Food and the City: Picky Eaters

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Brooklyn writer Melanie Rehak looks at the sometimes-complicated process of feeding New Yorkers in her book, Eating for Beginners: An Education in the Pleasures of Food from Chefs, Farmers, and One Picky Kid.  Each week in November she shares what she's learned -- this week: feeding a picky eater. 

Were you the picky eater in your family?  Share your advice for dealing with children or adults with minimal food "favorites."


Melanie Rehak

Comments [43]

Kim from Virginia

Unless you were a picky eater, you wouldn't understand. I agree with "John from Brooklyn", if you leave a picky eater alone, they will eventually try a new food. I found out I like some types of Chicken after 34 years. Now I can try diferent types of Chicken to see which kinds I like.

Mar. 19 2011 12:27 AM

Hello Commenters,
A few of the comments on this page have been edited or removed. Please remember to keep things civil in your comments on If you have any questions about this policy, feel free to call our listener services line: (646) 829-4000.
Brian Lehrer Show Producer

Nov. 11 2010 11:51 AM
dboy from nyc

"... toothpicks-and supply a plastic jar with a hole in it"

Really... REALLY???!!!

Nov. 11 2010 11:13 AM
Cathy from New Jersey

A study was preformed, I believe in the 90's, that indicated some children find foods like broccoli unpalatable while others had no problem. Not all picky eating is a form of rebellion or the parents fault of not offering a variety, there could be a biological aspect. As a mom of three different eaters, I have found comfort in this knowledge hope you do as well.

Nov. 11 2010 11:12 AM
dboy from nyc



Nov. 11 2010 11:10 AM
Vanessa from CT

I have several tips on my blog

Eat with your kids.
Start them off early-- when you feed them mushy babyfood they may spit out the spinach and green beans, but don't give up; it takes a while.
Don't make different meals, make one for everyone and ignore the complaints (I have one son who will throw himself on the ground crying, but will procede to eat the entire meal once he's realized that's all he's getting and especially if he wants dessert.
Don't give too many snacks (especially sweet ones) before meals.
Don't fight it, if it's too much of a struggle, just relax and let it happen over time.

Nov. 11 2010 11:08 AM
Lynn Smith

Everyone who spoke made very light of this issue, but in fact this is a very serious problem with young childen. There is a difference between picky eaters and children who refuse whole categories of foods. I am a speech therapist who focuses my therapy on this population. There may be amilies out there who are really struggling with there chilldren's feding. In addition lack of nutrition at this age effects cognition and ability to learn. Some childen have such sevee aversions that they need to be put on feeding tubes. I just want peope t realize that this is a very true disorder that can be worked on.The origins very. It is someting that should not be spoken about in such a lightmanner. Research is out there if you just google. Please comment and let people know that feeding in a pediatric population is a true problm that can be addressed

Nov. 11 2010 11:07 AM
tom from uws

I was the pickiest of 4 kids (my older brother and sister may have turned me that way - Carol, way above, hits that point well) but grew up to be the one with the broadest taste in food. I grew up in two stages: college, where I was emabarrassed not to join my friends in what they were enjoying, and later when I worked in a good NYC restaurant and had the occasion to try a new range of dishes. It's also a fact, I believe, that the tastes we "like" change over time - sweeter as kids, more savory as adults, perhaps?

Childhood is an impermanent state, and anything can happen. It's good not to traumatize a kid. My friends raised their daughter with this rule: as long as she tries everything, she can "take it or leave it" after. She also doesn't have to have more on her plate than she wants. No fighting, no forced feeding, but she's a great eater who likes almost everything. And she was given exactly what her parents were having from the get-go.

Nov. 11 2010 11:06 AM
dboy from nyc

Kids love Cheerios™ because they're LOADED with sugar and empty carbohydrates!!

A hypoglycemic rollar coaster ride!

No mystery. SIMPLE!

Nov. 11 2010 11:05 AM
bernie from bklyn

hey @webstuff aka Big Brother....why don't you investigate your browser issue. brian & co. are busy right now. you do call yourself webstuff, so figure it out!
and p.s.-mind yr own business please, i was trying to make a point much like dboy from nyc is making.

Nov. 11 2010 11:01 AM

Put your kids food on toothpicks-and supply a plastic jar with a hole in it for each eaten empty pick

Nov. 11 2010 11:01 AM

China can be tough for some people when it comes to food. Chinese food there isn't what you get from the delivery guy in NYC. I have visited China before and ate stuff that I still can't identify. I drew the line at fried pig's throat.

Nov. 11 2010 11:01 AM

I'm a picky eater and am doing just fine. I don't know why anyone would care about what I do or do not want to try. I can always find something to eat in restaurants and we do fine when we eat with friends. My wife being a vegetarian puts more limitations on our eating options than my picky eating.

Nov. 11 2010 10:59 AM
Lynn from queens

I was a very picky eater. The family doctor's comment was "if there is food in the house, she won't starve". His message was don't make a huge issue of it. As an adult, I'm fairly adventurous with food.

