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This is more of a curiosity question than trying to answer a problem, but it is something I am sure that many parents have wondered in the past.

I notice that my kid (almost 2) will, without fail, toss aside any food he's not completely familiar with on his plate, be it half-grapes, strawberry bits, cut up banana, or really anything that isn't on bread, cheerios, or shaped like a dinosaur.

But, when I take him outside to play, he will eagerly pull up any type of grass and shove it in his mouth, will gladly pry moss off of a tree and eat that, will literally put dirt in his mouth, and will even try to eat gravel. Most frustratingly, he will grab wood chips off the playground and put those in his mouth, which could potentially give him splinters in his mouth.

What is it about the random objects he finds on the ground outdoors that compels him so much to eat them at all times, that does not give him any kind of similar compulsion when put in front of him to try as a food?

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    Grass has a fairly neutral flavor. For many people, broccoli has a strongly bitter flavor.
    – Mark
    Aug 2, 2023 at 20:57
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    Interesting, my 2 year old nephew happily has banana and strawberry, and never tried to eat grass or wooden stuff. I think it's very much a question of what the child gets accustomed to early on. Aug 3, 2023 at 10:30
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    I've never eaten grass, but, given the choice between the two, I might choose the grass before the broccoli, too. Even smelling broccoli is literally nauseating to me. Perhaps the same is true for your child. Many people find it to be an exceptionally disgusting food.
    – reirab
    Aug 3, 2023 at 21:32
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    @reirab maybe you do not remember eating grass but if you ate grass you probably do not remember it
    – emory
    Aug 4, 2023 at 15:45
  • Side note: good on ya' for letting him eat grass and dirt and everything else he can get his hands on! What a great way to help build his immune system. Our current thinking of "sterilize and hermetically seal" everything is not helpful at all.
    – FreeMan
    Aug 4, 2023 at 16:45

2 Answers 2

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Part of this is that he is exploring his environment, and tasting things is part of that. He's playing, and feels free to explore and play; so tasting is part of that. At the dinner table, he is restrained in a high chair probably, he is provided a few things, and he presumably doesn't have very much freedom to play - so he plays with what he can (the food), and he expresses his preference to not be constrained or limited in his choices (by rejecting things).

Part of this also could depend on how you present the food options. A hungry kid will eat most anything in front of him. What's first on his plate? Chicken nuggets in the shape of dinosaurs? Or the veggie option? We found that, when veggies were provided 10-15 minutes before the main course, our kids nearly always ate them, even when not expressly encouraged to - we just put them out on the table or on their plate, walked away, went to prepare the main course. Magically, they'd disappear!

The ideal way to handle this, in my book, is simply to present the child with food you want to offer them, let them eat it or not, and don't add pressure to the situation. They'll choose to eat when they're hungry, and if they're not hungry it's okay if they don't - try it again in a few hours, perhaps. Obviously this doesn't apply to kids who are malnourished or have medical issues constraining their food intake - but for most kids, this works pretty well.

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    We've actually been putting out a small folding table with a toddler sized chair in front for his dinner, partly to eliminate some of the restraint on the situation, but also because the booster we have is too tall and causes his legs to be pinched against the table. It helps, though it does mean he's more prone to getting distracted mid-dinner.
    – Zibbobz
    Aug 1, 2023 at 18:08
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    Eating veggies because nothing else is presented works on adults, too. I've eaten veggies for breakfast because they were in the fridge as leftovers from the night before, and the easiest choice. Aug 1, 2023 at 20:28
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    Other things I've done: 1) prepping veggies with them, 2) letting them see you eat veggies, 3) making them taste nice (cooking them properly and not bland). 4) Ask their opinions (Do you like broccoli with the tomato sauce, or on its own?), and 5) encourage weird combinations (what does broccoli and mayonnaise taste like?! let's try it!). I generally don't hide veggies in food, I want to have my child know they're eating veggies and practice enjoying veggies.
    – stan
    Aug 2, 2023 at 11:46
  • Just offering the veggies when the kids are hungry, as a snack or before the actual meal, works like a charm. We observed that with good friends of ours. The father, who is mostly responsible for food in the family, simply put pre-cut, cleaned, carrot sticks and other finger food on the table and the voracious kids clean the plate in five minutes. We thought that was so clever. Aug 4, 2023 at 8:34
  • @stan Offering choices to children is indeed a sound approach, in my opinion. For instance, when dealing with a child who doesn't want to go out with you or is being difficult about it, if you ask them which shoes they would like to wear when going outside, they will likely mention their red or another colored shoe. Now, the topic shifts from going outside to deciding which shoes to wear. A similar method can be employed during mealtime as well. Aug 4, 2023 at 14:13
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Your child is in his Home Alone stage. Sorry for the random 90's movie reference, there's plenty of other movies/shows/stories that follow the same basic plot. The plot I'm thinking about is this:

  • Child is frustrated with [status quo].
  • [Status quo] is removed.
  • Child is living their best life, doing all the things [status quo] did not allow them to do.
  • Child eventually experiences the negatives of not having [status quo].
  • Child misses [status quo].
  • [Status quo] returns, but the child now learns to strike the balance between [status quo] and [living their best life].

Your child has learned that they have the freedom to decide, and they are deciding everything they can with reckless abandon. This may include intentionally going against your grain, refusing anything known (even if they don't hate it), refusing anything unknown, or choosing to mirror someone else.

The main focus here is that your child is no longer taking your cues the way they did as a baby.

Eventually, they will start to realize that some of the decisions they make were the wrong decision; and they might remember that you suggested the other option which would have been better. Hindsight is the next step on their developmental track.

First, they innately deferred to your cues as a parent.
Then, they learned to choose for themselves.
Soon, they will realize that it makes sense to sometimes choose for themselves to defer to your cues as a parent.

It's easier to choose than it is to choose well, hence why they can't skip that second step that they now find themselves in.

At least, that is my view on things, currently dealing with my 2 year old who hates having anyone suggest anything to them.

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    This plot applies to any humans, not only to children, and can even be applied to society at large.
    – gerrit
    Aug 2, 2023 at 7:58
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    Yup. Let them learn to make decisions (and pay the price for bad ones) when the consequences are small so they'll have skills for when the consequences are large.
    – FreeMan
    Aug 4, 2023 at 16:47

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