You can stop worrying that your child’s picky eating habits are a result of bad cooking: According to a recent report in the New York Times, the problem may be genetic. From the time they start eating solid food until they are about 2, most children will eat a wide variety of different foods, when they suddenly stop in a phase that continues until 4 or 5. Some scientists believe this is an evolutionary response designed to prevent children from indiscriminately gobbling everything they pick up, which could be dangerous. A recent study on childhood neophobia (the fear of new things) led by University College London’s Dr. Lucy Cooke found that in the eating habits of 5,390 pairs of twins between 8 and 11 years old, identical twins are much more likely to share food aversions than are non-identical twins, suggesting that most food fads are inherited. The study calculated that 78 percent of such tendencies were due to genetics and only 22 percent to environmental factors.
Studies cited in the New York Times article show that calm, repeated exposure to new foods every day for between five days to two weeks is an effective way to overcome a child’s distaste. Other parents have successfully disguised new foods in normal recipes, though this method does not lead a child to learn how to accept them. Experts suggest that if neither method works, patience and keeping an eye on a child’s health will suffice until they outgrow the habit.