(Photo: Sam Breach)

Does it take you 15 minutes to tell a waiter how you want your food prepared? You’re probably a picky eater. Writer Stephanie Lucianovic was one. She lived in fear of having dinner at friends’ houses or going to restaurants. Today, she’s a foodie and food writer — and she’ll brave eating most anything.

Show Highlights

“Picky eaters don’t choose to be picky, they, boy you would not choose to be a picky eater. It’s not a fun way to live. Picky eaters aren’t doing this to be annoying or high maintenance. And one of our biggest fears for a lot of us is that we are perceived that way, which is why when I went to restaurants I did not do the “When Harry Met Sally” route of ‘have this on the side,’ ‘have this without that.’ I just didn’t order certain things, or maybe avoided eating them on the plate.”

“I talk about chef-meets-picky-eater, picky-eater-meets-chef. And I would say to both sides, I know where you’re both coming from. When a chef presents a dish, he or she is saying ‘I understand every ingredient on that plate in a way that you couldn’t possibly conceive and it is awesome.’ I have no argument with that. They’re right. They do. It’s their job. However, the picky eater is saying “Dude, unless you made that dish in my mouth, you have no idea what that dish is going to taste like to me. Because all I’m going to be able to taste are those little tiny minced onions, whose flavor for me has taken over the entire dish.”

“Some people don’t love food the way others love food, and some people don’t love Miley Cyrus the way others love Miley Cyrus. So it’s a very individualized thing. And we just have to remember we’re all so very different and any attitude of ‘You’re so annoying’ and “Oh my god, I’m going to roll my eyes.’ ‘I hate picky eaters.’ That’s really,really hard on a good segment of the population.”

–Stephanie Lucianovic

Guests:
Stephanie Lucianovic, author of "Suffering Succotash: A Picky Eater's Quest to Understand Why We Hate the Foods We Hate"
Marcia Pelchat, psychologist at Monell Chemical Senses Center
Nancy Zucker, director of the Duke Center for Eating Disorder

  • Tom Richardson

    I was a picky eater until I went hungry during an overnight fishing trip in the Texas desert. Suffice it to say, after eating the raw chicken livers that I was using for catfish bait (I did cook them on a flat rock I heated over a fire of buffalo chips), I felt better, obviously. I was 11 at the time. Since then, I’ve tried everything put in front of me. Picky? Try going hungry, really, hungry and see what happens when food is put down in front of you.

  • Guest

    In relating to the relationship situation…I’ll never forget on a first
    date, I was asked what my favorite cheese is.  To my date’s dismay and
    astonishment,  I responded with “American.”  I was never exposed to ‘worldly’
    food as a child, I was a picky eater, and do not regret growing up that
    way.  Now, I’m fairly brave and try lots, but am still very satisfied
    with meat and potatoes.  

  • Scropley

    I was/am a picky eater raised in the 50s. My folks and siblings ate everything. I really had trouble with green vegetables. In my teens, my grandmother told me to put honey on her homemade bratwurst because I complained about its bitterness. What a revelation!

    In the last decade, I heard about super tasters on NPR. My buddy who heard the report with me, said you don’t need to take the test, you are one. I like to eat healthy but it has always been a struggle.

    Steve Cropley, Sheridan Wyoming

  • RYAN

    Analyzing the couses for preferences is well and good but, I want to point out that this is truly a first world problem of the privileged.  Those suffering hunger don’t suffer this indulgence.  In our home we grom the majority of our food and if something grows well and is in season we eat it whether our children prefer it or not.

  • Jessica

    Thank you for this show – my 10 year old son is a “selective eater” – and this is the first time I’ve heard more detailed info about this condition.  He is healthy, growing etc. but lives on cereals, milk, a certain beef dish from a chinese restaurant and chocolate milk.  The pediatrician referred us to a nutritionist who encouraged us to not “make food an issue” – confirming the attitude we’d instinctively taken with him..meanwhile family and friends pressure us a parents to do more.  What advice would you give us as parents? Should we find a program to help introduce him to new textures etc? My big fear is this will develop into a eating disorder…
    -Thank you / Jessica

    • Rosru

       Why in the world would you continue to indulge him by getting him a specific beef dish from a specific Chinese restaurant?? Let him eat cereal if that’s what he likes. You are feeding his neurosis by continuing to produce the Chinese beef dish.

      • Jessica

        Hearing the show was wonderful for me because dealing with my sons food issues has been so stressful – thank you to others who are offering supportive insights! Regarding the Chinese dish – occasionally when our family dines out, we go Chinese – and when we do, my son has a dish he will eat. All other times when we eat, he prepares his own meal choosing from the few foods he will eat. We have been coached by his dr not to bully or belittle his issues w food – which are so real – it’s a very difficult situation to manage as a parent.

  • RGundrum

    Our 21 year old son has a severely restrictive diet (self imposed) … he is phobic about vomiting. We have been trying the conventional methods (exposure, OT) since he was a young child.   I am entertaining the thought of hypnosis … do you have any thoughts of that?

