Parents Powerless Over Teens' Eating Habits?

According to MedPageToday, "'by the time children are 18 or 19, any influence that parents had over their children's food choices is gone,' a British twin study suggested. Analyzing 2,865 twin pairs in Great Britain, researchers found that genetic factors influenced the food choices of the teenagers, and there was no indication that shared family environment influenced food choice beyond the genetic factors...The most striking observation was that, in an earlier study, they found that food preferences in children at age 3-4 came from the shared family environment, 'but by 18 years of age the effects of the earlier shared family environment are totally undetectable.'

To which I say: don't throw in the towel yet.

As a parent of a FORMER picky eater, I can speak somewhat from experience that it is worth it to persevere on offering nutritious foods and even on insisting that at least some is eaten.  My own picky eater is now 27 years of age, lives on his own, and is overall fairly health-conscious about what he chooses to eat. Could it be the genetic influences?  My hubby and I have always eaten a wide variety of foods. But I can tell you that between ages 18 and 21  - that was definitely the peak of our sons preference to eat "junk" foods. 

I wrote a post on this very topic for my daughter Laura's (who is also a dietitian) blog. I will repost it below as well. You can find the original (complete with photos of me and 2 of my 3 children) at:

The Picky Eater

Don’t give up – but be prepared to give in just a little

If all of your children eat what you prepare or choose healthy foods almost all of the time, and by healthy I mean meat, poultry, fish, vegetables, and eggs, you don’t need to bother reading this blog post.   But in the likelihood this does not describe any one of your children, you might want to keep reading.

I feel I can speak from own experience as I write down my thoughts on how to nourish the “picky eater.”  As a dietitian, we refer to them as “selective eaters,” but whatever they are called, almost every family has one.  While my two daughters pretty much would eat most any food I served with the exception of liver and a few other less familiar foods, my son was a much different matter. 

It was almost a daily challenge to feed him foods that I knew would help him meet his genetic potential (he is now 6’3” tall and strong and I think pretty smart).  And unfortunately, since I only learned the truth behind ancestral diets when he was almost 12 years old, it was obviously more difficult to get his already formed tastes acclimated to accepting new but nourishing foods.

So what foods did I try to get him to eat more of – with not a lot of cooperation?  Mainly eggs, some types of fish, many vegetables, my homemade chicken soup, soaked grain products, fermented vegetables and dairy, and more grass-fed or pastured meat.  One thing he did consume with no resistance was the farm milk we brought in from our neighboring state of Pennsylvania – often with chocolate syrup – but raw and full fat none-the-less.

After I discovered the information on the Weston A. Price Foundation website in 2001, it was almost a daily ritual to serve eggs in one form or the other, and always with the yolks.  But this was a big change from our previous ritual of some kind of “whole-grain” cold cereal with pasteurized milk, and maybe a banana or other fruit.  Sure, previously I would make eggs a couple times per week, and once a week pancakes or waffles with butter, real maple syrup, and store-bought sausage due to my oldest daughter Jessica’s insistence.  But the idea of eating farm eggs for breakfast (with or without oatmeal sometimes) was a new but abnormal routine I was determined to continue.

Well, my son Alex pretty much never liked eggs, much less egg yolks.  And it didn’t matter how I prepared them.  So I pretty much became the food police and would insist that at least he ate one yolk per day in some form or the other; the whites were optional, but he had to eat the yolk.  Most mornings he did put up some resistance, and often I caved in (weak Paleo mom I was – pun intended).  My daughter Laura (this blog owner) was never particularly happy about the arguments that would ensue when I placed a plate of two eggs in front of Alex, of course knowing he would only eat one if any at all. 

I also accompanied the eggs often with my homemade fresh baked, ground and soaked whole wheat, cinnamon buns, loaded with the best butter I could find and sweetened with some real sweetener such as Rapadura.   Yes, this was bribery, but it did often work.  Other foods for breakfast could be fruit, soaked oatmeal, and real milk.  Bacon from local farms did not get eaten too well, so I opted for Applegate Farms instead.

But there were days that Alex prevailed and he would not eat even one bite of his egg yolk, just his dry cereal and some real milk.  Okay, we were halfway there anyway.   So then I got creative with egg yolks and began to make raw milk shakes with 1-2 yolks, flavored with natural peanut butter and some chocolate syrup.  These he would drink.  Or later in the day, after school or dinner, I would serve foods where I snuck in as many egg yolks as would not be detectable, such as pasta sauce, taco meat, meat balls or meat loaf, homemade custards, crepes, and even on occasion fruit with Zabaglione sauce which contains about 1 egg yolk per serving.  So with all this effort, I think I managed at least one egg yolk per day into his tummy.

Looking back, I do feel the aggravation and argumentation was worth it.  Alex now eats eggs with some frequency, even though he admits that he does not particularly like them.  He even cooks them for himself in the mornings, usually served with half of a bagel.  When he had his own nearby apartment in college, he would gladly take back with him a carton of the eggs I had purchased from our Amish farmer. He knew the difference. When I made homemade hash browns, he would also eat those instead of the bagel. 

Note to cooks out there:  Make your hash or roasted potatoes in half ghee, half olive oil or lard and they are not only super-delicious they will be a great source of vitamin K2 and probably vitamin D.  You can buy grassfed ghee, or make your own from the best grass-fed butter you can find.  Anyway, even children with casein intolerance can usually tolerate ghee with no problem.

Now I do realize this is a lot of work, but to me, making a lasting investment in your child’s health is probably one of the best of all ways to use your time, even it is limited.  Getting the kids on board as soon as they begin their first foods is obviously the best, but for many parents that window of opportunity has passed.  But don’t give up – there are many ways to nourish the picky eater, and that is something I help parents who meet with me find solutions for.