I am currently on a short vacation with my children, ages 11 and 7. They are the exact opposite in their dietary preferences. They are both picky in their own ways. My son hates all fruits and vegetables, as far as I can tell. At dinner he must have a bite of everything on his plate, and he will comply, but with incredible facial contortions to let me know how torturous it is to actually eat a piece of asparagus or a strawberry. He likes bread and meat, but the meat can't have any visible fat and must be easy to chew. He likes crackers and mashed potatoes, but won't eat boiled or roasted potatoes. He hates cheese. He likes sweet things, but generally is very disciplined about only eating a little bit. His preferred drinks are water and plain milk.
My daughter is slightly more adventurous. She likes most fruits and quite a few vegetables. She'll eat some meat. She likes bread, but won't eat crusts. She used to eat cheese, but no longer does since she likes to copy her brother. She doesn't like sauce on her pasta, even though she'll eat raw tomatoes with no problem. Her biggest issue is that she has a ravenous sweet tooth. She won't drink milk unless it's chocolate. Given her druthers, she would eat fruit, candy and cake all day long. She loves juice and soda, so I have to strictly limit them (at least the soda). She has the frustrating habit of ordering in restaurants then deciding she doesn't like the food. She also would prefer to graze all day, rather than sit and eat a meal.
How do these food preferences happen? How can two kids be so different? I've read lots about how to feed kids so they won't be picky, but so far no luck. I have always made a point of serving fresh fruit and vegetables, and I serve a wide variety of foods. I make this kids try a bit of everything, but don't force them to eat a bunch of anything they don't like. If they don't like dinner, they may get themselves a yogurt or make a peanut butter sandwich, but I won't fix a second meal for them. Theoretically, this stuff should have resulted in two food-flexible kids, but it hasn't. Why?
Part of the answer may have to do with what they eat during the day. They both were in daycare from babyhood, and were fed institutional food there. The daycare made an effort to serve healthy foods, but it was still institutional food. They both eat school lunches. There again, federal guidelines are followed, but it's institutional food. That kind of food is easier for kids to eat, and probably affected their tastes early on. Should I have sent them with a packed lunch every day? Maybe. They don't particularly like sandwiches, to when I do pack lunches for them I'm always scratching my head about what to do for a main course. They don't have access to a microwave, so they can't heat up leftovers. Maybe I should have worked harder to find workable lunch solutions.
But maybe this is just them, and maybe it's just their ages. I was a somewhat picky eater, and my sister was extremely picky. Could it be genetic? Or is it just the nature of children to grumble about what they're presented with at home?