  • Daisy

    I work with children with Autism and a lot of them are very sensitive to taste and texture which then causes a lot of eating problems. Have any of your guests looked at disorders like these to get more insight into picky eating?

    • Jonathan Bielak

       Hi, Daisy:

      I’m a parent of three kids, two of ’em eat fine, one, of course, is our ‘picky’ eater…to the nth degree!. I’m also a teacher and have taught kids with autism (including Asberger’s) and did not realize that my boy he might have some kind of autism…mild though it seems to be, until I took a good long look at him (he’s now 15). Reading about the subject, I have come to identify in him ‘symptoms’ that align with some of those characterizing autism but at the low end of the spectrum. As a baby he used to eat everything, be early on in his infancy he started to exhibit signs of pickiness and for one reason or another we overlooked it. From comments made by the guests on the show, I now wish we hadn’t. Even so, your question here intrigues me…about you and your work…about their response…and anything you’ve discovered about the connection between these two issues.

      Would you be so kind as to send me any information you have about yourself and what you think might be useful in learning about autism disorders especially with regard to picky eating.

      Thanks.

  • Mary

    Can you discuss wine makers and others involved in sensory related jobs.  We also live in wine country.  Our children have observed us smelling wine, taking sips and discussing flavors.  We involved our kids in this for a very long time and have even taught our toddlers to smell when a wine is “corked” They also were picky when they were very young, but being involved in describing food I think has helped tremendously

  • pizza jake

    Comment from “Pizza Jake” here.  Can the researcher from Duke discuss treatment more?  Beyond just exposure?

  • Peg

    I’m curious to hear about the connection between picky eating and eating disorders, in particular anorexia–to what extent one hides the other. Can picky eating be a part of the psychology of the illness of anorexia?

  • Picky eaters really irritate me. They have no spirit of adventure, will never try anything new and have no curiosity about the world of different cuisines. They are no fun to go out with because they don’t like and they don’t like that and won’t try this and won’t try that. I suggest that picky eaters are nervous, conservative people with no willingness to step out of their comfort zone, step out into the unknown and do new things.

    • guest

      Have you actually been listening to the show? There are serious biological issue at play here. 

  • Beth

    I have 3 year old twins, a boy and a girl. One is a very picky eater (girl), the other eats everything (boy)! He will drink salsa, but she won’t even touch a tomato. I offer each the same foods most of the time. I try not to make a big deal, it is entirely possible she will grow out of it. My husband is a picky eater however. He has declared he “hates” vegetables. My daughter has very similar food preferences to my husband. Recently our twins pediatrician recommended eliminating dairy in my daughter’s diet. It seems to be helping, even though her favorite food is cheese.

  • pizza jake

    Hey Tony –
    You couldn’t be more wrong.  There is a powerful connection between the brain, the body and food, and people who are selective eaters have a pyschological inhibition with food that you clearly cannot understand.  But your generalizations could not be more false.  I have traveled to 20 different countries, love learning new languages, music, art, people.  In other words, I’m “open”, and yet severely limited in my diet.  Imagine if you had spent decades never tasting an apple, so it was as foreign to you as monkey brains, and then see how you would react.

    • Prototropo

      Hey Jake–

      I share some of Tony’s generalizations and must apologize after reading your comment. Thanks for saying what you did. I do think there is a very different phenomenon–and subset of behaviors–stemming from a “self” obsessed/indulgent society (see my prototropo comment below)

      • (not just pizza) jake

         Hey Prototropo –
        Thanks for your reply and open mindedness.  As for your comments below, I would certainly agree there are all sorts of extremes in modern parenting that seem deleterious for children’s development.  And in general, there may be a subset of people who don’t like anything “new” and are closed to new experiences, and these people are missing out.  (I recall when studying abroad in Spain for a semester that there were two types of students on our program… those who were open to new cultures and experiences, and those looking to recreate their known U.S. culture while in Spain.  It was obvious which group had a better time…)

        That being said, I think people who have true phobias of eating new foods are suffering from a real mental condition / inhibition, and one that they would not voluntarily choose.  (I loved Stephanie’s comment that picky eaters do NOT choose to be picky.)  At the same time, I think we CAN choose to work on overcoming our challenges… but this is a monumental task when you have built up decades of aversion to new foods (and literally have NO experience eating things you might take for granted).

        My primary motivation to change is for my children, and not wanting them to grow up like me in this regard.  I have managed to adapt the rest of my life around my restricted diet with little problem; from getting married to having business dinners in Japan, I have somehow gotten by.

        I had a roommate who once told me that eating only pizza was like seeing the world only in orange or hearing only the musical note C.  I can agree with and appreciate that sentiment, but I think it is a particularly stubborn mental block (even mired in evolutionary patterns) when it comes to food, the body, and the mind.  There is hope for us yet, though, and thanks for your understanding as we struggle to improve ourselves.

