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My first thought was: who hates apples?
Then I remembered that when I was a little kid, I didn't like apples very much. I would eat the skin and then throw away the white part. Partially because I had a very small mouth and tiny teeth (no jokes please) and I had trouble biting into the fruit. I disliked bagels for the same reason: I couldn't chew them.
Picky? I happily devoured liverwurst and provolone cheese, two foods that most adults won't touch. I adored fruitcake. I didn't like potatoes or pasta because I found them too bland, not too spicy. Back then I thought of a picky eater as the little skinny girl who went to a video game party with saltines and peanut butter because she wouldn't eat pizza.
Regarding what 'makes' a picky eater, I can say with some authority that the best way to generate a debate on a food discussion board is to post something about having to 'feed' one, and you'll be subject to 728 posts about how awful parents are who have picky eaters and how the posters were 'forced' to finish everything on their plates.
Well, as I said, I got apples and creamed spinach as afterschool snacks and my mom didn't even keep sugar in the cupboard, but I still ended up with a weight problem at age ten, and it was well after graduate school that I discovered "hey, I feel much less crappy if I eat something besides cupcakes and candy all day."
Now I'm a health nut and literally every single food I consume on an average day I would have refused to have smelled as a child.
I have read that very young children will select a naturally balanced diet if left 'alone' but most scientific literature seems to suggest that we evolved as a species to have a strong preference for sweetness. It makes sense: poisons tend to be bitter, so evolution would favor people who like sweet things as kids. Their ancestors were more likely to spit out the poisoned berries than chow down on them.
I'm no scientist, but I did study literature, and in an era well before the evolution of the Happy Meal kids loved sugar. Read this excerpt from one 1798 manual about how to 'manage' servants:
"Now, Master," said a fond nurse to her favorite boy, after having given him sugared bread and butter for supper, "now master, kiss me...when mistress asks you what you have had for supper, you'll say, bread and butter, for you have had bread and butter."...as to its spoiling his teeth, he does not care about his teeth, and he sees no immediate change in them: therefore he concludes that his mother's orders are capricious, and his nurse loves him better than his mother does...The taste for sugared bread and butter is soon over but servants have it in their power to excite other tastes with premature and factious enthusiasm.
I'm really not sure where I stand on the picky eater debate. I've known parents who are serious foodies whose kids eat about three foods (all of them white) and kids with relatively unadventurous parents who will eat garlicky hummus. Preference, like so many aspects of the human character, is a weird synergy of nature, parental nurture, and the larger social environment.
But if so much of this is nature, what did kids eat before chicken nuggets were born? Before refined sugar on white bread and butter was available to shut kids up in the nursery? Surely they must have eaten something?
Pain in the ass that I was as a kid, I will say that the fact that even the junk food I ate like fried clams and eclairs often came from pretty good fish shacks and local bakeries. I did develop a palate that helped me when I decided to become a healthy eater later on, as opposed to one boy I recently met who only liked Chips Ahoy cookies and wouldn't eat homemade chocolate chip cookies because they tasted 'weird.'
Although, I was talking with another friend of mine last night...she worked at a daycare center in a low-income area when she was in college. The children received a hot lunch, often food like Salisbury steak, live, and slimy, badly-cooked okra and collard greens. If they were lucky, they'd get a slice of white bread with some processed cheese microwaved--not broiled--on top of it.
It was often the only meal they ate all day and they always cleaned their plates.
I'd love to hear your thoughts about picky eating: Are you a picky eater? Were you a picky eater? What about your kids? Who has the strangest 'picky eating preferences' of your circle of friends?