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The Real Reason Behind Food Fights with Your Toddler

Photograph by Twenty20

It's normal for babies and toddlers to poke around their dinner plates and eliminate things they don't like, but getting kids to eat has become an Olympic sport. If retailers were smart, they would start selling protective-wear to frustrated moms who are tired of scrubbing pureed peas out of their clothes and hair.

Why are some kids such picky eaters?

It turns out, these "early food attitudes" stem from a child's personality, and those who are inhibited are, by far, the most particular during mealtime. They feel the same way about playtime. In a recent study, researchers found that infants who were wary of new toys also tended to be less accepting of new foods, while their counterparts—the ones on the other end of the spectrum—had no problem mixing it up and trying new things.

“It was striking how consistently the responses to new foods related to the responses to new toys,” said Kameron Moding, a postdoctoral fellow at University of Colorado Denver who also has a Ph.D. in human development and family studies from Penn State.

“Not only were they associated at 12 months, but those responses also predicted reactions to new objects six months later. They also followed the same developmental pattern across the first year of life.”

Cynthia Stifter, a Penn State professor of human development, added that a person's temperament affects almost every aspect of their life.

If "attitude is everything," then that means a spirited child is less likely to throw a pickle at your head when you're not looking. Sounds like a win-win, but genetic manipulation is still awaiting FDA approval, so let's take a step back for now and look at the big picture.

“From the time they’re very young, some infants are more 'approaching' and react positively to new things, whereas other infants are more 'withdrawing' and react negatively to the same stimuli,” Moding said. Hence why infants who show hesitation with new toys will likely also show hesitation when trying new foods for the first time, too.

Stifter adds, that although temperament is something a person is born with, it doesn’t mean a person can’t change their behavior. Both Moding and Stifter agree: there are things parents can do to encourage a varied diet.

“It can take as many as eight to 10 tries," says Moding, "but infants and children can learn to accept and eat even initially disliked foods.”

Simply put, the more often a reluctant child sees a piece of food on their plate, the more familiar they become. Thus, the better your chance of enjoying a gag-free, drama-free meal with friends and family. Hell, they may even dig that cauliflower right out of the mashed potatoes on their own and stuff it down their throats—intentionally—without being told.

Well, maybe it won’t be that cut and dry, but a girl can dream.

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