A Picky Eater Taxonomy

The Mikey Pollan
Ideal meal: Heritage chicken stir-fry with kohlrabi, heirloom bell peppers, and buckwheat soba noodles.
Overheard at family table: “Mom, this kale is a little more delicate than I’m used to — are you sure it isn’t Tuscan? Did you massage it?”
Overheard at playdate with less food-aware friend: “No, thanks. My mom says real Parmesan doesn’t come in green cans.”
Life’s ambition: The purposeful beard.
In 10 years, will be: A junior at Oberlin.

The Refusenik
Ideal meal: Whatever you’re not serving.
Calling card: The untouched plate.
Defining characteristics: Second child. Dearth of pity.
Admission, made in a rare moment of weakness: Seriously, other than this whole “food thing,” I’m a total puppy dog.
Means of survival: Snacks. The refusenik is relentlessly hungry, except when it’s time to actually, you know, eat.

The Negotiator
Ideal Meal
: Double Stuffed Oreos, the promise of which is the only reason he eats anything else.
Overheard at lunchtime: “What’ll you give me if I eat this?”
Overheard at bedtime: “I thought you said there was no story tonight.”

The Pint-Sized Paggro
Ideal meal: Peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but only after having refused the breaded chicken cutlets she asked you to make, followed by the bowl of pasta she then told you she’d rather have instead, but only after you’d rinsed off the cheese she asked you to put on it.
Modus operandi: I am open to life and all its possibilities…if you really insist.
Official motto: “Welp, I changed my mind.”
Despondent dad to despondent mom, after Pint-Sized Paggro has finally surrendered to sleep: “I don’t get it. He ate everything as a baby.”
What despondent dad does not realize: The battle has already been lost.

The Starch King of Starchy McCarbLand
Ideal meal: Bowl of rigatoni with butter, garlic salt, and some melted, mild, extremely white cheese; a slab of white bread; a side of mashed potatoes; a non-alcoholic hefeweizen (no lemon).
At night, dreams of: Baby unicorns, soccer field heroics, and the lusty crunch of a good, artisanal sourdough.
In twenty years, will be: Bestselling author of The White Diet or a clog-wearing assistant brewmaster at The Hoppy Tippler in Madison, Wisconsin.

The Green-O-Phobe
Ideal meal: English muffin pizza made with ketchup. (Real pizza, for some reason, has oregano.)
Core belief: That life can be controlled.
In ten years, will be: That kid who shows up at college, picks the parsley off his chicken cordon bleu, and pretends to suppress a gag reflex every time he sees you eat a spear of asparagus.
In twenty years, will be: Begging his own picky children to please, for God sakes, have one bite of broccoli while never owning up to the fact that he never touched the stuff until he was 27 years old.

The L’il Gourmand
Ideal meal: Nobu’s miso-glazed black cod in the summer; Marcella Hazan’s Ragu in the winter.
Overheard in bed, at story time: “Dad, that pumpkin risotto was amazing. Was there sage in that?”
Defining beliefs: That iodized salt is not salt at all; that chocolate should always be at least 68% cacao; and that honey mustard is well and good, if you’re the kind of person — no offense — for whom “well and good” is enough.
Party trick: Telling nonplussed friends of her parents the difference between a bernaise and a hollandaise.
Favorite after-school activity: Listening to podcast of The Splendid Table while snacking on marcona almonds
In ten years, will be: Majoring in feminist food theory at Brown.

The Compartmentalizer
Modus operandi: Will not even sit down at the table if the potatoes are touching the broccoli.
Last question before bed: “Dad, is the DustBuster charging?”
Thing that keeps him up at night: Sauce.

The Chronic Pleaser
Ideal Meal:
Spinach with liverwurst and a side of mushy brussels sprouts.
Defining Characteristics: First child. Perpetual milk mustache.
How to spot her in school: Raising hand politely, recycling her tissues, resisting urge to laugh at Tommy, the kind of charming, roguish troublemaker who she convinces herself she doesn’t like.
Favorite expression: “Mommy, watch!”
In ten years, will be: Still calling home four times a week to check in, even though she was just home — for the fifth time this semester — last weekend. (College is only twenty minutes away; she got into Pomona, but thought she’d be way too homesick to go.)

The Ketchup Junkie
Ideal meal: French fries with ketchup, chicken with ketchup, flounder with ketchup, pasta with ketchup, steak with ketchup, ketchup with ketchup. Ketchup.
Last thought before bed: Ketchup!
First thought upon waking: “Only four more hours till ketchup.”
Overheard at TumbleBugs party: “Come on, it’s ketchup time somewhere in the world.”
In twenty years, will be: A normal, healthy eater. Just like the rest of these characters.

Art by Jessica Zadnik, who also provided the illustrations for Time for Dinner.

