A character, usually quite young, dislikes a certain type of food, or more often, a vegetable. In Western culture, it's usually peas, carrots, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, or essentially any vegetable you care to name. In Japanese works, it's carrots or, more commonly, green bell peppers. Oftentimes; it's the vegetables that the creator disliked in their own youth.
This is often used to label this character as "immature," and sometimes the character gets over their distaste (a mark of growing up) as part of their Character Development. More often, though, it's simply a character quirk to make him or her not seem so flat.
Truth in Television, as many a troper will tell you of memories of being told not leave the table "until you've cleaned your plate." Never mind the esteemed Alton Brown suggests (in his pea episode) that the real reason kids don't eat their veggies is because the parents overcook them into inedible mush. Or, maybe they could just try to find some veggies they do like.
It also doesn't help that kids have keener tastebuds than adults - so if something tastes slightly bitter or sour to a grown-up, it'll taste much worse to them. Some assume that adults' trying stuff they wouldn't touch as kids is a sign of growing up, but actually their taste buds' sensitivity has toned down so that something they hated as a kid is now tolerable. (There is also the question of preparation.)
Furthermore, scientists have discovered that people are born with a genetic aversion to specific foods, specifically green vegetables. Millions of years of evolution have left us knowing that bitter-tasting things in nature can often be poisonous to the body. Your instincts are telling you to avoid eating your brussel sprouts because you know it's not good for you to eat. Especially if you're a child: small body size makes even tiny doses of toxins dangerous, hence little kids' greater selectivity.
Sometimes it seems that adults are less picky eaters than kids merely because adults have more control over what they eat. A lot of people carry some of their culinary dislikes into adulthood; but they never have any fights with others merely because adults can't be told they aren't allowed to leave the table until they eat their carrots. If an adult doesn't like carrots, green peppers, or broccoli? They just don't buy it, prepare it or order it, and pick out the stuff they don't like if it comes with it. If a kid does it? Then they're a picky eater. A birthday card even makes fun of this, showing a woman scraping Broccoli into the trash saying nobody can make you eat your broccoli.
Picky Eaters also have a root in primal instincts - Typically, Adventurous eaters were a subtype of Too Dumb to Live, since they didn't know what would poison them in some way. Picky eaters were also safe eaters, since they would stick to stuff they knew would not kill them.
Certain vampires may fall under this trope as well, based on the idea that some people's blood tastes better and/or is better for you than others.
See also Does Not Like Spam, and overlaps with If It Tastes Bad, It Must Be Good for You, a common reaction/joke about this. Compare Picky People Eater, a far more horrifying related trope, the execution of which is also less about immaturity and more about delicacies or nutritional requirements.
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Many food commercials aimed for kids and parents try to use this angle, claiming their product is something even the pickiest of eaters can enjoy. One of the more famous examples is Mikey, the kid who hated everything... that is until he tried Life cereal.
Anime & Manga
FLCL's Naota hates sour drinks, but comes to enjoy them at the series' end.
Vivio of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha hates green bell peppers and bitter things in general. However, according to SoundStage M3, which takes place after Striker(s), she overcame her dislike of green peppers in the months between Scaglietti's defeat and the disbanding of Riot Force 6.
Onpu of Ojamajo Doremi forced herself to eat a green bell pepper twice in the same episode. Heck, the goal of the second half of Motto~! was to get Hana-chan to eat vegetables to overcome a curse put on her.
In the third episode of Pokémon, Misty says the three things she absolutely hates are bugs (a plot point), carrots, and bell peppers.
And Ash likes all three.
Madou King Granzort: Our young hero has won a vacation on the moon (one person only!) and is served his least favorite food, carrots, on the flight. Shortly after landing, he discovers that the mythical rabbit people of the moon actually exist, and one of them is a little girl with the power to summon carrots. She drives Daichi absolutely nuts.
Kyo in Fruits Basket hates leeks, to the extent of having to wear a gas mask when he's forced to cook with them.
Also hates onions and miso, though oddly he's just fine with miso soup.
Subverted with China, who says he likes variety in his food.
In Eyeshield 21, there's a bit subversion and played straight: Shin won't eat junk food (and actually has a very strict diet that involves close monitoring of his calorie and nutrient intake), while Gaou has an all-meat diet and hates vegetables.
Goemon Ishikawa of Lupin III will sometimes only eat Japanese food. This especially tends to happen when the Lupin gang is overseas.
In Kochikame, Remon Giboshi, a 4-year-old girl with a gift of tasting and judging food, refuse to eat toast in one manga chapter and anime episode until she grew to like it at the end.
