I have two very picky eaters. I’ve tried all the normal tricks of the trade to get them to try new foods, but I’ve realized over the years that this is just who they are, at least for now. They are kids, after all, and some kids are just picky.
Most kids outgrow it eventually. Case in point: my now-12-year-old used to eat only about 5 different foods, and now he eats probably about 20. But you know what else? Some kids grow up to be adults who are picky eaters, and that’s okay too.
Luckily, my kids somehow remain healthy enough, because they each have a few healthy foods they are willing to eat despite how damn picky they are. The thing is, I know that my kids are just fine, and I’ve accepted that they just have more picky palates than most other kids.
The problem is that the rest of the world can be a little … well, judgy AF.
I have no idea why perfect strangers, and even family members, so often take it upon themselves to give you unsolicited advice about how your child eats. I mean, unless a parent is absolutely neglectful, they have probably considered the fact that their kid needs a decent diet in order to grow and stay healthy.
Why do people assume that all parents of picky eaters simply don’t care about these sorts of things? We are usually more hyper-aware than anyone else about our kids’ diets. JFC.
And here’s the thing that really gets me about people who make snide remarks, judgments, or uneducated assumptions about picky eaters. Usually when you see a kid who is picky, you are just seeing them in that very moment, or in one very particular circumstance.
Even if it’s none of your business, there is always a good reason why a kid might be eating nothing but bread or Goldfish every time you see them.
You know nothing about how they eat at home or in different situations or environments. You have no idea if there is a particular health or mental health issues they are struggling with. You have no idea if they are under the care of a doctor who has addressed their picky eating. You have no idea what others foods they eat besides the ones you are seeing them eat this specific moment in time.
Most of all, how they are eating (and really, how anyone else in the world is eating) is none of your damn business. Period.
Still, because so many people just don’t seem to get it, and will butt their noses into the lives of kids and families they hardly know anything about, I’m going to give you a “cheat sheet” of reasons why a kid might be a picky eater … because even if it’s none of your business, there is always a good reason why a kid might be eating nothing but bread or Goldfish every time you see them.
1. Sensory Processing Disorder
Sensory processing disorder makes it difficult for kids to deal with certain textures, tastes, and temperatures. Some kids with SPD find it hard to eat in environments with loud noises and crowds.
Kids with autism are 5 times as likely to have difficulty with mealtimes and eating. Remember that autism is a spectrum and there is no way you can tell from appearance or behavior whether a child has autism.
3. Developmental Delays
A child who deals with developmental delays may have issues with chewing, feeding themselves, and may experience a limited diet.
4. Oral-Motor Differences
Children who have muscle tone issues, or issues with the movement of their lips, jaws, tongues, or cheeks may have difficulty chewing, swallowing, and eating in general.
5. Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)
ARFID, or “selective eating disorder,” is an eating disorder recognized by the DSM-5. ARFID does not involve body image issues like other eating disorders usually do, but is characterized by extreme food limitations, weight loss, nutritional deficiencies, and psychological disturbances.
6. Food Allergies
5.6 million children under the age of 18 have food allergies. So there’s a good chance that when you see a kid who will only eat certain foods … well, they only can eat certain foods. Kids with severe allergies often have to avoid foods even if those foods don’t contain the food they are allergic to, because they may be unsure how the food was manufactured and whether it might contain traces of allergens.
7. Recovering From An Illness
Maybe the kid you are seeing had the flu or another illness recently, and they are just finally feeling better, taking it easy as they reintroduce foods into their diet.
8. Food Poverty
Being poor doesn’t automatically mean that you are more likely to eat junk food, but many of the healthier options are just not accessible to families who are experiencing food poverty. Keep in mind that you can’t always tell from outward appearances when a family is struggling with money.
Anxiety itself can make a kid’s tummy feel funny. Some kids develop anxiety about certain foods, especially if those foods have previously made them feel unwell or if they have negative emotional associations with those foods.
I have no idea why perfect strangers, and even family members, so often take it upon themselves to give you unsolicited advice about how your child eats.
10. “I Only Eat Vegetables At Home That My Mom Cooks” Syndrome
My kids will only eat vegetables if I cook them at home, on my stove, so help me God.
11. Fast Food Fridays
Maybe the family you are seeing eats healthy all week, but today is their special fast food day and they are going all out. Let them enjoy themselves, for crying out loud.
12. They Are A Freaking Toddler
I don’t think there’s one toddler out there who hasn’t had at least a few days of picky eating. And all of you with babies who will eat “anything,” just wait till the terrible twos and tyrannical threes hit. Picky eating can come fresh out of nowhere and it’s normal.
13. They Don’t Like Your Company
Some kids just don’t feel as relaxed at a formal eating event like Thanksgiving or other grown-up gatherings. Or they may feel less comfortable eating around strangers. Or maybe you’re just a judgy jerk, and they can pick up on that…
14. They’re Having A Shitty Day
I don’t know about you, but when I’m having a shit day, my appetite for healthy cuisine goes right into the dumpster. Kids are no different. Cut them some slack.
15. They Just Ate A Giant Bowl Of Broccoli An Hour Ago
Kids are weird. Sometimes my kids will gorge themselves on a humongous bowl of steamed veggies and be done with vegetable consumption for the rest of the week. Hey, as long as they get their veggies, I’m happy.
The thing about all of this is that YOU JUST DON’T KNOW why a kid might be a picky eater. It’s freaking ridiculous to diagnose the issue yourself, and it’s certainly not helpful to blame the parents and assume all they have to do is offer healthier foods, for god’s sake.
So can we just make it a general rule to let parents parent their kids in their own ways, with privacy and compassion? Most of all, can we agree that it’s only someone’s place to discuss another kid’s eating habits IF the kid’s parent has invited you into a conversation?
This article was originally published on