OK, it’s my fault, but it’s not my fault

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Finally, a scientific study we moms can applaud, because it tells us something we actually didn’t know already, and even gives us a break in the process.

According to this week’s New York Times, if your child is a Picky Eater, They Get It From You. But not because, as non-parent parenting experts like Rachael Ray have said, you just didn’t work hard enough to vary their diet– but because children can inherit “neophobic” food genes from their parents. It’s nature, not nurture.

I breathed a huge sigh of relief upon reading this, since it vindicates me and what I have been saying to snide “you just have to let them go hungry, they’ll eat eventually” sanctimommies for a few years now.

My older son suffers from what Kim Severson’s article calls “childhood neophobia.” For those unfamiliar with this syndrome’s symptoms, it manifests itself as a basic inability to eat much besides PB&J, chicken nuggets, and pizza.

My younger son, on the other hand, is a Hoover like his father, and will suck up absolutely anything in the refrigerator, including stuff even I wouldn’t dream of eating: unseasoned egg whites, day-old swordfish, olive tapenade. He opens his mouth, chews, and THEN says “What this?” If anyone is a freak of nature, it’s him.

I swear that I have really done nothing to create this difference between my two children. I do make sure to give my younger son a variety of foods, so that he won’t shut down like his brother. But when I put a spoonful of pad thai, or whatever, on my older son’s plate, I watch him gag at the sight of it touching his penne pasta. (That’s penne only. Not mezze rigatoni, not other tubular pasta, just penne.)

Now, one reason to seek out this article, if you have a picky eater like me, is to feel a little better about your kid’s place on the spectrum. My son will eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, white beans, edamame, stuff like that. One of the kids profiled in the New York Times has self-limited her diet to egg noodles and pizza crust without toppings. So I’d like to thank her for making my son look like the Galloping Gourmet by comparison.

I have always rankled at the smug parents who suggest that my son’s eating habits could be easily solved by not catering to them. “Let him go hungry and he’d eat,” they say. “MY daughter Clementine has been eating sushi since she was 14 months old.” Believe me, I’ve tried the “eat this, or nothing” technique, and often, still do. But he doesn’t eat. At all. Until his lowered blood sugar creates a tyrant that you can’t live with. He would truly rather starve than let meatloaf pass his lips.

Now, armed with the evidence of my younger son’s robust eating habits, and this new study, at least I can accept that it’s not my fault. Well, kind of my fault. I actually wasn’t a particularly picky eater as a child, but my youngest brother was, and he still prefers everything he eats to go from freezer to microwave to table, encased in a succulent pastry shell. So I think my son can really thank/blame his Uncle Mike for the taste buds he has.

Which doesn’t mean that I’m giving up. We have two months until my son’s 5th birthday, at which point, we have been brainwashing him, his tongue will magically change overnight and he will like lots of foods he never liked before. This morning, while my younger son and his daddy were scarfing down egg whites, my picky son said, “We don’t like egg whites, right Mommy?” I had to agree. He thought this over for a moment. “But when I wake up and I’m five,” he said, “I will put one little bit on my tongue.”

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