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I see me and my kids in varying degrees! Mikey Pollan, Li’l Gourmand, The Starchy King of Starchy McCarbland LOL.


Brilliant. I especially appreciate the happy ending. (And Things That Keep Him Up At Night: Sauce.)


Ketchup and carbs are two major food groups in our 4 year old’s world…you hit the nail on the head.

And, hey – thanks for the Madison, WI shout-out! No Hoppy Tippler here yet but we have the always marvelous Great Dane!


Also enjoyed the Madison, WI reference… you must have quite a following from our fair city. 🙂


I’ve got a Refusenik, a Negotiator, a Paggro and a Green-o-Phobe – and I’ve only got two kids! Ha! This one’s getting shared, for sure!

Eating for Beginners

This is HILARIOUS. Especially to a person who wrote a whole book about her picky eater (who, sadly, seems to be a combination of all of the above, with heavy emphasis on The Negotiator. I hope he’ll at least put it to good use and be a trial lawyer and support me in my old age).


brilliant. coming from a parent whose baby now eats everything, including at lunch just today: anchovies, olives, parsnip puree, breadsticks, gazpacho and, for good measure, earth’s best summer vegetable medley followed by breast milk. husband’s response: have fun with that diaper!


Love it! I’m married to a Ketchup Junkie and have a Refusenik and a Negotiator for kids. No comment on where I fall. 😉 Thanks for the e-mail. I’m glad to have finally found your blog!


Brilliant—I’m raising 3 compartmentalizers right now, and last night they actually ate salad. They’ve always eaten baby spinach, red peppers & cucumbers but last night they were all in the same bowl! Only one tried the dressing, but it was still a breakthrough:)


You made this comment eight years ago, what’s happening at the supper table these days?


I laughed till I cried with this blog post. Perhaps because I spent my morning literally peeling an apple with my teeth (while pushing a stroller to school) since my Pint-Sized Paggro refused to eat the skin.


Love it! Mikey Pollan is so my son. He told me the other day that he really wished that he could get string cheese made out of blue cheese. 🙂 His sister, though… Somewhere between The Starch King of Starchy McCarbLand and a Refusenik.

Katie @ goodLife {eats}

Bravo!! My first is very picky. I always tell people to take the pickiest kid you know and times that by 10. My second child ate anything as a baby but has gotten increasingly pickier since age 2. I’m convinced that she’s a “Negotiator.”


Very funny – and I think I’ve seen a little bit of each of these in my 4-year old (only) son. Amazing the phases they go through, some last weeks and some just days. Fortunately for the past year or so, he’s been in a very good “I’ll try lots of new things” phase, although it has been trumped by a few passing phases along the way. The hamburger, pizza, and donut phases come to mind 🙂 He’s also a master negotiator…not sure I want to pay for law school but it just might be in our future.

Grace @eatdinner

Very funny and true! I have three kids who manifest many of these traits, youngest definitely a Refusenik, oldest a Lil’ Gourmand. I keep reminding myself that they can grow out of their picky eater stages and to try not to battle over it too much– a little humor helps!


I’m probably in there somewhere, but I couldn’t get past the Roman numerals in the image at the top. “XXVX” doesn’t mean anything, or at best it means the same as “XXV”, so it would never be seen. I’m sure you didn’t create the image. Just pass the info along to whoever did.


The best part is that the previous post of baked potato bar can fulfill every one of the descriptions! Keep ’em coming…thanks 🙂


This is great! The “Mikey Pollan” category reminded me of a Michael Pollan interview I read where he said that his own son was a picky eater. I remember that when I begin to lose hope for getting my refusenik not to refuse.


This. Here. Site. How have I missed it all this time??

Love every bit, but (of course) this post, especially. I’ve got one who’s a modified hybrid of all three. A restricted non-touching white foods diet, I call it. And I love him dearly.

Now, to poke through the archives…


This is THE BEST. But the line that made me guffaw out loud was “Thing that keeps him up at night: Sauce.” Me too, kid.


I know this post is a year old, but it is hilarious! I agree with an earlier comment–this should be made into an art poster, including the wonderful water color illustrations.


As a kid, I was even pickier than all of these archetypes, believe it or not. And yet my mom still loved me (I was the third kid, thank god), and now I’ll try pretty much anything.

There’s hope, parents! I’m living proof!

Carrie K

I shamelessly stole the starchy king phrase as the name of my pasta board on pinterest…let me know if its copyrighted 🙂

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We have one more in our family; the youngest of a bunch. The Garbage Disposal. Ideal meal – don’t bother heating that up. Last thought before bed – are you finished with that? First thought in the morning – hmmm… What was left under the table last night? Job in 20 years? CEO of a major cooperation.