Recently, I was reading an article from a popular parents’ blog and the author was lamenting about how her kids would not eat the “healthy” lunch that she packed for them. Her children expressed to her that they wanted some more “kid-friendly” food in their lunch, like cheese crackers, yogurt tubes, or peanut butter and jelly on white bread. In response to this, the author of the article made the following statement, “We refuse to pack them junk because it’s what other kids eat.”
For some reason, that statement did not sit well with me. This statement seemed to be a form of “food shaming.” As a registered dietitian, who has spent my entire career helping families nourish their children, I believe that good nutrition makes a difference for children.
I also offer healthy foods for my children to pack in their lunch. Therefore, this one phrase caused me to reflect on a few things. Do I think this is how “other” kids eat, but not mine? Does this parent realize what may be going on in the lives of other families outside of the lunch box? Why do parents feel that how they feed their kids somehow makes them superior to “others?”
There has been some talk on social media about “food shaming.” Many times, it is that schools may send a note home with kids stating that the lunch packed for the child was not appropriate or the parent of a picky eater scrolling through the internet to find parents bragging about how their children have never eaten a french fry. To those that have taken part in “food shaming” of a child or a parent, I will say this… DON’T! And here are 3 reasons why:
- Food insecurity and childhood hunger is a real problem and you likely do not know who it affects. Statistics show 1 in 6 children in America do not know where their next meal is coming from. In Ohio, that statistic is 1 in 5 children. Therefore, if your child is sitting at a lunch table with 5 to 6 other children, it could be that the lunch that is not “approved” may belong to a child from a food insecure home.
- What the public defines as “picky eating” may also be sensory feeding problems. 5-10% of typical children have some form of a sensory feeding problem, and 80% of developmentally-delayed children have a sensory feeding problem. These children may have difficulty eating in a loud environment (like a school lunchroom) or they have difficulty with certain textures. Therefore, the lunch they pack may be packed with their safe or familiar foods because that is the easiest way for them to be nourished during the school day. Many parents of children with sensory feeding problems seek help through therapy and nutrition intervention, but the path to introducing new foods is not a quick journey. Many times, these parents experience food shaming from well-meaning friends and loved ones. One lunch does not tell the story of what the child struggles with or how the parents are supporting that child.
- Balanced eating and nutrition are important for children. A child may have a pack of cookies in their lunch, but that may not be an everyday thing. That parent may provide a variety of foods that include fruits, vegetables, and whole grains at most meals and snacks, and they have allowed their child the independence to choose a treat and the child has chosen to have the treat at lunch. A child or a parent should not be “food shamed” based on one meal.
If you are a parent that is passionate about providing your children with healthy foods, continue to do so, but do not be judgmental of how others feed their children. If you have concerns about how some children are eating, there are things you can do:
Advocate – If you believe that all families need to have access to food that is good for them, then consider writing to your elected representative about such issues as the Farm Bill and the School Lunch Program. An additional way a parent can involve themselves in advocacy would be at the level of your local school wellness program.
Donate – Childhood hunger is an issue in our local area and across the entire United States. A family service project could be contacting local food banks to determine what items they need. Not all food banks accept perishable items due to storage concerns, but if you find a food bank that will take fresh fruits and vegetables, then your family could make a weekly or monthly donation. In the Cincinnati area, families can check out the Freestore Foodbank and People’s Pantry for donation guidelines.
Understand – If you know a child that seems to have a very limited diet, refrain from judging or providing the parent with advice. If another parent shares about their child’s picky eating that may or may not be due to sensory issues, listen to them. If you want to learn more about sensory feeding problems, check out Feeding Matters.
The food choices we make for our family are not a means to make us feel superior to others or be used to indicate one person is better than another. We all need to show more kindness and less judgment and food shaming around food and all other areas of parenting.