Omnivore - Is a picky eater making your life miserable?

Do you have children who are picky eaters? Are you a picky eater yourself?

Have you ever stopped to wonder how you became one of those people who won't eat chicken or fish "because of all the bones," like one of my friends? Or maybe you will only eat red meat — no vegetables, no nothing else — like another friend. Over the years, I've taken many friends to exotic restaurants, only to watch them order a bowl of lettuce or refuse to eat anything "spicy." And then there was my brother, who refused to eat rice when he was growing up and broke into tears at Thanksgiving meals.

It's been long presumed that people become picky eaters because of some environmental factor. But a new study, reported in a recent edition of the New York Times, finds that the problem is 78 percent genetic and 22 percent environmental. There's method to the picky madness:

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.

A natural skepticism of new foods is a healthy part of a child’s development, said Ellyn Satter, a child nutrition expert whose books, including Child of Mine: Feeding With Love and Good Sense (Bull Publishing, 2000), have developed a cult following among parents of picky eaters.

Each child has a unique set of likes and dislikes that Ms. Satter believes are genetically determined. The only way children discover what they are is by putting food in their mouths and taking it out over and over again, she said.

“Of course, it’s hard when children are just so blasé about food or refuse it, especially for parents who spend a lot of time thinking about it and preparing it,” she said.

Unfortunately, the article says nothing about why some children grow up to become picky adults while most outgrow the problem.

(Painting of "The Picky Eater" by "Claude Moanet" from DearAuntNettie.com. That green stuff is spinach.)

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