When Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic was a child, she detested the tastes, textures and smells of practically every food presented to her. The quintessential picky eater, she lived, basically, on grilled cheese.
As she matured, so did her taste buds. Not only did she not get rickets, she went on to become a foodie, graduating from culinary school, working on cookbooks and even on Jacques Pépin’s cooking show.
When I read about her transformation in her new book, “Suffering Succotash: A Picky Eater’s Quest to Understand Why We Hate the Foods We Hate,” (Perigee, July, 2012), I felt needed to talk with her.
Being the mother of an atrociously picky eater (if there’s vitamin content in the meal, there’s a fight over it), I hoped I might glean some lessens about how to guide my daughter through what I hope is a stage.
“My first word of advice — and one that is practically impossible to follow — is relax.” she wrote me to me after I sent her a serious of desperate questions.
“If your pediatrician isn’t overly worried about how your kid is eating, try to listen to them, chill, and realize that your child is not specifically trying to [anger you].”
More of our Q&A is below.
JD: How did you journey from picky child to foodie adult?
SL: I mostly credit this to my husband, who eats everything, and that I felt terribly ashamed of being a picky adult. I didn’t want him to know how many things I didn’t eat, and being around him also made me want to try more things in order to “get over” my pickiness. After I discovered how many things didn’t make me gag too hard to the point where I actually enjoyed eating them, I specifically sought out gross foods that held the potential for deliciousness, and thus, a foodie phoenix rose out of the picky flambé.
JD: Is picky eating generally more about power or more about actual tastebuds or about something else?
SL:Both! Neither! All! To me, that’s like trying to decide if someone hates the color brown because of power or because of the rods and cones in your eyes, when maybe you just don’t like the color brown because, to you, it’s really ugly. (No offense to you brown-lovers.) After talking to many, many scientists, I learned that it’s practically impossible to generalize something that is so individualized. In my situation, I cannot recall that I was ever in a power struggle with my parents or anyone else over my food dislikes; I just really hated the flavors and textures of certain foods and I didn’t want them in my mouth or stomach.
JD: Is there scientific evidence to support that picky eaters may be more discerning in their food tastes?
SL: I don’t think I’d use the word “discerning,” but I’d hazard it’s anecdotally true that because picky eaters focus so intently on certain foods, some might be more observant when it comes to flavors and textures and therefore detect more nuance than a non-picky eater would. On the other hand, another class of picky eaters have a biological/genetic makeup that means food is less flavorful for them, which makes it bland and therefore completely unappealing. So once again, it’s very hard to give absolutes to something so variable.
JD: How can a parent best guide a picky eater toward a nutritious path? (AKA: How can a parent survive a picky eater?)
SL: Generally speaking, offer your picky eater a variety of nutritious options at dinner, don’t take special requests unless it’s a special occasion, and don’t force anything. For 27 years, I ate hardly any vegetables, grains or fish — I was totally Michael Pollan’s worst nightmare — yet I survived rickets-free, and now I hungrily eat mainly vegetables, grains, and fish.