinion. Thanks for info…I’m off to explore Google 😉


20 J November 22, 2012 at 8:20 am

I choose option c about 99% of the time with my second child and she is a very picky eater at age 4. It seems to be in part because she doesn’t like a lot of foods, but also that she isn’t hungry like the rest of us. My first child eats almost everything, and in good quantities. So sometimes a picky eater is born that way!


21 Jen November 22, 2012 at 11:12 am

I’ll agree, there are some kids who are born with aversions to certain foods (my oldest LOVES broccoli, but my middle child doesn’t), but giving in to that aversion and only giving him what he wants isn’t the right answer. I believe that by choosing option C, our children will grow to enjoy most foods and be willing to try new foods!


22 Marie November 25, 2012 at 1:04 pm

I just read your article. I am a picky eater and am over 55yrs of age. I am the youngest of six girls and was raised on a farm. I dont like meat much and am just starting to experience with other foods.
I served my sons food I did not like and forced myself to eat them because I did not want them to be like picky. Both Sons eat just about anything. A parent has to show children food is good whatever it is. I could not serve them fish as smell was to strong but they were lucky to have it at their Dads.
I never made them 2 different meals. That is encouraging picky eaters.
I understand Autisim and their choices but too many parents are so afraid their child wont eat so they cater to them. Most Autisim children will eventually eat what is given if hungry enough. not saying starve them but dont make different meals in my opinion.
ps.growing up I was told eat what on plate or go to bed so I slept alot. Not a good choice either.


23 Jen November 26, 2012 at 8:06 am

Thanks for your comment! I agree….there is NO need to make separate meals for kids! I’m glad to hear you are experimenting with new foods 🙂


24 JMD November 26, 2012 at 3:20 pm

My kids grew up with “This is not a restaurant, you will eat what I make” Both of my girls are not picky eaters as adults. I agree kids palates don’t agree with certain foods as children but if it carries into adulthood that’s because it was allowed to be carried into adulthood. It’s the memory associated with the childhood dislike of the food that makes them picky. I agree! Picky eaters are made not born. Don’t make your kids something new if they don’t like what is served. Make them go without. They won’t starve themselves to death. Hyper parents and coddled kids! My husband was a picky eater until I encouraged him to try things he thought he didn’t like as a child.


25 Jen November 26, 2012 at 4:11 pm

Thanks for you comment! I love what you said…”this is not a restaurant!”


26 JMD November 26, 2012 at 3:24 pm

Just for the record……I never forced my girls to eat anything. If they didn’t eat what was served. They went without. I never made them eat it for breakfast the next day.


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