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Hey Servers, Leave Those Kids Alone! (Follow up and part 2)

Posted by on Oct 7, 2013 in Blog Posts | 9 comments


“The waitress came by every day, at least two or three times, talking to our daughter, making a huge deal about what a ‘great eater’  she is, how ‘good’ she is for eating all her food and cleaning her plate. My daughter just seemed so confused and didn’t say much. By day four of our trip, I was ready to scream. We’ve been working so hard on helping her with her food obsession and healing from her history of food insecurity, and trying hard to let her know that it’s okay to leave food on your plate and you don’t have to eat everything.”


This was shared with me during  a recent call with an adoptive mom of a little girl who had a pretty rough start with malnutrition due to not having enough food (food insecurity), and a food obsession that is just starting to turn around with a lot of effort. I commiserated and laughed, asking if she had read my recent Huffington Post piece (coauthored with an amazing mom and colleague Katherine Zavodni MPH, RD who works in eating disorders) on the seeming trend of servers and children’s menus  increasingly inserting themselves into the feeding relationship between the parent and child. It was called, perhaps too strongly worded, “Hey, Servers, Leave Those Kids Alone!” and the comments were so nasty that I had to stop reading  and responding. (One accused me of making it all up.)

Among the many comments I did read, several  parents and servers said it never happens and expressed incredulity (that’s putting it nicely.)  I wondered if this was a regional experience? Did I only notice it because of the work I do? Did it only happen to myself and colleagues who often ask for dessert with the meal, inviting commentary? So I sent out a mini informal survey, and here is some of what we learned:

  • some parents never hear any comments (heaven!)
  • some parents get comments most of the time, and don’t mind
  • some parents get comments most of the time and do mind
  • some parents are actually asking the serving staff to get involved, to not share certain menu items, and to praise or encourage children with their eating

Here are some quotes (or skip to the end for a few ideas on how to stop or neutralize comments from servers) :

We have noticed that over the past couple of years the comments by food servers has increased. Our current “favorite” is the big high-five to Max for ordering a fruit cup.


I live in Miami, FL and even though I don’t have children, I have overheard servers commenting to other tables where there are children. Not every time, but I would say maybe 1/2 the time when we go out to eat. Mostly it’s of the “you have to eat your vegetables so you’ll grow up to be big and strong like daddy!” or “what a good girl not to want dessert so you stay skinny and pretty!”

I have had servers comment about my plate and eating. For example, if I don’t want dessert, they’ll say I’m being so good. Or if I don’t finish my vegetables they’ll make a joke about not being allowed to have dessert. I am an overweight woman, so perhaps they feel justified in commenting on my eating. I know I feel justified in calling them out on their rudeness!


I live in the rural southeast. The only comment servers ever make is asking if my kids are finished with their plate before they take it away or asking if we want a to-go box. There is one Mexican restaurant that we like and the servers always express admiration that my 6 yr. old will eat the spicy red sauce, but they are never critical of my son who does not eat it.

I live in the northeast, suburban area, and I’ve never had this happen to me.

No one has ever said that to us, but if they did they would wish they hadn’t.

We have gotten the “You’re a good eater” comment when my son eats all his food. They then comment on how skinny he is. Or, when he orders an adult size,they insist on the kids size because they assume he wont eat it all. We have also had servers automatically add fried to our son’s order, and we don’t eat them. He orders fruit instead and some servers comment “your parents must be strict.” In front of us of course.

Not too common here. Parents tend to give lots of feedback if anyone polices their parenting. I am in NY.

This trend of parents pulling aside servers to ask them to only offer the choices they want their child to have may be why some servers have started to comment, urge ‘healthy’ options, etc.

Never happened to me. But my friends have and it makes me mad.

Not sure if others have eluded to this but I think it’s also on our radar more bc we are aware of it. Also things like asking for dessert with the meal and ordering off the adult menu for kids may elicit more unsolicited feedback from servers in and of itself.

Yes – I’ve also noticed this in the twin cities. I usually use the “knowing look” approach with my kids – smile and wink at them, so they know it is a-okay.

Get comments all the time about how my 1 & 3 year old eat all their veggies and fruit and don’t like dessert… We live in the Twin Cities. Honestly, it’s nothing my husband or I have done (we just offer many types of food), it is just my kiddos preference… I cannot think of a time we haven’t gotten some commentary.

