The Wisdom of the One-Year-Old Picky Eater

From a parent’s account of her autistic son in Recovering Autistic Children (2006) edited by Stephen Edelson and Bernard Rimland, p. 79:

James took matters into his own hands at about the time of his first birthday, and started refusing milk except in the form of yogurt or cheese.

The parents, alas, did not draw any conclusions from this.

The wisdom of the five-year-old picky eater.

16 Responses to “The Wisdom of the One-Year-Old Picky Eater”

  1. marmolillo Says:

    I have been reading for quite long time your interesting articles about fermented food. And I am really surprised you do not even have mentioned the works of Nobel Prize winner Ilya Ilyich Mechnikov.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ilya_Ilyich_Mechnikov

    They usually mention his opinions about fermented food like something weird from a great physicists. But he told the same things you are speaking about.

  2. Wilbur Says:

    If the wisdom of picky eaters is to be our standard, then McDonald’s french fries must be the healthiest food on the planet. I’ve known several brats who would eat nothing else.

  3. seth Says:

    maybe they needed more fat? The brain — and kids have growing brains — is more than half fat.

  4. Andrew Gelman Says:

    Seth,

    Please take a look at the many many comments on your earlier entry on this topic. Suffice it to say that your experience with kids is limited, and I recommend you defer to your commenters (including myself) on this one. Self experimentation is fine, but this is a case where a bit of observation would help.

  5. Mark Says:

    I think there is something to the way that kids eat, but I think you also are perhaps making a little too much out of it. My wife is a pediatrician. Many of the kids she sees only want to eat “white foods” – white bread, pasta, butter, sugar, french fries, etc. In general, kids are way more interested in bland and inoffensive tastes than complicated tastes. This makes sense evolutionarily – a bland, inoffensive food is almost certainly less likely to be dangerous. It probably takes great hunger or a real leap of faith for a human being “in nature” to try a wild new taste.

    Here’s an anecdote about a different autistic picky eater for your consideration. He ended up in the hospital as something of a medical mystery. After a couple of weeks of brain-racking by the doctors, they realized he had scurvy. After checking with the parents on his diet, sure enough, he refused anything containing vitamin C.

  6. peter Says:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fermentation_%28food%29#Risks_of_consuming_fermented_foods
    Risks of consuming fermented foods

    Alaska, despite its small population, has witnessed a steady increase of cases of botulism since 1985. It has more cases of botulism than anywhere else in the United States of America.[9] This is caused by the traditional Eskimo practice of allowing animal products such as whole fish, fish heads, walrus, sea lion and whale flippers, beaver tails, seal oil, birds, etc., to ferment for an extended period of time before being consumed. The risk is exacerbated when a plastic container is used for this purpose instead of the old-fashioned method, a grass-lined hole, as the botulinum bacteria thrive in the anaerobic conditions created by the plastic.

  7. seth Says:

    Peter, yes, that is why I always use glass containers.

    Mark and Andrew, I am saying there is something to be learned from the way kids eat. Including the way one kid eats. Of course, put in the wrong environment, kids will choose a crummy diet. Likewise, rats, put in the wrong environment, will get fat. But Richter showed that if rats are given access to a certain large set of foods, they will pick out a healthy diet. This isn’t a great surprise but it is worth remembering. Presumably humans have similar tendencies. Yes, kids like candy, yes, they will eat too much candy if they can, but why humans like sweet foods isn’t obvious at all — and maybe it is worth wondering about. Young children give us a glimpse of food preferences less affected by experts and culture than adults.

  8. Ted Says:

    Your two theories of SLD and ‘wisdom’ are colliding here.

  9. Patrik Says:

    I am saying there is something to be learned from the way kids eat. Including the way one kid eats. Of course, put in the wrong environment, kids will choose a crummy diet.

    Er, put in the best environment kids will choose a crummy diet. Not only kids, but adults are somewhat prone to this as well. Take me, for example. I don’t buy chocolates and sweets anymore. Why? Because I have a tendency to inhale all of these the second I get home. Solution: don’t buy them in the first place.

    This episode we are currently experiencing on this blog is reminiscent of when we discussed the Aquatic Ape theory. You, a very intelligent individual, eschewed all reason to bolster your pet theory.

    Now, I am not saying fermented food may not be healthy. It certainly may. However, you lack any sort of coherent logical framework within which to make your argument.

    Young children give us a glimpse of food preferences less affected by experts and culture than adults.

    You’re right. The millions and millions of dollars spent by the likes of Nabisco,
    General Foods etc etc have_no_effect on children’s preferences. None at all.

  10. Les Jones Says:

    I have a three year old and a four year old. If children naturally eat healthy foods then ice cream, cake, cookies, and candy must be health food.

    “Peter, yes, that is why I always use glass containers.”

    Which would have the same anaerobic conditions as plastic containers.

  11. seth Says:

    Les, everyone agrees that children, like adults, like pets, are sometimes drawn to unhealthy food. My point is more subtle: when children reject a food it may be because it’s unhealthy. Not because “oh yeah children are picky eaters”. My ideas come into play when children reject foods. I am saying that instead of dismissing such rejections they should be mulled over. Could the rejected food be unhealthy in a non-obvious way?

  12. Aaron Blaisdell Says:

    I wonder why my daughter rejects sprouted sourdough bread but requests white bread? I thought the latter had some serious health issues, but the former largely removed the antinutrients? Just finding examples that don’t fit the rejection hypothesis.

  13. seth Says:

    perhaps the white bread has added vitamins. Thiamine, for example.

  14. Aaron Blaisdell Says:

    Perhaps, but it seems like grasping at straws to me. What we really need are controlled studies that give the same type of bread to children, one with and one without added vitamins such as Thiamine, and see which one (if any) they develop a preference for over time.

  15. Seth’s blog » Blog Archive » The Wisdom of Young Picky Eaters Says:

    [...] The Wisdom of the One-Year-Old Picky Eater. The Wisdom of the Five-Year-Old Picky Eater. [...]

  16. Quercki Says:

    My oldest child was an adventurous eater who would eat anything except peanut butter or apple juice. The rest of our family loves peanut butter.

    It turns out that peanut butter is actually bad for her: she has a stone-forming metabolic kidney disorder, and peanut butter is high in the precursors that form the stones. None of the rest of us have this disorder, so peanut butter is good for us. I haven’t found out if apple juice has anything harmful for her in it yet.

    Another child is a typical “white diet” kid, but I think that is because that child has very sensitive skin including the taste buds.