Can Science Help Fix Picky Eaters?

posted: 07/01/15
by: Courtney Reimer
kid glumly sitting in front of a plate full of vegetables

As most parents begrudgingly know all too well, having a a picky eater in the family makes every mealtime a struggle. But what's at the root of this food-shunning behavior? Is it something that can be cured? Science is looking into it.

A recent study referenced in NYMag.com's Science of Us blog said picky eaters fall into four groups:

1. sensory-dependent eaters, who are hard sells on foods with unusual textures or smells
2. preferential eaters, who reject anything unfamiliar
3. behavioral responders, who freak out when their food isn't prepared exactly the way they like it
4. general perfectionists, who may have a variety of idiosyncratic requirements (they may hate when different foods touch each other, for example).

Now that scientists have found the various categories of pickiness, the next step is helping us find ways to "fix" this issue.

One example cited in the Science of Us: the recommended way to approach a kid averse to mixed food is to "show him or her the individual ingredients the first time you serve the item," Francine Russo told Scientific American.

As for how to address "general perfectionists," (which sounds like one of those "weaknesses you cite in job interviews," so maybe it's a good sign -- but I digress), I say divvy the foods up into individual sections like this savvy Instagrammer:

Baby (10 months), Toddler and Family Dinner- grilled salmon burgers with poblano peppers (toddler and hubby had theirs on a bun, I had mine over an arugula salad), feta, grilled plums + cinnamon (the rest of us are this for dessert with honey, vanilla yogurt and chopped walnuts) and tomato and avocado finger salad with lemon vinaigrette. Verdict- both kids polished off the feta first, then about half of the finger salad and salmon burger. Baby P didn't seem to care for her plums (is she crazy?!?) the rest of us polished them off! #baby #babyfood #blw #babyfoode #kiddomeals #babymealideas #babyledweaning #organic #homemade #healthy #healthybaby #healthykids #healthyliving #wholefoods #toddler #toddlerfood #toddlermeal #toddlerdinner #toddlermealideas #pickyeater #notapickyeater

A photo posted by Michele Olivier (@babyfoode) on

Most stores, like Target, carry these sectioned plates in several varieties, and I know they've done wonders for my little perfectionist. Now if they could just invent a plate to convince her to eat broccoli.