An Open Letter to the Moms Who Judged My Kids for Being Picky Eaters

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Sasha Brown-Worsham’s two children, 6 and 8, eating chicken nuggets and strawberries. (Photo: Sasha Brown-Worsham).

For the first seven years of motherhood, the subject of picky eating was my personal parenting third rail. A simple comment from another mom — “my children eat anything” — could send me into fits of envy as my own children picked over mac and cheese, nitrate-free turkey dogs, and far too much ketchup.

As someone who has traveled the world and considered escargot and lobster among my favorite foods by the age of 5, I was sure I’d give birth to amazing eaters. Sadly, they take after their father, a reformed picky eater.

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Now 8 and 6, my oldest babies are discerning, indeed. The list of foods they won’t eat — tomatoes, steak, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, hamburgers, omelets — is so long, it’s easier to write up the full list of what they will consume. The pancakes, pizza, hot dogs, and mac and cheese that must all be prepared in the exact same way, every time or it will be rejected as “different.”

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Sasha Brown-Worsham’s baby eating chocolate and strawberries. (Photo: Sasha Brown-Worsham).

When you have a picky child, parents divide into two camps. There are those who get it, those who also suffer the humiliation of having to bring Chipotle into the Korean restaurant so their children will eat. And there are those who don’t get it at all.

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A mother-of-one once announced loudly at a birthday party that there was no such thing as a picky child, “just parents who don’t provide enough variety.” Another told me, after watching my oldest child melt down, that she too would act out “if I ate as badly as her.”

I cried after each comment and felt like a bad mother. But I am not alone.

“I’ve never met a parent who didn’t worry that they were to blame for their child’s hesitant eating habits,” Melanie Potock, a pediatric speech language pathologist and author of Raising a Healthy, Happy Eater, tells Yahoo Parenting. “After all, feeding our children is about nurturing, love and responsibility. “

Picky eating is a subject of much scrutiny and very often, the parents are blamed for either not providing enough variety in the first place or not knowing enough about best practices when it comes to eating.

For a long time, I let parents shame me, too. I love Indian and Thai food, sushi, and everything in between. And I have two children who won’t even try a California roll.

Then I had my third child

As with the first two, I ate a variety of nutritious foods during pregnancy and I breastfed exclusively for six months. Once we started giving my daughter solids, I gave her vegetables first, then followed up with fruit. It didn’t matter what it was. She loved it all. My baby girl was after flavor — the more, the better. Why eat plain apples when you can sprinkle cinnamon on them? She loved bits of chili with tomato sauce and roasted green peppers and sweet potatoes deeply seasoned with curry and salt.

I’d done nothing differently. By 15 months, she was picking food off my plate, eating chicken satay the way the other two eat chocolate chip cookies and grabbing bits of California roll in her tiny hand, stuffing it in as fast as her little mouth allowed. Her favorite foods are raw tomatoes, omelets with zucchini, hamburger, pastrami, and sauerkraut. There is nothing we have given her that she hasn’t eaten with gusto. 

I want to be smug. But I know better than anyone that it’s not about anything I did right (or wrong) with this child.

“Every single child has a unique sensory system that allows them to explore (or not explore) the world at their own pace,” says Potock. “There are hundreds of reasons why kids become selective eaters. No one is to blame.”

As parents we try our best for our kids and the last thing we need is to be shamed by parents who were simply lucky. And this goes for everything. As a mother of three, I have learned to laugh at parental smugness. And maybe that is the greatest gift of all.

The truth is, I have one child who excels in math to the point of tutoring the other children in class and one who hates it. I have another who is reading on a fifth grade level and another who’d sooner never pick up a book. I have two picky eaters about whom I worry constantly (especially when planning to travel to a foreign country) and one toddler who eats off my incredibly diverse plate (and then some).

They were born this way. I don’t take credit — or blame — for any of it. And neither should you.

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