Tanuki-oni from Anpanman hates umeboshi (a sour pickled and dried plum commonly found as an onigiri filling) because of how sour it is. Conversely, Battotto, his minion, loves it. Omusubiman and Komusubiman were able to weaponize his dislike of it by throwing one into his mouth when he transformed into a giant demon to defeat the two of them, but he became overwhelmed by the sourness and ended up losing control of his transformation. This dislike was only shown in the Omusubiman theatrical short, never in the actual show.
Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes hates vegetables of any kind especially when his mom cooks them into mush.
Played for Laughs in one comic, where Calvin pitches a fit at the idea of eating tortellini for dinner, complete with holding his throat, gagging and assertions that there's nothing he hates more than tortellini. After his mother says she's not serving anything else he looks up what tortellini is, implying that a lot of his hatred of his mom's cooking comes in part from just fussing for fussing's sake.
Petey of Cul De Sac will not eat foods that touch other foods on the plate, and zealously monitors his standing on the 'picky eaters' website.
Garfield will eat anything but the following: raisins, spinach, snails, mice, fruitcake, grapefruit, and certain brands of cat food.
In Curtis, Curtis often argues with the cafeteria ladies, asking for foods like hamburgers or pizza, only for the ladies to tell him that the school no longer sells junk food and instead provides healthy meals. This leads to Curtis trying to guess what the piles of goop they serve him are.
As the opening line of Chew states, "Chu is almost always hungry, and almost never eats." This can be blamed on his unusual ability to get psychic impressions of the history of whatever he eatsnote except, inexplicably, beets. Thus, when he's not being forced by his boss to eat bits of murder victim to find their killers, he usually sticks to a very limited vegan menu that usually involves a disproportionate amount of beets.
Snoopy is often like this in Peanuts. In one early strip, he's upset because his dog food needs salt; in another, he's just as upset because his bowl of water has no ice cubes. In a much later strip, Charlie Brown gives him cinnamon toast, and he gets upset because there's too much cinnamon on it. Still, other times, Snoopy is known to dance around with joy when Charlie Brown feeds him, which at one point causes Charlie Brown to say, "I must admit, he's a very satisfying person to cook for..."
In another strip, Charlie Brown mixed a raw egg into his dog food to make his fur shiny. (Which does actually work for dogs in Real Life.) Snoopy looked very reluctant to eat it.
In Raymond Briggs' The Man, the title character is a very fussy eater and contemptuous of healthy food, which he dismisses as "health muck". He has very selective tastes and dispatches the boy to buy particular brands of food that he likes, such as PG tips, Frank Cooper's Oxford Marmalade, Jersey cream milk, and Mother's Pride bread.
(asking Hobbes to make him a sandwich) "Now cut the turkey thin, but not too thin. Now put the mustard on the turkey in a clockwise motion, and then place a slab of cheese on top. Pour the mayonnaise on top of that, but in a counterclockwise motion. Add an extra slice of turkey on top, and then place the second slice of bread on top, and make sure the two slices of bread are even."
Played for laughs in The Hobbit. The dwarves aren't exactly thrilled to eat elvish vegetables and seem downright confused by the lack of meat. Ori openly states that he doesn't like green food.
In American History X, a fat neo nazi grabs a big bowl of jelly beans and proceeds to pick every black one out before raising the bowl and pouring all of the rest into his mouth at once.
I Will Never, Not Ever, Eat a Tomato! in the Charlie and Lola series by Lauren Child.
The stereotype of kids hating vegetables is inverted in Making Money, in which protagonist Moist von Lipwig recalls how, as a boy, he used to hide his meat under the vegetables rather than eat the former. Justified, as Moist's grandfather ran a dog kennel and, apparently, had saved all the tastier bits of pigs or chickens for his dogs.
In Winnie the Pooh Tigger claims that Tiggers like everything, but then when he actually tastes everybody else's Trademark Favorite Food (Pooh: honey, Eeyore: thistles, etc.) it he says Tiggers like everything except that. He finally comes across the one thing he likes to eat: extract of Malt, Roo's strengthening medicine. He moves in with Kanga & Roo so he can eat it (and a spoonful of Roo's dinner, for strenghtening medicine of his own).
The trolls in the Trylle Trilogy are all really picky, refusing to eat meat or any processed foods.
The old nursery rhyme about Jack Sprat (who could eat no fat) and his wife (who could eat no lean) dates back to the 17th Century.
