If I had a dollar for every time I’ve said, “I hate cooking for picky eaters” I could retire. Seriously, I could. It’s a hassle and until today I admit my brain classified all picky eaters under the header of “PITA.” Not PETA – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals – although some are; but rather PITA – Pain In The Ass.”
No, I’m not proud to admit this, but the truth is the truth. And we all have to accept our misconceptions and/or prejudices before we can begin to change them.
Now, I find some picky eaters funny…..for instance Dr. Sheldon Cooper. He’s hysterical – probably because I don’t have to feed him! But he really is. He won’t eat food that someone else has touched or food that touches food that someone else has touched, he has to have the EXACT ingredients in his takeout, he can be militant about the method of preparation of the foods he eats, he eats the same foods each day of the week, he doesn’t eat Greek food, he organizes his cereal boxes by fiber content, and the list goes on and on.
The following is my recollection of one of my favorite Sheldon Cooper food scenes from BBT.
Sheldon: This sandwich is an unmitigated disaster. I asked for turkey, roast beef, lettuce and Swiss on whole wheat.
Raj: What did they give you?
Sheldon: Turkey, roast beef, Swiss and lettuce on whole wheat.
Sheldon with a disgusted look on his face: It’s the right ingredients but in the wrong order.
Why am I thinking so much about picky eaters today? Well, I had lunch with some friends today and one was expressing her frustration about a family member’s picky eating. She was listing the foods the family member won’t eat and I was in awe. I just shook my head and thought all the usual things I think about picky eaters….they’re controlling, willful, annoying, etc. And to be fair, SOME ARE! But others, I have learned, are not.
After lunch I visited pickyeatingadults.com and some other websites and learned a bit about picky eating – especially in adults. Pickyeatingadults.com lists some possible causes for picky eating, including:
- Swallowing Disorder
- Selective Eating Disorder
- Food Aversions
- Taste & Smell Disorder
- Super Tasters
- Sensory Integration Disorder
- Power Struggle
- Food Neophobia
- Asperger’s Syndrome
Reading the list of possible causes piqued my curiosity and my compassion. I continued to read about picky eaters (PE’s) and learned that many picky eaters are embarrassed by their food issues and don’t want others to know. And that the food issues often lead to negative health effects such as malnutrition, dental problems (often PE’s gravitate to sugary foods), gastrointestinal issues (from a lack of fiber), high blood pressure, obesity, low self esteem, anxiety, social avoidance and depression, to name a few.
OK, now I’m feeling a bit sorry for some picky eaters.
Two common traits among many PEs are:
- they prefer salty foods (I was intrigued when my friend told me her PE family member loves potato chips. I was even more intrigued to find that many PE’s prefer foods that are processed and salty – potato chips were specifically mentioned.)
- some foods don’t look like foods to their brains
Of course my mind goes to the question, “Is it nature or nurture?” I ask this question of many curious behaviors. And I learned that the experts just don’t know whether nature, nurture or some combination affect eating habits.
One article on the abc news website from Oct 26, 2012 quoted Nancy Zucker, the Director of the Center for Eating Disorders at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, NC. Ms. Zucker said, “We don’t understand what adult picky eating is … but what we do know is that there is a real biological struggle going on that’s not all in their heads.”
My brain went next to, “how do you fix it?”
A January 19, 2013 post on Livestrong.com offers some healthy eating strategies for picky eaters, including:
- Change texture – for example, make veggies into something smooth like a puree or a soup or shred them into a salad in uniform pieces.
- Change look – sprinkle offending foods with cheese, dressing or ketchup or combine them with peanut butter or other nut butters.
- Make small changes – substitute whole grain white bread (two brands that offer a whole grain white bread: Arnold, Wonder) for white bread or quinoa for rice or mix darker lettuce with iceberg lettuce.
- Repetition – repeat new foods up to 20 times to create a habit.
- Make a nutritional plan.
- Be creative – hide nutritious foods in other foods.
- Be patient.
I love Sheldon Cooper. I love his familiar phrases like, “Bazinga” or “I’m not crazy. My mother had me tested.” I love his social awkwardness and his haughty air of superiority. And I even love his finicky personality when it comes to food. But (close your eyes if you’re particularly naive and sensitive) Sheldon Cooper IS NOT REAL.
However I do believe the old addage that “art imitates life.” Perhaps I (we) wouldn’t find Sheldon Cooper so funny if I (we) didn’t know real people like him. Real people who are picky eaters and who may be uncomfortable about their pickiness.
I do know there are many medical conditions that call for “‘adjusted eating” and people who “legitimately” can’t eat certain foods don’t frustrate me. But shame on me for trying to be the arbiter of what is a “legitimate” reason.
So I’m going to give picky eaters some slack. I’ll try not to roll my eyes or let a huffy sigh escape when I hear people say, “Oh, I don’t eat __________” or “I can’t have ____________.” I can’t promise I’ll be perfect. I can’t promise I’ll love to cook for picky eaters in the future. But I will do my best to be more tolerant. And wouldn’t the world be a better place if we would all strive to be more tolerant?