Before my children were born, when they lived in my imagination, they were incredible eaters. Anything I made them — kale, broccoli, coq au vin, salmon — they'd dig into enthusiastically. So I knew the whole eating thing would be a breeze! I'd eat healthy food while I was pregnant and breastfeeding, then start them on all kinds of exotic dishes as soon as they could handle solids. Ha. And, no. My children are picky eaters, through and through. So believe me when I say I've developed a few ways to respond when someone judges your picky eater, because the only thing worse than a kid turning their nose up at the food you made is some stranger judging them (and you!) for it.
Let me give you a word of advice, one of the most important things I've learned as a parent: never mistake good luck for good parenting, or bad luck for bad parenting. This principle was really highlighted with how eating went down in my family. Because at first everything was going to plan. When my husband and I ate spicy Jamaican chicken stew, my kids ate spicy Jamaican chicken stew. My son loved shrimp. My daughter loved butternut squash. I was so smug. "See," I'd gloat. "Just give your kids good food and they'll eat it. It's as easy as that."
And then my kids hit a certain age and they stopped eating whatever I put in front of them because, yes, they're capricious, autonomous beings with developing palates. I'd coax, I'd encourage, I'd be firm, but it was all in vain. They still ate healthy foods, but their list of acceptable edibles narrowed considerably. And let me tell you how well that went down in my big Italian family whose motto could easily be "eat this or else."
"You know what you should do...?"
"Are you really going to let them get away with that..."
"They should be eating..."
"They shouldn't be eating..."
"When I was a kid..."
I got very good at snarky retorts of the years, real and imagined, so I thought I'd share them with the rest of you picky eater parents, because when you have a hard-to-please child this kind of catharsis is important.
Act As Though You've Never Heard Of Other Foods
"Whoa, whoa, whoa! Hold up? Vege-tab-le? Am I pronouncing that right? What does it look like? Is it like a cheese stick?"
"Holy crap, you mean to tell me there's more than one? What is this witchcraft?"
"Where did you even hear about these things? Some fancy magazine? The internet?" And where do you even find them? Like, any grocery store or do I have to go to Whole Foods or something?"
Do this long after they've gotten your point, just to really drive it home.
Pretend It's A Bougie New Fad Diet
The opposite direction works, too.
"Oh, you haven't heard of the Chicken Nugget Diet? It's amazing. It really flushes out toxins by upping your protein intake. Like, if you really do your research, you find that the chicken nugget was actually a staple of so many ancient civilization's diets. Humans are supposed to be eating chicken nuggets, like, 90 percent of the time. It's fascinating. And ever since we've been doing it our skin is clearer and we have more energy and focus."
Feel free to throw in terms like "gut bacteria," "superfood," and "GMO."
Scream: "This Is All I Know How To Make!"
The flop around your kitchen helplessly banging together cooking utensils and hurling cereal boxes all over the floor as you whine, "It's so haaaaaard! I don't knooooooooow!"
"Thank You So Much For Your Professional Insight. I Feel Bad Not Paying You For Your Time."
"Oh, wait. You're not a pediatrician? Or a nutritionist? Or a food scientist? Are you a social worker maybe? No? OK, then why the hell do you think you have anything useful to add here?"
Start Consulting Them Before Every Meal
Just flood them with texts and phone calls.
"Hi! It's Jamie! Thank you so much for pointing out that my kid doesn't eat properly. Question, I'm making them breakfast now... haha! Yeah, they wake up really early and I know you're not supposed to call anyone at 5:30 a.m. but they're hungry and I wanted to know, do you think I should go with a quinoa oatmeal or yogurt and fruit? Thanks!"
"Hi! It's me again! They're not eating the quinoa oatmeal, what do you suggest I do? You're so insightful I just know you'd know what to do... yeah, they're screaming really loudly right now. Listen!"
Do this until they acknowledge their folly or block your number. Either way, you win.
Call Your Pediatrician & Hand Over The Phone
This person is not entitled to your child's medical information— whether they're growing just fine and the pediatrician isn't concerned or if you've discussed your concerns with your child's doctor and you're all doing the best you can — but if it'll shut them up, I say go for it.
Whip Out A Pad & Pencil & Start Taking Notes
Since they're so keen on turning your kitchen into a lecture hall, you may as well act accordingly and I, for one, took pretty amazing notes back in the day. Do not break eye contact as you lean forward and scribble furiously. Nod emphatically and, for added effect, whip out a highlighter every now and then and make dramatic dashes across the page.
And if, at the end, you want to flip the pad around and show the person that you've done nothing more than write "screw you leave me alone" well then, that's up to you.
Hand Them An Apron
"You're so good at this? You go ahead and try. I'll be over here, filming you, excited to put this epic fail up on YouTube."
Just Start Crying
Because, honestly, that's what I want to do any time this happens. It's actually a super-sore spot for me because I'm touchy about food and eating to begin with and I'm doing the best I can. And a lot of the time I question if what I'm doing is good enough and it takes a lot of reassurance from various expert sources (including my kids' pediatrician) to be kind of OK with all this. So when someone comes along and makes me question it all over again? Niagara Falls, dudes.
Like, it doesn't take a lot for me to start crying.
Start Talking About Everything They Are Or Aren't Eating
"Yes, you're right. You're so wise. By the way, is that a turkey club you're eating? You know the gluten in the bread is going to cause so much internal inflammation. And the turkey is just loaded with sodium, which is awful for your blood pressure. And I don't think you want me to get into the ethics of bacon, my friend. Also, I noticed you didn't incorporate a single ancient grain into your meal which feels... well, it feels sort of careless, really."
All joking aside, who enjoys when someone else comments on their food? At best it's pointless, at worst it can be dangerous, and it's almost always rude. If we don't like it done to us why would we do it to (or about) a child?
"This Is Really None Of Your Business"
Mic drop. Exit stage left.