Picky Eating Isn’t Necessarily the Parents’ Fault, Says Science

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Picky eating is one of the many extremely frustrating toddler habits. It’s especially bad when you feel like you’ve done everything right to encourage good, adventurous eating habits and attitudes towards food. And there’s constant pressure, because people often have the idea that good eating habits are squarely on the parents’ head. If your kid is a picky eater, someone probably thinks it’s your fault. One would hope they’d at least think that in secret, but there’s a good chance that if you are parenting a picky eater, someone has given you trouble about it. But now science says picky eating is not always the parents’ fault. Some kids are like that, and it’s a genetic thing.

Plenty of people who do “everything right” have kids who won’t eat green food. As The Kitchn points out, the world is full of major food-industry parents whose kids inexplicably won’t eat anything but rice. 22 percent of parents of two-year-olds describe their kids as picky eaters. It’s not uncommon for children who ate everything in front of them before the age of two to suddenly become fussy eaters when they turn two, either.


A new study says picky eating is not necessarily the parents’ fault.

A new study out of the University of Illinois looked at the eating habits of small children. Researchers identified two genes associated with picky eating. One is associated with limited dietary variety, and the other is associated with control struggles at mealtimes. Some kids refuse to eat certain foods. Other kids turn the dinner table into war zone.

Both genes are related to taste perception of bitterness, which could be why kids who taste bitter things more strongly are more likely to be picky eaters.

Nearly a quarter of parents of preschool aged kids describe their kids as picky eaters. Interestingly, study author Natasha Chong Cole said that every month older a kid was, the more likely a parent was to say they were a fussy eater.

“So a child could go from rarely being a picky eater to being a frequent picky eater in less than a year,” she said.

Fortunately, a lot of these picky habits are temporary. Toddlers don’t taste things the way adults do. (There’s a reason “palate like a toddler” is a go-to smug insult when shaming another adult’s food.) Some kids love broccoli and blue cheese, but for the most part kids like sweet, simple flavors. A toddler will shove a whole spoonful of brown sugar in their mouth if you look away from the table during breakfast. Many adults couldn’t do that without gagging.

My child’s pediatrician said picky eating in preschool is pretty common, and it doesn’t mean the kids will grow up eating butter and jelly sandwiches. She said the best indicator of a child’s future eating habits is what the parents eat. If the parents eat tons of different kinds of foods themselves, the kid is more likely to do the same when they get older.

What’s your experience with picky eating? Let us know in the comments.

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(Image: iStockPhoto / MarkoNOVKOV)