I’m from South Africa and totally amazed to hear that waitering staff make comments. You would never get that here.

What do you think? Our request in the original post to servers was this: “Parenting styles differ, and feeding styles do as well — these are personal decisions every parent makes. We simply ask, as your customers, that you allow us to make those decisions for our own families and to keep the commentary to yourself.” Is that too much to ask?

BTW, for the mom at the resort, it’s perfectly okay (even if you don’t like conflict) to leave the table and speak with a server in private. I am sure the server thought she was helping and doesn’t understand. Try something like, “I know you are trying to be kind, but we would really appreciate if you didn’t comment on what or how much our child eats. Thanks so much.” You don’t need to explain or apologize. Usually with only one meal out, it’s not worth the time and effort, but that’s up to you.

I have a whole section in my book, Love Me, Feed Me on dealing with meddlers 🙂 For waitstaff, I usually cut off comments with something like:

“We’re doing fine here..”

“Of course we ate all the broccoli, it was delicious!”

“That’s silly, we don’t have to eat all our dinner before we enjoy dessert. Could you bring it now please?”

Here is a post about family meddling.   Remember that feeding with the Division of Responsibility is not the cultural norm, so it can feel like swimming against the flow! Hang in there!


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  1. Abby Boetticher

    I couldn’t agree more that servers and cashiers should reserve comment/judgment on the food choices of others. That said, it’s important to remember that these are just people who truly think they are being friendly and encouraging and may have little experience conversing with children, much less children with special circumstances.

    If it’s just adults, it may be best to ignore any comments. If dining with children, it’s possible to be polite and authoritative at the same time. Why not preface dessert discussions by letting children know that, at a restaurant, it’s customary to eat dessert after supper even though that’s not how we do it out our house? (Lots of things are different about a restaurant!) Or, upon ordering, one could say “In our family, we like to have dessert with supper, even though most people prefer it afterwards. Could you please bring us an order of the apple crisp and four forks along with our meal? Thank you for understanding.” Or one can neutralize comments by saying to the children, “That was a rather silly thing to say, wasn’t it?” or pointing out that people are different, “In our family we eat until our bodies have had enough food, and if there’s food left on the plate it’s okay. His family must do things differently.” One can help the server correct course as well – they do typically want to please a customer – by being polite but firm. It helps if the comment ends the conversation as well, rather than inviting further discussion. “We all enjoy different foods. Jack here will have the French fries and the ice cream, served at the same time, please, and I’ll have the Cobb Salad. Thank you.” Or, if need be, “Your comments are well intentioned I’m sure, but Katie is able to make her own choices. When you come back I’d love a refill on this coffee, thanks.”

    These kinds of comments reflect how most people in our society deal with food, unfortunately. Exposure to them is a great opportunity to help our children understand that there are different ways other people might approach food, to reinforce to them that we’ll protect their mealtime autonomy, and to model for them how to handle such situations when we’re not around. For most of us, our children will go on to have more and more meals and snacks outside of our direct sphere of influence. Hopefully our children will learn to tolerate, when sleeping over at a friend’s house, the fact that dessert comes after supper. And hopefully, if told by the friend’s mother to “join the clean plate club,” they will be able reply firmly and politely themselves: “Thank you for your concern, but I’ve had all the food my body needs. I can’t wait to watch movies later!”

  2. CoffeeMom

    Honestly, we stopped eating out at most sit down restaurants years ago because we were tired of the comments and looks of wait staff. Hub & I are overweight “normal” eaters. (Hub does have some food allergies though.) Our son (now a teenager) is skinny and has SED. All 3 of us got tired of having to explain why he only wanted to eat french fries and white milk. No, he didn’t want dessert. No, he doesn’t like ice cream or cake. (Shocker, not all people do.) No, we, the “fat parents” are not sitting here eating full meals and letting our kid starve in front of us. Did you not hear him ask for a second order of fries and another glass of milk? Does he look unhappy to you? He has SED. His only “will eat any brand at any place safe/accepted foods” are french fries and milk. (He’s now added bacon to that list and is slowly working towards another anywhere food.)

