The Dreaded Picky Phase

I have written a lot about picky eating. In kids, in adults, what to do about it, cookbooks for picky kids, about nature, about nurture…I’ve written all about it.

And if you have read all of those posts, you know how I feel about picky eating–I don’t really care about what people eat so long as they don’t make it my business, and unfortunately, when you are dealing with kids or adults who act like kids, it is made my business.

And it is certainly my business, when it is my kid.

And Kat, my kid, my beloved baby who used to eat chicken curry, curried carrot and sweet potato soup, garlic stalks, peas by the handful and cherry tomatoes by the pint, has turned into a toddler and has entered–cue dramatic music–the dreaded picky phase.

And vegetables, once beloved, are now to be shunned.

And curry is viewed with suspicion bordering upon paranoia.

And need we mention that lovely toddler capriciousness whereby a food, eaten joyously one day, is now verbotten when next the sun arises?

It is so strange!

Morganna was apparently like this when she was a toddler, though more so with her father and grandmothers than when she was with me. When she was with me, she would be suspicious of unfamiliar foods, but could be convinced pretty handily.

Kat–she is not so malleable.

One day, she is all about bison cheeseburgers–which we call “beefy” and feed her in morsels from our plates, and then the next week, when presented with the same exact food on her own plate, she turns up her nose and declares, “No!”

Corn on the cob uncooked is gobbled down with great glee, but when presented cooked, is rejected. If corn is cooked and mixed into any other food, it is glared at and pushed away. Peas, once consumed by the hundreds, are now only eaten in pasta, when slipped into the center of the penne where it cannot be seen. Carrots are eaten raw. Sometimes.

And tomatoes–Kat used to eat cherry tomatoes in copious amounts–frighteningly copious, in fact. She used to suck the innards out of them before she had teeth, in fact. Then, she just stopped, one day.

Until Saturday–I had bought some Sun Gold cherry tomatoes at the farmers market and as she watched me eat them, she demanded one. And ate it. And then proceeded to eat more than a dozen more. I was THRILLED!

And then, much to my dismay, when presented with tomatoes a few days later, she looked at me like I had lost my damned mind and pushed them away.

Blueberries, raspberries and blackberries are almost consistently eaten–almost. Sometimes, out of the blue, she will refuse them. Strawberries in fresh form are ignored. Dehydrated, or in lassi, they are favored foods. By themselves–Kat shakes her head and says, “No way.”

Yogurt is not touched unless it is in a lassi.

That said, Kat still eats lots of foods that I suspect most kids would turn their noses up at. Pesto is a perennial favorite. Lo mein with fermented black beans is beloved. Chicken, fried, sauteed or baked, is great. Rice with vegetables–so long as the vegetables are about minced to death, is usually accepted. Macaroni and cheese, of course. Grilled cheese sandwiches with sharp cheddar, muenster or havarti are eaten with great gusto. Basil in any form. Cherries are a favorite. Coconut is beloved. Bacon is never turned down. Bread of various sorts is always loved. Scrambled eggs with herbs and cheese is almost always a good bet. Fruity Cheerios, along with lots of other cereals that are almost healthy. Strawberry-filled organic multi-grain bars. Oat bread from the Village Bakery. Refried beans, especially from Casa or the ones I make. Beans are almost always good, but chickpeas–oh, they are scary! Spaghetti with marinara or pesto is good. Creamy sauces for pasta are good. Broccoli with rice and cheese is good, so long as she thinks the broccoli is an herb (I cut it up finely.) Barbecued pork. Stir-fried pork, chicken or beef. Tofu–sometimes. Stir fried bok choy–sometimes. Rice noodles, almost always. Ice cream–duh–always! Dehydrated bananas (but fresh ones–“No way!”) French toast, pancakes and waffles of various sorts, most of them whole grain. Pineapple once it is on the top of pizza, is great. Ham is always beloved, but especially on pizza.

And, of course, the perennial kid-pleaser–fries! We use them as incentive to leave the park or behave for baby sitters. They are definitely a treat, not an every day food. Just like cookies, only starchier!

So, it isn’t so bad.

I guess I should stop complaining, huh? Kat actually does eat a lot of different foods, most of them quite nutritive.

She’ll come around in time. The cherry tomatoes of last Saturday prove it.

But I do find it amusingly ironic that after all of my work to give her a varied diet and how much I have written about picky eaters and how to avoid same–Kat went through a picky phase anyway.

It just goes to show that there is such a thing as karma (in a light and amusing sense–I am not talking about the big heavy ethical ideas of karma) and the Universe, God or whatever you want to call it, has a sense of humor.

I am just glad I have one, too.


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  1. Bravo on maintaining that sense of humor! And it’s a relief to know that even an avid omnivorous toddler can go through a picky phase. My two year old is also sadly getting more and more difficult and much as I try to keep perspective it’s hard not to feel like I’ve done something “wrong”. Oh well, at least I’m not falling into the trap of making it a power struggle as I did with his brother.

    And by the way, shell pasta is also great for hiding peas AND sweet corn. And if you take the skin off zucchini before adding it to the tomato sauce, it also flies beneath the radar of pickiness. Usually.


    Comment by Meg — July 28, 2009 #

  2. Oh goodness, you have reminded me of the time when my first born cherub decided she would eat only white foods. Even a speck of green on the plate gave rise to very loud protests.

    Comment by Cheryl Fuller — July 28, 2009 #

  3. Just remember that if “picky” is a phase (and not a lifelong thing), it is usually a control issue, not a food issue! She is testing her boundaries and food is one of the things she has control over.

    I know that Kat “helps” you in the kitchen a lot but maybe she is ready to have some butter knives to dice up her own veggies and help you make food that she will happily gobble up because SHE made it!

