Parents of kids who are picky eaters can stop worrying if they’re to blame. According to this NY Times article, picky eating is more a matter of genetics than parenting style.
For parents who worry that their children will never eat anything but chocolate milk, Gummi vitamins and the occasional grape, a new study offers some relief. Researchers examined the eating habits of 5,390 pairs of twins between 8 and 11 years old and found children’s aversions to trying new foods are mostly inherited.
The message to parents: It’s not your cooking, it’s your genes.
The study was led by Dr. Lucy Cooke of the department of epidemiology and public health at University College London and was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition last August. The study found that 78 percent of children’s neophobia (the fear of new food) can be attributed to genes, while the other 22 percent is environmental.
Most children eat a wide variety of foods until they are around 2, when they suddenly stop. The phase can last until the child is 4 or 5. It’s an evolutionary response, researchers believe. Toddlers’ taste buds shut down at about the time they start walking, giving them more control over what they eat. “If we just went running out of the cave as little cave babies and stuck anything in our mouths, that would have been potentially very dangerous,” Dr. Cooke said.
Skepticism towards new food is a healthy part of a child’s development, experts say. And yet, that little cave baby running around eating everything actually sounds a lot like my son Sage. He’s very adventurous when it comes to food and has always had a big appetite. These days his favorite foods are tacos and french fries, but he happily gulped down steamed clams at his grandparents’ beach house this summer which frankly shocked the pants off of me since I was sitting there debating whether I had the courage to forge ahead with the meal on my plate.
Still, doctors say parents should serve picky eaters a variety of food, even if all they want is carbs, pasta, bread, more carbs, and some white flour, please.
“We have to understand that biology is not destiny,” said Patricia Pliner, a social psychology professor at the University of Toronto. “This doesn’t necessarily mean there is nothing we can do about the environment.”
People who study children prone to flinging themselves on the floor at the mere mention of broccoli agree that calm, repeated exposure to new foods every day for between five days to two weeks is an effective way to overcome a child’s fears.
(Tomorrow’s post will talk about other ways to get your kid to eat a variety of foods.)
According to the article, even famous people have trouble getting their kids to eat. Jessica Seinfeld, wife of comedian Jerry Seinfeld, has written a book called “Deceptively Delicious” (Harper Collins). “It outlines a series of recipes based on fruit and vegetable purées that are blended into food in a way that she says children won’t notice,” she says. “Half a cup of butternut squash disappears into pasta coated with milk and margarine. Pancakes turn pink with beets. Avocado hides in chocolate pudding and spinach in brownies.”
But others in the article say hiding veggies doesn’t teach your child to enjoy eating different foods and it may do damage to their trust in you if they find out what you’re up to. And anyway, we all know that spinach brownies act as a gateway food to other, more exotic fruits and vegetables.