Nov. 11 2010 10:58 AM
Estela Lopez from White Plains

He were are, talking about picky eaters kids, because the kids are so spoiled and eating just fast food, if these kids or parents known what kids in South America, Africa or India, have to go through, believe the American kids, will eat everything, and I’m telling you everything.

Nov. 11 2010 10:57 AM

I know someone who is a 'supertaster', meaning that strong flavors can be very overpowering. They only eat bland foods. How prevalent is this?

Nov. 11 2010 10:56 AM
shelly from nyc

My son has aspergers and has major issues with sensory overload. Smells and tastes can really overwhelm him. People need to understand that different people have different neurolgical experiences.

Nov. 11 2010 10:56 AM
Richard Bonomo from Yonkers

I paid my kids to try new foods starting at $1 and working my way up. My daughter finally tried lox when I offered her $20. It's cost me a lot more since then since it was love at first bite.

Nov. 11 2010 10:56 AM
Tim Goldman from Jackson Heights, NY

I know this segment is about kids, but my boyfriend's parents are the pickiest adult eaters I've ever known!

They are corn fed midwesterners and are very meat and potatoes esp. his dad. His dad won't even use dressing on a salad, and prefers iceberg lettuce.

We try to introduce them to unique foods when they come to NYC, which they will try. But after the fact they'll say they don't need to eat that again.

Nov. 11 2010 10:56 AM
vince in brooklyn

I let my 4 year old son season his own food ... butter, olive oil, vinegars, grated cheese, sugar, salt, and pepper, fresh herbs. It's a simple way to include him in the cooking process, just the finishing, so he develops a familiarity with the flavors he does like and takes some control of his own palette. For a while we ate nothing but vinegar flavored dishes! After you gain some ground, dial back the amounts of fats and such to healthy levels.

Nov. 11 2010 10:56 AM
Carol Delgado from NYC - Manhattan

I was a picky eater -- the youngest of 4 children. I would eat pasta, no sauce, would choose to go hungry rather than eat something that 'looked awful'. At age 18 I ate my first tomato and 22 my first broccoli -- and liked it! And gradually grew out of this relationship to food. Looking back I think this had to a lot to do with exercising a sense of power within the family dynamic.

No longer a picky eater -- but I still don't like vinegar tasting foods -- pickles, mustard, olives.

Nov. 11 2010 10:55 AM

Apparently our closest primate relatives are also super picky. Bonobos will pass on fruit til it reaches the peak of ripeness, checking the same tree each day.

Nov. 11 2010 10:55 AM
Vanessa from CT

Someone just mentioned my blog... which I created to help others get their kids to eat well in the real world.
I give tips, insight and recipes on healthful eating.

Nov. 11 2010 10:55 AM
Leah from Brooklyn

Picky eating is not the result of "mistakes" parents make. Tastes change as children age; tastebuds mature and even die, altering how food is perceived. Moreover, it's not always appropriate to feed children the "ground-up" version of whatever adults eat; children have different nutritional needs.

Nov. 11 2010 10:55 AM
web stuff

The formatting on this web site has been screwed up in Safari browser for several days. Please investigate.

Also, please delete the mildly profane "bernie from brooklyn" comment at the top od the page.

Nov. 11 2010 10:55 AM
Robert from NYC

I was somewhat of a picky eater but I ate lots of stuff I hear kids don't like. E.g., I always loved spinach and never knew why they said kids don't like it, thus we had Popeye to tell us why it was good for us. But I grew up in an Italian family and we ate just about everythihg you could get in the 50s: I loved broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, escarole, artichokes(mmm), carrots, tomatoes, potatoes, celery, onions, peas, beets, I can go on. As for meat; beef, veal, lamb, pork, chicken, brains, sweet breads, NOT liver except for chicken livers, etc and of course pastas (maccaroni) and rice and barley and on and on and on.... And I still love them all except I gave up veal and lamb which I love but trying to get away from meat for the cruel way it's kept and slaughtered.

Nov. 11 2010 10:55 AM

Only offer what the rest of the family is eating. After a couple days the lil protester will give up and eat.

I measure how much my picky 3 year old eats according to total intake of the week, not any particular day.

Our other kid is a great eater, brings sardines to school for lunch.

PS -- the picky 3 year old loves to cook! The good eater won't walk into the kitchen.

Nov. 11 2010 10:53 AM

In my house, beware picky eaters!

Nov. 11 2010 10:50 AM
Donna Salter from bloomfield

My son, who is now 6'3", went through a period where he would only eat yogurt. So, everything came out of a yogurt container. Carrots, steak, apples...everything.

Nov. 11 2010 10:50 AM
Connie from nj

I was the picky eater in our house, growing up (though I always loved spinach, oddly enough). I didn't start to get over it till college. Now, 3 decades later, I'll eat most anything, except mayo and organ meats.

Nov. 11 2010 10:49 AM
Jennifer Hickey

My brother was the picky eater in our family. The only way he would eat carrots (the only vegetable besides pototoes he would eat -- bit only mashed, of course) is if my mother mixed them into his mashed potatoes, which she did for him until he was well into his 20s.