    Comment by Shannon — July 28, 2009 #

  4. I just realized that we have not seen any pictures of Kat in quite awhile!

    Comment by Shannon — July 28, 2009 #

  5. I am sure there are control aspects to toddler pickiness, but I think there must be physiological aspects as well. My son is 2 years 4 months and has been picky for 4 or 5 months now. Prior to that he ate just about anything, like Kat. The thing is, if I feed him, without him seeing the contents, a bite of food that contains a noticeable chunk of vegetable–anything sort of slimy or soft–, he will notice once he tastes it; he shudders and gags on it. I don’t think he’s faking that. My hypothesis is that it is a developmental stage, perhaps one that served a function eons ago. I remember reading about some raven behavior that seemed parallel.

    It still bums me out when my guy is picky, but I’m trusting that things will change in the next year or so. In the meantime, he gets stuff he likes for breakfast and lunch, but I try not to cater to him too much when it comes to dinner, and he gets a daily multivite 🙂

    Comment by Laurel — July 29, 2009 #

  6. Oooh, good for you guys. You really should consider yourself so lucky! I have the luxury of being a SAHM, and I’ve been spending *days* crafting all kinds of things in the kitchen just to have them rejected! It’s so depressing, and yes, I do suspect karma is at work because I’ve always sooo detested picky eaters. Our dear son is truly teaching me patience!

    Comment by Yvonne — July 29, 2009 #

  7. Personally, I think Kat is a remarkably lucky toddler, picky or not, due to the absolutely insane range of different foods she has available to be picky from.

    Most parents would shudder to think of a ‘White Phase’ whereas you would have the opportunity to offer such amazing choices in white, that if she were doing it to check her boundaries, she’d find her rebellousness really ineffective =)

    Then again, logic and predictability was never a strong suit for small kids =)

    Comment by Wobin — July 29, 2009 #

  8. heh, the picky phase! i’m going through it too with my twins. it can be unnerving at times but they still eat lots of veggies and fruit and they’ll take watermelon over icecream any time. if they don’t like corn today they’ll try something new, like eat raw basil leaves. i think its just their imagination running wild in every aspects of life.

    Comment by argus — July 29, 2009 #

  9. The chief of staff of the Prussian Army, Generalfeldmarschall Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke the Elder, once said “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy”.

    I don’t think that any parenting plan survives contact with the children.

    Comment by Fernmonkey — July 29, 2009 #

  10. Fernmonkey, your comment made me laugh out loud at my desk — not only because it’s funny, but because I thought my husband was the only one who busted out the full names of Prussians. 😀

    Comment by Elizabeth — July 29, 2009 #

  11. I had to giggle at some of these responses. Yes–Kat is teaching me patience–and some days, I am a slow student! But I have kept in mind that this is a PHASE–one that she will grow out of, so long as I don’t cater to it long past its natural time.

    That happened with Morganna with her grandmothers and father–they catered to her pickiness long past toddlerhood into childhood, and she would eat very few foods with them. When she was with me, I would not give in to her demands for just Wendy’s food and baked chicken with marinara sauce.

    I took her out to eat Indian food, I cooked Chinese food, and I made good Italian foods, and she ate like a little starving child. I remember the first time we took her to eat at Akbar when she was nine, and she ate two huge plates of food from the buffet table, and then started in on the kheer and gulab jamon. The waiters, who knew Zak and I by name, were amazed–and started bringing her little things from the kitchen to try, just to see if she would eat them.

    Sweet potato pakora–gobbled down. Pooris–the same. Egg curry–gone.

    They asked her if she ate Indian food like this all the time, and she looked at them and shook her head soberly and said, “This is the first time.”

    After that, every time she visited us, we went to Akbar nearly every day of her visit so she could see her friends the waiters, and eat about her weight in delicious food.

    So, I keep telling myself that it is a phase, while I remember Kat gobbling down curries as a baby, curries and dal and tofu and all that great stuff.

    Fernmonkey–you made me laugh out loud, too, for several reasons. For one, my nickname in the Salaam kitchen, given by my daughter, Morganna, one of my line cooks was Field Marshall Rommel, because of my booming voice, very erect carriage and very military way of running the kitchen–very efficient and fast. (That and I admire Rommel’s abilities as a tactician.)

    And because of a famous quote from my Great Aunt Emma, whose parents still spoke German and who herself could read it and speak it a little, which said to my Aunt Judy in her childhood when discussing WWI. Aunt Emma, a very small, smiling dimpling woman apparently drew herself up when Aunt Judy asked if our family (who all have the same erect carriage and military efficiency that I exhibit in the kitchen) were like the military men of WWI–and said, “My dear, we Fishers are Bavarian–NOT Prussian.”

    And back to your actual comment–parenting strategies do indeed fall apart just as easily as battle plans when exposed to the enemy–I mean–children. 😉

    Which still makes me laugh.

    Comment by Barbara — July 29, 2009 #

  12. My theory is like us, they have finally reached the I don’t want that today thank you, but if you offered me the thing I crave, but cant tell you about I would eat it heartily.
    Ever bought groceries in the morning and then by evening the thought of what you were going to make is decidedly NOT what you want?
    Ah well, this too shall pass.

    Comment by jo — July 29, 2009 #

  13. My son is two and I can see myself nodding through each sentence of your post!!
    He hates anything that comes out of my kitchen,whereas my neighbors attempts at cooking Indian food are gobbled down like they were made by a 5 star chef!
    I always have some baby food jars in the fridge(that too stage 2,stage 3 usually comes out as fast as it goes in),cause if everything else fails-I give him that.

    Comment by Sweta — July 30, 2009 #

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