The three villains in Fantastic Mr. Fox are Villainous Gluttons, but each is a Picky Eater who eats the same thing three times a day, and each is bizarre: Farmer Boggis eats three chickens smothered in dumplings for each meal (and three for dessert at dinner), Farmer Bunce eats homemade donuts stuffed with mashed goose livers, and the beanpole-thin Farmer Bean doesn't eat any solid food at all, drinking gallons of fiery, home-brewed, alcoholic apple cider.
All That! had the cafeteria sketches with pea-obsessed Ms. Piddlin, who would foist mounds of the green orbs on the children, whether they wanted them or not. She would get rather red-faced if they said they didn't want them.
While most sitcoms will relegate this to a secondary plot, Leave It to Beaver once did an entire episode around the title character not eating his Brussels sprouts.
As noted above, Alton Brown poses the (woefully ignored) suggestion of, instead of breeding resentment by forcing your child to eat vile-tasting slop, finding a vegetable (or a way of preparing the one you're making) that your child will eat.
Bizarre Foods Andrew Zimmern would try anything on the menu and always give a second chance even if he didn't like it, but he won't even touch spam or walnuts. And damn, is he infamous by how much he hates "his enemy"... the durian.
One episode of Babylon 5 has Doctor Franklin putting the rest of the senior staff on diets. Every one of them ends up with something they hate, but one of the others loves. So there are scenes where the the Captain steals the Chief of Security's steak, the Chief of Security steals the XO's pasta, and the XO steals the Captain's salad, and they all try to finish their pilfered meals before the doctor shows up and realizes they aren't following their diets.
Larry Fleinhardt from NUMB3RS spends a couple of years eating only white food as an experiment.
Richard Hammond from Top Gear; his dislike of seafood caused issues on trips to Japan and Vietnam. In addition, his Extreme Omnivore co-presenters often take advantage of this on the overseas specials to torment him with local fare such as snake soup and lamb testicles.
Steve Bent's infamous "I'm Going To Spain" features the line "She packed me up some sandwiches - I hate the cheese and pickle". This was not included in the cover by The Fall.
Bryan Adams' "I Think About You" includes the line "Oughta be drinking, but I can't stand the stuff".
Colette from Tales of Symphonia dislikes green bell peppers. When she eats food containing them in a skit, the others think she's developing "an adult sense of taste". She's actually losing her sense of taste entirely.
Don't forget Kratos and Lloyd's mutual hatred of tomatoes.
Ryo from Shenmue didn't like carrots as a kid. Until his father gave him a stern talking to, involving hard-working farmers and such...
Skies of Arcadia's Vyse hated bittermelon as a kid; apparently his parents used to yell at him for flicking it off his plate. Judging by his reaction when he relates this bit of information, he still doesn't like it.
That said, they probably would have done less yelling if he hadn't been, you know, flicking his bittermelon all over the place.
The titular heroine of Yggdra Union hates mushrooms so much that she still refuses point-blank to eat them at seventeen years of age.
The cast of Blaze Union is a lot pickier than that of Yggdra Union, between the mushroom-haters, the milk-haters, the people unable to tolerate extremely sweet things (nearly half of the party!), and Nessiah—who just seems disinterested in (most) food as a whole, actually.
Poo in EarthBound dislikes western foods which barely recovers his health. He only prefers eastern foods and water happens to recover his PP.
In Po Po Lo Crois, Jilva says "I don't like them! This tastes icky!" when Gami Gami's robots try to feed her Carrots and Green Peppers.
Referenced in Return to Ravenhearst, where one of the rules their abusive stepfather imposed upon the two little girls is "No broccoli until you finish your cauliflower".
Wart from Super Mario Bros. 2 hates vegetables so much that they actually make an effective weapon against him (his minions don't fare much better, but in their case, it seems to be related more to size).
in Rune Factory Frontier when you ship fruits Rosetta likes she'll applaud you when she comes to pick them up, but if it's Danny's turn to collect shipments and you've got just about any vegetable in your bin he'll whine, expressing a desire to not even touch them.
Gami Gami Devil in the Po Po Lo Crois game kidnaps Jilva and tries to make her eat vegetables that she doesn't like because they're healthy. And these vegetables are Green Peppers and Carrots.
The Avatar of Jarlsberg challenge path in Kingdom of Loathing is such a germaphobe that he won't eat or drink anything he didn't make himself. No, this doesn't mean you can get away with not buying outside food or booze - he won't touch anything not made with his special Cosmic Foods in his Cosmic Kitchen.
