10,000 Tastebuds and Picky Eaters

Over the weekend I heard a great conversation on The Splendid Table with Katie Workman about the challenges involved in feeding kids.  There was one factoid she mentioned that I am sure I had heard before but somehow really struck me this time: we are born with 10,000 taste buds, but by the time we reach adulthood we only have 3,000.

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This stopped me dead in my folding-the-laundry tracks. When you think about what that really means for kids and how they experience food, it is kind of a miracle that more kids aren’t picky eaters. This means that they are tasting food in a very different, much more powerful way than we are. That saltiness is even saltier. That sweetness, even sweeter. And the bitterness, wow that could be really rough.


It reminded me of when we were first introducing foods to my older son. I had made one batch of apple sauce for him that he had loved. He had inhaled it with great gusto and excitement.  So a couple of days later I made another batch. He took a bite of that second batch and his right eye twitched. I chuckled and gave him another bite. Same thing. My husband came over to see what I was laughing at and said, “is that a neurological tick?!” We tried a different food. No twitch. And that’s when it hit me: I had made the apple sauce with a different kind of apple. The sourness that we might briefly notice was HUGE for him. He still polished off the bowl and enjoyed it, but I did try to make his apple sauce with sweeter apples after that.

But this realization really has given me a newfound understanding and compassion for what my kids must experience when they are trying new foods (whether it is for the first time or the seventh time with that food). These flavors can be so big and so different, it is no wonder my littler one is reluctant to try things.

As I move forward I don’t think I am going to change anything about how I feed my kids, but I do think it will help me to be more patient when they refuse to try something or have a strong negative reaction to a food. It will help me as I continue to try to have meal times be as free of pressure as possible.

Will this piece of information change that way you interact your kids around food? If so, how?

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