  • not an alien

    I must have very understanding friends – they’re all very accommodating of what seems to be an allergic reaction to most green foods.  In an attempt to help me stay healthy, they make extra efforts to include the small number of green foods I can stomach (peas, green beans, lima beans, avocado), but I don’t complain when they serve asparagus, spinach, and salad.  There is always plenty of food in the meal that I can eat.  
    On another note, I’ve been healthy most of my adult life.  I get colds and flus from time to time but less frequently than most people I know.  The restricted diet doesn’t seem to be having an impact on my health.  While it would be nice to be able to eat everything, that’s just not good for my body.  Thank you for the book.  It may help my husband to believe that I’m really not from another planet (as he likes to suggest).  

  • pizza jake

    To the parents out there-
    I don’t know what my parents could have done differently, but I’ll tell you that being 31 years old and having never tried a huge majority of ‘normal foods’… it’s not great to now have decades of resistance built up to eating normally.

    So if you can, I would encourage you not to give up on your children eating diversely, even if you have to offer them a food 50 times, it will be easier for them to change when they are young then when they are an adult.  I think the more they “try” foods, even if they don’t eat them as a meal, the better.  Good luck!

  • Cbissinger

    Just because picky eating isn’t found in third world countries doesn’t mean it isn’t real.  Many issues like allergies or other autoimmune diseases are not found in third world countries yet no one would say, “Parkinson’s is just in your head.”

  • Jonathan Bielak

    Hi, Mary:

    I’m very interested in your response…but I can’t continue with my comment b/c I seem to have run out of ‘space’ here!

  • Prototropo

    I sympathize with anyone who genuinely detests a particular food’s flavor or texture but I think some folks could be simply self-indulgent phobics toward anything “new.” our culture countenences an egotistical approach to everything, as exemplied by the approach one mom I know adopts toward her kids: they are not expected to do, taste or experience anything they even THINK they might not like. They are disserved by this “privilege,” and will have to struggle, in my opinion, to avoid the fate of being self-insulated, self-limited, self-indulgent xenophobes with no ready sense of adventure or challenge.

  • Guest

    I have severe life-threatening food allergies, multiple food allergies, and eosinophilic esophagitis.  I wish I could eat more food; my food disability definitely impacts my life; but I have tried to enjoy food as much as possible, while being vigilant not to accidentally eat food that will send me to the hospital.   I imagine people like me just didn’t survive very long in the past.  I have many cousins and second cousins with multiple food allergies too, and one of my children, my father, and brother also have severe food allergies.  Thus, I don’t enforce the “must try everything on your dish” approach with my children as it sort of feels like russian roulette with  my family’s genetic make-up.  Some people appear to be picky eaters, but actually have multiple food allergies.  It may be a small population, but it does exist.  If a food is poison to you (as with severe allergies), it is not healthy to eat even a small quantity of it.  As there is a diversity of people in the World, there is a diversity in what folks can and cannot tolerate food wise.  I try to be tolerant and not hostile to other people’s food preferences.  I know others folks are not tolerant of picky eaters like myself; and I try to tolerate them as well.

  • Jame

    Full disclosure: I am a semi-picky eater. I hated eating at other unknown people’s homes.  Always.  I didn’t like my food touching.  The whole nine yards.

    I don’t eat ketchup on burgers.  It grosses me out.  I threw up after having a burger at McD’s when I was about 7, so I haven’t had ketchup on anything outside of fries since then.

    I absolutely 100% am grossed out by mayo on sandwiches (and everywhere else).  I hate when there is a catered lunch, because odds are there is mayo on the sandwiches or a potato salad, chicken salad, or pasta salad with mayo.  Cream sauces generally give me the same reaction.

    I also hate chewy foods: mushrooms, oysters, mussels, …

    Raw onions upset my stomach, so I don’t have more than 1/4 a teaspoon.

    But I am open to pretty much any ethnic cuisine (with the exceptions noted above: creamy foods, chewy texture and ketchup).  All spices are fine, but I still have my hates, and avoid them like the plague.  If you try and serve me mayo, I am not eating.  I can suffer through a few bites of very finely chopped mushrooms.  And no condiments on my burgers (I only like A1).

    My dad is a picky eater, my sister is a picky eater.

    One think I have learned, is that once you have identified what is causing the pickiness, it can be something you can work around it sometimes.

  • otomis

    Being a picky eater in my estimation is a result of having too much too accessible all the time. Hoarders would not be able to hoard if they did not have access 24/7 to a bunch of stuff they do not need. If a person did not have an overabundance of food options I believe there would be no such thing as a picky eater.

  • Strawberry Shortcake

    “Three more bites and then you’re done”. That doesn’t work with our 5-year-old. We try to get her to try ONE bite of something and we’re lucky if she takes the tiniest bite, before declaring that she doesn’t like it. My husband tried to get her to try mashed potatoes with cheese (she loves cheese) by putting one spoonful in her mouth and…VOMIT at the dinner table. So, when Stephanie says to just “relax” about it, well, that doesn’t exactly work. Sending her to bed without eating dinner doesn’t exactly work either because guess who’s waking up in the middle of the night hungry? I would have hoped for some more practical advice from this show.

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