Nov. 11 2010 10:49 AM
dboy from nyc

bernie from bklyn

I think "bernie" may be on to something.

Nov. 11 2010 10:49 AM
Erin from Brooklyn

All good Brooklynites blog, right? Here's mine, devoted to feeding my 15 month old a vegetarian diet:

I've learned not to get upset when all he wants is an Elmo cracker. Over the course of the day, I can slip enough fresh fruit, veggies, and protein in somewhere. And we have fun experimenting with new food - my fun is in cooking, his is usually in throwing. But every now and then, I get it right and receive applause for my efforts.

Nov. 11 2010 10:09 AM
Fran from South Orange

I belong to a CSA and through this have discovered many new vegetables. I have turned my kids onto eating things I would never have eaten myself as a child. Yes, I was a picky eater, and I have a picky eater of my own now. We've learned how to make Kale chips, and my girls love them! We've made them for many of their friends, and they too loved them. I also sautee kale, onions, garlic in olive oil (or any other type of greens) and my family loves it. Finally, my picky eater will eat just about any vegetable that I have grilled or roasted, such as: asparagus, zucchini, eggplant, brussel sprouts, potatoes, artichokes, and more.

Nov. 11 2010 09:51 AM
Dina Rose

What kids don't eat is as much a product of the foods they regularly eat than the characteristics of the stuff they're rejecting. If kids are given the same flavors over and over (sweet cereal, sweet yogurt, sweet PB&J), same textures (crunchy cereal, crunchy grilled cheese, crunchy chicken nuggets) we shouldn't be surprised when they reject fresh, natural food that has none of the characteristics of the the "foods" they're accustomed to.

Nov. 09 2010 02:43 PM
Emma from Greenpoint

I suggest lying. When I was younger, I swore up and down that I *hated* eggplant. Yuck!
Then one night my dad made a dish - imam biyaldi - and when I asked what was in it he told me it was "auber." I guess that made sense to me as a 9 year old because the dish has such a "weird" name. I tried it and LOVED it! I would beg and beg for him to make this dish all the time, and I didn't know that it had eggplant in it until I went away to college and had to make it for myself and looked at a recipe.
I called my dad right away!

Nov. 09 2010 02:23 PM

I was a picky eater, but now I eat just about anything as long as it's healthy. I'd advise leaving picky eaters alone. Let them have a fair share in choosing their favorite menu. Make sure to keep sugar and junk food out of the house. Cut down on sweetened desserts. Never make them taste something they don't want to. Let them choose their own portions. Don't let them dominate family eating pleasure by being the "lowest common denominator" of family food choices. Let them leave the table when they have finished eating.

Being an adult picky eater can be embarrassing and socially limiting. Hopefully most children can develop a varied palette even if they start out picky.

Nov. 09 2010 11:48 AM
Madalyn Benoit from Queens

As a former VERY picky eater, I would strongly advise parents not to make such a big deal about it. It's not a lifelong problem - I am now a happy omnivore. Make sure you always have healthy food available for when the child is hungry and, within reason, try to find alternatives. If your child hates asparagus, see if he would eat carrot sticks or something that doesn't require a lot of additional preparation. The more eating becomes a power struggle between parent and child, the longer pickiness will last.

Nov. 09 2010 11:35 AM
Brett Edward Stout from Seaford, NY

As someone who considers himself a very serious cook, and a vegetarian chef, I do avert specific ingredients if the person dislikes one or two, but if they say they dislike vegetables, lasagna, or soup as a whole all bets are off. I usually cook exactly what they say they hate the most and have a 100% success rate so far of them begrudgingly admitting to liking it. I oppose the philosophy of "I don't like peas and I'm glad I don't like peas because if I liked them I would eat them and I don't want to eat them because I hate them."

Nov. 09 2010 11:32 AM

Getting picky eaters to eat unusual foods can be nearly impossible. I wrote about this on my blog, but I warn that it is not civil nor brief, so please proceed with caution:

Nov. 09 2010 11:32 AM
dboy from nyc

"Picky" eaters go hungry in our house!

"Picky" is a negative condition not a acceptable lifestyle choice!

Nov. 09 2010 11:31 AM
John from Brooklyn

Here's a suggestion: Leave picky eaters alone. There's nothing more obnoxious than when someone insists you shove something in your mouth you have no interest in eating. If anything, they will be less likely to try something new out of spite.

Nov. 09 2010 11:29 AM
Jonas Littman from Greenwich + Vermont

I was a bit shocked that MR seemed to suggest there is a limited selection of local food (especially greens) this time of year. Besides the normal fall-early winter greens of kale, chard, mustard greens, brussel sprouts and cabbaage, many organic farmers in Vermont are using greenhouses and cold frames to continue to grow lettuces, spinach, broccoli, etc etc. late into the year. It is all there and it is such beautiful and tasty produce compared to the weeks-old [#X%!] that Whole Foods carries to us from California.

PS Garlic is not a fall vegetable. You plant it now and it comes up for Summer harvest.

Nov. 04 2010 03:28 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.