Care and Feeding

My In-Laws Shame My Kids for Eating Health Food

What’s wrong with salmon and sushi over hot dogs and chicken nuggets?

A child holds up two halves of an avocado next to their head.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband was raised in a “picky eating” household. I was not. Thankfully my husband began eating a wide range of foods once he became an adult, and none of our kids are picky eaters. Obviously they have food preferences and dislikes, and we don’t ban or talk negatively about any types of food, but they almost never want to order off the kids’ menu, and they don’t really enjoy most “kid foods.” Basically, they prefer salmon and sushi to hot dogs and chicken nuggets, and that’s fine with us.

The problem is my in-laws, whom I normally get along very well with and would like to keep a good relationship with. My husband’s nieces and nephews pretty much exclusively eat buttered white bread and French fries. I’ve never made any sort of comparisons between our kids’ eating habits and never would, but my in-laws, especially my sister-in-law, make a lot of comments about it.

Last weekend my husband’s family was at our house for a birthday party, and my daughter was eating avocado on crackers as a snack. My sister-in-law snatched them away and said, “This is yucky, why do you want to eat yucky food? Don’t you want a hot dog like [her son] instead?” My daughter politely said no and took her food back. This has happened many times at restaurants and other family gatherings.

I’m starting to feel a little guilty whenever I’m around my in-laws, like they think I’m depriving my kids tasty food or something (my kids all ate chips, pizza, and cake on this day, so they’re definitely not deprived). How can I get my in-laws to stop commenting on my kids’ “healthy food,” without making them feel ashamed about their kids’ eating habits? My husband and I also come from different parts of the U.S., and different cultural backgrounds, and I think that adds a layer of trickiness here too.

-My Kids Like Avocados, OK?!

Dear Avocados,

I’m not a fan of food shaming of any kind. I often tell my two daughters to “never yuck somebody’s yum.” In other words, nobody should be policing other people on their food choices—and doing that with somebody else’s kids is especially uncool.

This may sound weird, but oftentimes that kind of behavior stems from parental insecurity. It’s like they’re thinking, “Oh, these kids think they’re better than my kids with their fancy avocado crackers? I’ll show them!” Sadly, parents will find the most ridiculous reasons to compete with each other, and all it does is erode relationships and cause unnecessary drama.

I would start by firmly reminding your extended family members that whatever your kids choose to eat shouldn’t concern them. You can say, “Please don’t snatch food away from my kids. I would never do that to your kids. Not everyone has the same tastes, and that’s OK. My kids aren’t hurting anyone with their food preferences, but you are hurting them with your behavior.”

Also, you should empower your kids to be strong with their convictions. Personally, I had a drinking problem for many years and have been sober for over five years and counting. Oftentimes people will offer me booze and give me side-eyed glares when I decline, but I couldn’t care less. I don’t tell them that I can’t drink, or I’m not interested in drinking, or that I’m the designated driver, etc. I flat out tell them that I don’t drink alcohol and that usually shuts it down. The same rule applies to your kids, and it doesn’t need to be a big production filled with drawn-out explanations. If they don’t eat hot dogs, they should tell your family members that they don’t eat hot dogs, and leave it at that. It’s up to you to tell the grownups in your family to respect those wishes and not make your kids feel uncomfortable in the process.

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