Judging, Blaming and Shaming the Picky Eater

Who taught you
that the value of a child
is the ratio of height to weight?
The number of vegetables
consumed each day?
The milestones
achieved each month?
How many words
are spoken?

Your math is dangerously flawed.

The value
of EVERY child
is nothing less than
(adapted from ‘Greater than’ by Della Hicks-Wilson)


Judgement is something both adults and parents of selective eaters know all too well. In a moral domain, it looks like this:

“You just eat this way to get attention.”

“Why are you trying to ruin our meal? Eat something!”

“Don’t you know there are children starving in Africa?”

The food refusal is judged according to the perceived “harm” inflicted upon another as an inconvenience, or by one’s own selfish acts. Essentially, the picky eater is held responsible and blamed for their ‘socially unacceptable’ behaviour. In a society rife with ableism, it is not socially acceptable to simply enjoy food for the sake of pleasure.  It is, strangely enough, socially acceptable to be on a diet. It is socially acceptable to suffer through bland tasting food and to ignore hunger, restrict portions and skip meals all in the quest to lose weight. It is socially acceptable to lecture your eating companion about their health while they eat. But heaven forbid you have a small list of food that you truly enjoy eating.

Judgement also comes as a “purity” violation, perceived as harm inflicted upon oneself.

“You must have many health problems.”

“You need to grow up.”

“No wonder you’re over/under weight.”

Food preferences are very personal. You say tomato, I say none for me, thanks. What is or isn’t on my plate affects you in absolutely no way. At all. There is no actual harm happening here, and absolutely no cause for blame.

Why, then, is it wrong to enjoy good-tasting food and socially acceptable to promote and embrace the ideology that thin equals happiness, and that a diet centered around less palatable foods will reward you with immortality? 


The current healthy eating climate is fertile ground for harm and purity violations. Too often, mothers find themselves in the violation crosshairs of purity (‘you eat that?’) and harm (‘you feed that to your kids?’). The parent of a child with a feeding problem is much more sensitive to judgement, but truthfully, it doesn’t really matter if our kids eat four or four hundred different foods. Parents from all dietary realms are discussing the child who has been negatively impacted by increasing pressure from schools that tolerate less and less deviation from their nutritional opinions.

The child who was teased for having a too healthy lunch.

The child who was punished for breaking the school’s healthy food rules.

My daughter who was threatened over a container of yogurt.

The child who was told his fruit snack wasn’t healthy enough.

19 US states that weigh children at school and send ‘fat letters’ home to parents.

All of these examples employ judgement as either a perceived harm or purity violation (where no such violation exists), and used as justification to blame parents for raising ‘fat’ and/or ‘unhealthy’, or otherwise ‘socially unacceptable’ children. You must be the vaguely defined and ever-elusive socially acceptable definition of ‘healthy’ or thou shalt bear the consequences. Who is harming whom here, exactly?

How can parents hope to raise children with positive eating attitudes in a culture that shames children over food?

This nonsense can stop anytime. I’m good with now. How about you?


3 responses to “Judging, Blaming and Shaming the Picky Eater

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