“Just let her go hungry and she’ll eat whatever you give her!”
“She eats like a bird!”
“You’re spoiling her when you let her eat foods she likes!”
“You should’ve done baby led weaning to prevent pickiness.”
No joke, Mama – these are real comments people have said to me about my daughter, who is a selective eater with sensory sensitivities.
Maybe you’ve been on the receiving end of these harmful statements, too?
If so, please know you’re not alone.
Picky eating is not a character flaw or problem that needs to be fixed.
When kids hear people around them commenting on how they eat, this can internalize feelings of shame that can haunt them for a lifetime. Not to mention, throw shade and judgement at the caregivers that are doing their best to feed them.
If you’re parenting a picky eater, you’re likely already carrying feelings of shame and judgement.
Hearing these types of comments can influence you to feed your children from a place of fear, or to unintentionally put more pressure on your kids to eat in a manner they’re not ready for.
Many of these comments come from a gross misunderstanding of picky eating and what it actually is.
Generally speaking, picky eating is viewed as a problem that needs to be fixed. This mentality can create unrealistic expectations around both what it looks like to feed children and how kids “should eat”.
In effort to help clear up some of this clutter and confusion, let’s address some of these myths head on.
Because when you have a clearer understanding of picky eating, you can better support your child. And when there’s less pressure and stress on your child to eat in a certain manner, there’s going to be less tension and stress at mealtimes, so you can actually enjoy food together as a family.
You can also feel better positioned to empower your child to build a positive relationship with food and to advocate for your kids in situations where they might be shamed for how they eat and approach food.
So let’s get into it – here are some common myths and misconceptions about picky eaters (and picky eating in general):
5 Common Myths About Picky Eating
Picky Eating Is Bad Behavior:
Children who are more selective about how and what they eat are often mislabeled as “acting out”, having bad manners or brushed off as just wanting attention.
This can be especially true if you were brought up in a home where eating what was given to you was expected and done out of respect for your caregivers or where food insecurity was experienced.
This is where it’s important to take a step back and recognize that children who are more selective with food aren’t inherently “bad” or willingly engaging in these behaviors to be manipulative or disrespectful.
Just like all of our children have different personalities and temperaments, every child has a unique learning style when it comes to eating.
Some children are naturally more cautious or careful, and we see this in the way kids learn how to eat, too.
When children are more selective with food, it’s often because there are several factors at play. More often than not, when children are turning down food, it has to do with them not being quite ready or comfortable to eat those foods.
They might be more sensitive to certain flavors, textures and smells. They might be feeling more anxious at mealtimes in general or uncomfortable in their environment.
Whatever the reasons, please know children are not picky eaters because of bad behavior. It’s important to separate these judgments from how our children may be eating.
2. Parents are not to blame:
A child who’s more selective with food doesn’t mean they have lazy parents or caregivers that just don’t care.
As we described above, there are a lot of influencing factors that play a role in how kids eat. This isn’t somehow your fault or something that could’ve been prevented.
For the record, I did in fact do baby led weaning with all of my children, and that didn’t somehow “prevent” pickiness. My daughter with sensory sensitivities actually ate many foods we offered her as a baby, and this took a sharp turn in the other direction when she became a toddler.
We can’t force our children to eat in a certain manner, no more than we can try to determine the color of their eyes or how tall they’ll be.
Because picky eating is not a FAULT, there’s no one or nothing to blame for it.
This is crucial to understand to remove unnecessary judgement and shame on the caregivers who are doing their best to care for and feed their children.
3. Picky eating means something’s wrong with your child:
I’ve often heard it said that picky eating is some kind of abnormality or dysfunction. I’ve also heard picky eating described as a behavioral problem or like something that is inherently “wrong” with your child.
This can be especially damaging for parents of picky eaters to hear, who may be trying their very best to figure out how to keep their kids fed amidst the mealtime challenges.
Again, it comes back to understanding that picky eating is not a fault to begin with. Children are all doing the best they can and want to learn how to eat.
And when it comes to how kids eat, there is no “right” versus “wrong.” Every child is learning how to eat at their own pace and timeline.
Kids are doing what they can with the skills they have. Again, for children with sensory sensitivities or other learning differences, certain foods may be more challenging than others.
Refusing certain foods or having a hard time eating vegetables or being unwilling to try different things does not mean your child is abnormal. Many kids feel more regulated and comforted by what is familiar, and we definitely see this with food.
Especially around the holidays, when kids tend to get more sensory overload, it’s not uncommon for selective eating tendencies to ramp up as children look for what’s familiar to them to help them feel regulated.
If you’re interested in reading more about this topic, be sure to check out this post here: “Does Intuitive Eating Apply to Kids Who Are Picky Eaters?”
