Everyday Life · Opinion

Don’t Call Me A Picky Eater

This picture contains two foods I liked as a kid. Seeing this for dinner was a nightmare. Photo from pixabay user moerschy, in public domain.

An article from NPR on the phenomenon of people liking certain foods and not others came across my newsfeed. They managed to draw out a thousand words on people have preferences (imagine!) before the comments started, and like a numpty, I read them.

There is no one more sanctimonious than the people whose kids happily clean their plates no matter what the meal. “That’s because I taught them a healthy attitude about food! You eat it or you starve!”

I cleaned my plate as a kid despite hating a huge amount of the foods I ate. You know what it taught me? To fear strange meals. It got to the point where I would get upset at restaurants because I was so afraid I’d accidentally order something I hated and have to eat it all or go hungry. And as someone whose brain about shuts down when they’re hungry, that wasn’t an option.

And so I’d order chicken fingers, because hamburgers had tomatoes, spaghetti had strange chunks, and in my hippy hometown every place had a stupid habit of loading plates with horrible offerings like steamed zucchini and green peppers. What was quinoa? I didn’t know, and I didn’t want to, because what if I didn’t like it and had to eat it anyway? Even now, going to a strange restaurant can make me panicky as I evaluate not what I want to eat, but what I can.

Healthy attitude indeed.

If there’s one thing I love about being an adult, it’s that it’s nearly impossible to force me to eat something I hate. I can cook what I want, buy the ingredients I like, and ask the server what, exactly, is the vegetable of the day (a choice that never occurred to me as a child). Even at a party or potluck, I can either avoid what I don’t care for, or, times being what they are, claim a fad diet. Or any diet at all.

Not that I’m super picky these days. Not that I was ever that much more picky than the average kid. But my tastes vastly differed from my parents’, and so the conflict arose when they’d make what they liked, and I had to eat it too.

Turns out, there are plenty of foods I like that my parents don’t. I never knew, because they never cooked them and I was too afraid to try strange foods. They cooked the foods they’d grown up with. These days, I mostly don’t, and so the problem that was once a problem has melted away as if it never were.

You know how long I sat at the kitchen table delaying eating a serving of cauliflower that’d be put on my plat for me has to do with the moralness of my upbringing? You guessed it: nothing. Absolutely blithering nothing. Oh, your kid happily cleans their plate every meal? Probably their tastes and your tastes match exactly. Lucky flipping you.

Now, there are people out there who will genuinely eat everything, but these rare individuals are far between, and their reasons are vary from “grew up hungry” to “everything tastes the same to me.”

But even then? My husband’s taste buds are on permanent vacation to the point that he once managed to mistake a salmon tea sandwich for tomato, and he still prefers not to eat certain foods.

“I can’t just make special foods for my kids!” the commenters cry. “I’m not a short order cook!”

I’m not either, and yet both my husband and I manage to cook foods the other likes. Ditto for my siblings and their SOs. Amazing.

There is nobody in the world who wishes I liked broccoli more than I wish it. I sincerely would love to be one of those people who can just snack on raw peas. I have attempted asparagus plenty of times only to become mired in its bitter trap. But I don’t like them, and that’s not a moral failing on my part.

People like some food, not others. Unless it makes them actually difficult to cook for—and I’d say vegetarianism is a far bigger challenge than a hatred of cabbage—it’s okay. I take precautions to make sure I’m in charge of my own meals, and in return, you don’t get to label me a “picky eater” as if the way my taste buds work are preferences along the lines of “I like to wear blue shirts, not green” rather than actual tastes that my body likes or rejects without consulting me.

If I go to your house, there’s about three foods I will point-blank not eat: coleslaw, hijiki seaweed, and organs. And you know what? I haven’t had a huge problem with that list yet. Probably no one is going to look at it and say my parents raised me wrong for not liking to have my gag reflex triggered.

And if you do?

Maybe it’s your parents who raised you wrong—to not mind your own damn business.


10 thoughts on “Don’t Call Me A Picky Eater

    1. It really is an unfortunate situation, and you have my sympathy. You want them to eat, they want to eat, but what? The only thing I can really offer is: chances are, if it’s stuff like cruciferous vegetables, he’s probably not doing it to be difficult. And: try drenching vegetables in stuff like soy sauce or other strong flavors that disguise it. As a kid, I’d eat “Chinese broccoli” (broccoli in a stir-fry) because it tasted like stir-fry. Cauliflower is now fine with lemon juice (I’ll send you the recipe if you like) or BBQ sauce. I ate my green beans with ranch so often I now cannot stand to eat ranch dressing. Those are changes that either don’t affect how much effort it takes to cook, or are actually quite nice for everyone, not just a kid.

      Probably nothing you haven’t heard before, but take comfort: he doesn’t enjoy it either. Or I never did.


  1. My entire family labelled me a picky eater because I didn’t eat what they ate, but there are certain foods that I can’t stand and I simply will not eat: tomatoes (except in Italian food, but I pick out the chunks), coleslaw, cereal with milk (dry cereal’s just fine), mayo, mustard, and mushrooms, among others. Sometimes, it’s the texture and sometimes it’s the taste.

    Or, in the case of deep-fried anything (fries, prawns, moro bars, etc), it’s the heavy, oily feeling in my stomach afterwards that makes me want to puke. So, I don’t eat deep-fried foods anymore.

    And like you, I find it really hard to go out somewhere and I don’t know what’s on the menu. I usually have a look if the menu’s online, then find something suitable for my personal preferences.

    I think, at the end of the day, people come into their own tastes, whether they’re still kids or adults. I eat far more now as an adult than I ever did as a kid. For me, that came about because I’m an ex-pat and missed the tastes of home. But, because of my willingness to experiment with tastes and textures now (and not be ashamed of picking out what I don’t like), the variety of foods I’ll eat has grown.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So sorry you weren’t allowed to be in charge of your own food intake as a child! We had a couple of rules for our girls (now in their 20s). You are allowed to choose one meal that you don’t have to eat, ever (have a yogurt instead). One never ate Mexican foods. The other didn’t eat salmon. But they had to try everything at least once because “it could be your favorite food and you’ll never know if you don’t try it.” Both eat a healthy range of foods now. Including vegetables. Virtue has nothing to do with it. Health does.


  3. My kids always had the option to eat a PBJ instead. That was the only option, but it was better than having to choke down food and get yelled at because my stomach made noise as I insisted that it didn’t throw it back up.

    To this day, I don’t eat cauliflower. Or Brussel’s sprouts. Or asparagus and beets. I have, however, found a whole range of veggies that I do like, and I eat those.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve learned to love cauliflower with lemon juice, but nothing will induce me to eat uncooked cabbage. Really, I’m not big on most “regular” American vegetables. But I’ve found some I adore to replace them.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This is great. As a former picky eater (my husband would probably say I still am) who is raising two picky eaters, I am delighted that at least one person on the Internet has decided not to judge me. Thank you. It’s refreshing.

    Liked by 1 person

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