    So now when we want to eat, say a special birthday meal, at a restaurant that’s not on our son’s approved list of fast food places and/or doesn’t have french fries, we’ll get restaurant take out and eat it in the privacy and comfort of home. Hub and I get what we want. Our son gets food from his favorite place. We all have a happy meal together without the looks and comments. Plus, we can order as much as we want without judgement and have leftovers for the next couple of meals. We actually look forward to these times.

    We do still eat out on occasion. Life calls for it. There’s an IHOP hub takes our son to for father/son happy bonding time where the staff knows the laughing and smiling teenager is going to order a large plate of fries, 2 orders of bacon, steal his dad’s bacon, and drink 2-4 glasses of white milk.

    • katja

      What a bummer that people feel the need to make such a big deal out of it! The messages were so nasty, I suppose that’s also the kind of person who will harass someone at a restaurant for their food choices. It seems to come down to bad business, no? They have all lost your whole family as customers. Glad the Ihop is a safe place. I wonder if passing along encouragement to management might help? I know when we don’t get pressured, or have a great experience, I will tell the managers that we had a great waiter, who brought dessert during dinner without hassling us 🙂 Hang in there! Happy and smiling is the key.

  3. Maryann


    I’m sorry you had to go through this! When I wrote my post for NY times on the clean plate club I stopped reading the comments because so many were down right mean. There still is so much work to do when it comes to teaching people about feeding and DOR. It can seem like an uphill battle but it’s worth the fight.

    As for restaurants and comments, that hasn’t been an issue for us but at school and at camp it happens all the time. “Eat healthy foods first” and X amount of bites before leaving. Sigh.

    • katja

      Yes, and I felt badly at how they missed most of your message on the Today Show! Tough to try to get this counter-cultural message out there! We’ll keep fighting the fight!

  4. Fat Grad

    I took a look at the original article and I just have to say that I don’t think it was too strongly worded or anything. The readers at HuffPo, like the readers at many other websites, tend to be unaware of things like HAES and the DOR, and quite unwilling to consider even the faintest hint of an idea that fat hatred might be wrong. I thought the article was very well done and that most of the people commenting on it added no value to the conversation. I do not think it’s too much to ask that servers not comment on things like that. It is unequivocally rude and offensive. I once even had my cashier at Trader Joe’s of all places make a shocked comment about how healthy my purchase was that day. I don’t even remember what I had bought because this was nearly ten years ago, but it surprised me and after that every time I went to that TJ’s I was wondering whether or not the cashiers were judging my purchases. (OMG, should I buy ice cream today? What if they notice that I bought ice-cream, chips, AND chocolate??) And it was rude. How did she know I wasn’t shopping in a particular way because of health restrictions, or an eating disorder, or whatever it was? If either of those had been true it could have been immensely upsetting or triggering for me, and I can’t imagine that that was the goal of TJ’s customer service that day. As it was it was distressing and had an influence on my future shopping experiences there. The fact is that the idea that people’s bodies and food choices are a matter of public concern is such a ubiquitous idea as to be unnoticeable for most people. It’s as much around us as oxygen. We don’t question it because it is a part of our environment, and seems as natural and necessary as the air we breathe. Thank you for continuing to challenge those beliefs, Katja, even when the internet commenters do not get it.

    • katja

      Aw, thanks! And great points! So much commenting, and judgement. Boo for the TJs cashier. Sad that, like women do with negative body talk, it’s something to talk about. I’ve had coop cashiers make nasty comments about the fact that I eat meat 🙂 I also wonder, when I shop at target for the things I can’t get at the coops like the chips we like, or cereal, or other packaged products and there is little if anything of the fruit and veggie variety in my cart, what clients or readers would think! I shop different stores for different items. Entirely too much judgement going on! Thanks again for posting and the pep talk!

  5. Nebet

    Regarding the servers making comments to adults, my partner and I have run into that! At a Chinese restaurant we frequent, we deliberately “over-ordered” on one visit (to get a good variety of food since we hadn’t been there in a few years, as well as for delicious, delicious leftovers!) and the server actually ADMONISHED us! “This is too much food!”

    I sarcastically said to my partner something to the effect of “Business must be going well if they want us to buy LESS food…” We are both large people, so maybe it had something to do with that, I don’t know.

    But we will still go back to that restaurant because the waitress has always been grumpy (she’s part of the experience at this point, haha! though she actually was smiling the last time we went! miraculous!) and they have the best Chinese food in town.