4. Picky eating is a behavior that needs to be corrected:
Eating together is about CONNECTION, not trying to CORRECT kids to eat according to some arbitrary kind of guidelines (because let’s be real, that’s rooted in diet culture.)
Yet, many parents find themselves in these unwanted mealtime battles, which often stem from this idea that a child’s eating behaviors should be corrected to look a certain way.
This is especially true with picky eaters.
Rejection of certain foods or disliking vegetables or food refusal can all “feel” like an eating behavior that’s outside the norm; therefore, it must be corrected to look more in alignment with expectations.
This is where it’s so crucial to take a step back and understand that these eating behaviors are not abnormal or out of the ordinary.
When the end goal of feeding is to “correct” a child’s behavior, this creates unrealistic expectations and often puts undue pressure on parents to feed their children in a certain way.
For example, if you’re trying to “correct” food refusal at mealtimes, you might pressure your child to eat.
If you notice your child is not gravitating toward eating certain foods, you might try to bribe or coerce them into eating something they’re not ready for.
While these things are done with good intentions, these tactics often strip a child of any autonomy and safety at mealtimes – both which are crucial for developing a positive relationship with food.
When connection is the goal of mealtimes, as well as bonding together over food and creating a positive eating environment, this can lead to much better outcomes for the whole family.
5. Allowing Preferred Foods Is Spoiling Your Child:
Ooof, this is a tough one.
If you’re raising a picky eater, your child likely has a handful of safe and preferred foods they’ll consistently eat.
I know my daughter did, and so often, I would succumb to only ever offering her those foods because I would worry she wouldn’t eat anything at all.
And if you’re in the same boat with your child, please know you’re not doing anything wrong.
You’re not creating picky eaters by offering foods your child feels safe with and actually enjoys eating.
You’re not spoiling your child or ruining their health by regularly offering the things they are comfortable with.
This is a toxic lie that creates unnecessary shame and distress for parents who are doing their best to raise and feed their children.
Regularly offering and incorporating your picky eater’s safe foods in your meals and snacks means you’re being intentional about creating safe mealtimes for your child.
It means you’re being deliberate about ensuring your child has something familiar to eat. And when your child can come to mealtimes knowing there are recognizable and safe foods, this can help them build more positive associations with eating.
I’ve learned over the years that offering your child’s preferred foods doesn’t mean those are the ONLY foods to feed your child.
There are ways you can help your child get more comfortable with foods they’re learning to eat while incorporating the foods they’re already familiar with at meal times.
You can learn more about this approach in this blog here: “Child Won’t Try New Foods? Here’s Why Food Exposure Matters”.
I hope clarifying some of these misunderstandings around picky eating can help you feed your child in a more positive way.
Ultimately, when you can feel more at ease with your picky eater, you can build confidence in yourself and your child.
This can support you in creating positive mealtime experiences with your family.
Changing the Narrative Around Picky Eating
We can’t talk about challenging these misconceptions around picky eaters while also addressing the conversations we have about picky eating.
Let’s change the narrative around picky eating.
Let’s normalize eating differences: Your child isn’t meant to fit into a box of arbitrary food rules.
Let’s lay down unrealistic expectations about how kids should eat: Eating is a learning process that takes time. There’s no one “right” way to eat. Selective and picky eating isn’t a fault that needs to be “fixed”.
Learn to let go of the hidden agendas: Focus on connecting over correcting – your child may not be capable of eating in alignment with your expectations (or other’s expectations) of how they should eat. And that’s OKAY.
Offer your child unconditional acceptance of how they’re learning to eat, their food preferences and their individual quirks and tendencies around food.
And in the process – give yourself a whole lotta grace. Picky eating isn’t a reflection of your parenting. You didn’t do anything wrong. Your child’s not doing anything wrong either.
Lean into the different ways your child is learning to eat with curiosity and compassion – for them and for yourself.
In case no one has told you lately, you’re doing a great job (from one mama of a selective eater to another – you’ve got this).
And the next time your Aunt Karen makes a comment on how your child is eating, try saying: “I appreciate your concern, but he’s actually doing just fine. I’ve got this handled.”
“Did you know that there are so many other interesting things about my daughter that have nothing to do with the way she eats? Would you care to hear?”
(For more help with feeding a picky eater in a positive way, check out this blog post here: “Healthy Eating For Picky Eaters Starts With Connection Over Nutrition”.)
If you’re raising a picky eater and are looking for more non-judgmental ways to create peaceful mealtimes in your home, be sure to get on the waitlist below for my upcoming virtual workshop to help you end the mealtime battles for GOOD!