Used as a plot device in The Secret of Monkey Island. Otis, the prisoner on Melée Island, really hates carrot cake. He was sent one by his aunt as a gift. He trades it to the player character, Guybrush, who later finds that there is a file inside it. This file was intended to be used to help Otis escape from prison, but Guybrush instead uses it in a bizarre, off-camera scene in the Governor's Mansion.
Guybrush really hates mushrooms. When he's in the hellish labyrinth below the Giant Monkey Head on Monkey Island, there are some wild mushrooms, and when you 'look at' them he remarks "I always knew in hell there would be mushrooms".
Arthur on PBS played with this: Arthur's little sister DW refused to eat anything with spinach, only to be served a pot pie that, unbeknownst to her, has spinach in it, and to then discover that she loved it. The opening of the episode shows she really just hates trying anything new.
This was based off of one of the Arthur books, which had the same plot, but ended with DW looking horrified when she learned that she ate something with spinach in it.
The Powerpuff Girls and all the other kids in town refused eat broccoli. Thus only the kids of Townsville were unbrainwashed unlike their parents when the evil alien Broccoloids invaded, though they were helpless against them... till the girls realized they could eat theBroccoloids. In the end all the kids started eating their greens to ensure that they weren't aliens.
An episode of Angela Anaconda centers on the fact that Angela hates broccoli despite the fact that it's her towns main export and thus they have a "broccoli day" every year. When Angela wins a broccoli-based art contest and must talk about her "love of broccoli" she faces a dilemma, should she lie about this or come clean and probably lose the contest. In the end she decides to fib, and is made to eat some broccoli while on a podium in front of the entire town... and then blurts out that it was better than she thought. She'd never actually tried it before.
Angela also dislikes Tuna Noodle Casserole. The dish actually looks somewhat unplesant the way it's presented on the show.
The Rugrats episode "Pickles vs. Pickles" uses this. When Drew and Charlotte send Angelica to her room without dessert for refusing to eat her broccoli Angelica sues them, the surrounding media circus warps things and blows them out of proportion and the judge is taken in by Angelica's cuteness and sides with her. Drew goes crazy and is dragged off to prison screaming "I'm a good father!". Of course it was All Just a Dream, but the episode ends with Angelica being apologized to and it is implied that Drew has a very weak will which Angelica can manipulate this way for every vegetable.
Lampshaded and averted in an episode of Muppet Babies. Gonzo threatens Kermit that he'll make Kermit eat all of his green vegetables. Kermit just points out that he likes green vegetables because they put color in his cheeks.
The earl of Lemongrab of Adventure Time will ONLY eat foods that are bland and tasteless. "Whatever you made, I hope it's as mild as kitten milk!"
An episode of Histeria!! poked fun at George Bush Sr.'s dislike of broccoli by doing a version of Green Eggs and Ham with Loud Kiddington in place of Sam-I-Am and broccoli instead of the green eggs and ham.
Additionally, a sketch about Florence Nightingale included a part where she advises all the troops be put on a vegetable diet, during which she takes away the burger Froggo was about to eat. His response to what she gave him in its place:
Froggo: A turnip?!? Yeeugh!! Now I'm really sick!
Codename: Kids Next Door centered many of its plots around foods that children hate to eat. These include various vegetables, tapioca pudding, etc.
In the Aladdin: The Series episode "Mission: Imp Possible", Nefir the imp's scheme to make Aladdin's friends help him steal the golden silk cocoon of a giant silkworm backfires horribly because the silkworm had metamorphosed into Mothias, one of the legendary giant moths of yore that ravaged cities, spread plague and pestilence, and ate imps — and only imps. When Mothias accidentally ate Iago, it immediately spat him out in disgust.
One episode of The Simpsons had Homer burn his tongue and when his taste buds grew back, he'd become super-sensitive to flavor. He had to resort to really bland school lunches which led to another plot... And just a few minutes in the next plot, he ate a jar of mayonnaise (Popeye fashion) without any problems besides his stomach.
One episode of My Little Pony Friendshipis Magic had Fluttershy's pet bunny, Angel, refusing to eat anything other than a fancy gourmet salad - The exact gourmet salad actually. He went ballistic after realising Fluttershy had missed one ingredient.
A 1928 New Yorker cartoon shows a mother trying to get her little girl to eat the veggie on her plate:
Mother: It's broccoli, dear.
Daughter: I say it's spinach, and I say the hell with it.
A local hospital specializing in children has been putting up billboards with some of their success stories. One of them is some variety of playing with this trope: "We turned a boy who couldn't eat broccoli into one who wouldn't".
A commercial deal plays with this by presenting a roomful of kindergardeners with boxes of pizza like Philly Cheesesteak and Hawaiian. They react poorly. (The whole thing is advertising a 'Buy a speciality pizza, get a single-topping for a great price' deal.)
German cartoonist Uli Stein drew a cartoon with an owl having caught a mouse. The kid complains: "But I want a burger with fries!" The mouse thinks: "That's the first time I like Spoiled Brats."
George Bush Sr. famously did not like broccoli, banning it from the White House.
There was a special on Food Network about real life adult picky eaters. Rather than just being averse to certain foods, these people raise picky eating to a disorder not unlike OCD. Limited to a diet of perhaps three different dishes at best and finding anything else abhorrent, these people make what one usually thinks of as "picky eating" look normal (which they are, usually. Nobody likes everything).
There was a study done by a college that was trying to identify if picky eating really was a form of OCD. It wasn't asking what kinds of stuff that people liked/disliked to find what was the most disliked food (other studies were done on that since even adventurous eaters have their own dislikes), but more about whether or not unfamiliar food being served at a social event caused people to feel uncomfortable.
There's a British reality TV series called "Freaky Eaters" which focuses on real people who have extremely limited diets. One person could only eat cheese and crisps ("chips" to Americans), another person could only eat meat, a third person could only eat tinned ("canned") spaghetti hoops and toast, etc. A chef — as in someone one would expect to have a wider palate — could only eat sweets, chocolate bars, and biscuits ("cookies"). The whole point of the program[me] is to get the person to widen their diets, or at least attempt to do so. Harry Hill has, in the past, had a fantastic time poking fun at these people and the program itself on Harry Hill's TV Burp.
Some animals can be picky eaters, too, as some cat owners are quick to attest.
A koala's diet consists almost entirely of eucalyptus leaves. They therefore fill an important ecological niche, because very few other animals can digest the leaves of the plant.
Children are picky eaters, for several reasons. One, children have more sensitive taste buds than adults, so something that might be average to an adult can be overwhelming to a child. Two, if a kid eats something prepared one way, they might think it's the food itself, not how it was prepared. For example, leafy greens like spinach don't have much flavor (many sub out the healthier spinach for lettuce in salads and sandwiches) when eaten raw. However, when parents cook it down to a green mush resembling pond scum, it tastes very different and kids might outright refuse spinach in all its forms.
There's a genetic trait that if it is active, causes a certain chemical called PTC to taste extremely bitter, but if it's inactive, will mean that the person will find the stuff completely flavorless. People who find it bitter are referred to by geneticists as supertasters.
Pickiness is sometimes an effect of Asperger's Syndrome, as Aspies are sometimes physically hypersensitive. Often in this case it's more a problem with texture than flavour.
Vegetarians and vegans tend to show these traits, though this is a Justified Trope, since lots of foods such as Jell-o contain animal ingredients, even if they don't look like it. Some people will refuse to eat vegetarian foods if they might have shared the same cookware as a meat dish.
In an example of a Double Standard, a lot of meat eaters don't like certain vegetables and would rather their meals were cooked without them. A widespread example is the inclusion of beansprouts in noodle dishes, which many believe ruins the texture. Some are genuinely repulsed by certain vegetables (such as mushrooms) and might not eat a meal if such things were in it. The media still continues to treat these people like picky eaters, when it's important to note only a few decades ago vegetarians were largely seen the same way.
17-year-old Stacy Irvine of Britain ate nothing but Chicken McNuggets since she was 2 and suffered a variety of health problems including anemia and shortness of breath. However, as seen in the photos, she still looks as thin and youthful as ever despite her ailing health. It just goes to show you that picky eating can be dangerous no matter what foods you eat, and fat doesn't mean unhealthy.
Since some deadly toxins have a bitter taste, being a picky eater may save your life.
Done to the extreme with Kurt Godel, who only ate food cooked by his wife. Justified, since he was paranoid that he would be poisoned. But when his wife was hospitalized, he starved to death.
Anderson Cooper appears to be the supertaster-type of picky eater, he does not eat hot food or drinks, alcohol, or anything strong tasting. Producers on his talkshow seems to take perverse pleasure in feeding him everything he hates.
One reason it's so difficult to control urban rat populations is that, while these rodents can consume everything humans do as well as plenty of stuff we don't (glue, leather, gristle, acorns, etc), they're very cautious about unfamiliar-smelling food sources. Confronted with a potential new food, rat colonies will let their hungriest two or three members nibble a tiny sample of it, then wait for an hour or two to see if these "taste testers" grow ill or keel over. Any sign of distress on their part, and the entire colony will permanently reject the new food as dangerous.