Your Kids Say:
“I’m not going to eat that.”
”I don’t like broccoli.”
…and you find yourself saying:
“It’s not yucky, it’s yummy.”
”Just taste it or try one bite.”
”Ok, I’ll make you a third dinner choice” (even though you didn’t eat anything you’ve already asked for.)
For many of us, mealtime is a battle, one often we as parents lose. Young children have very little control in their lives, and unfortunately, two aspects they can control is what goes in and what comes out (potty training is a whole separate battle). Feeding; however, doesn’t have to be a struggle.
In Feeding with Love and Good Sense by Ellyn Satter, the author reminds us that you are the parent, you decide when to eat, what to serve, and where to serve it, and the child decides whether and how much to eat. Meals and snacks should be scheduled and we shouldn’t allow “grazing” or eating small amounts here and there throughout the day. Grazing doesn’t help a child learn the healthy feelings of hunger and fullness.
Other advice includes:
- Create routines around meals.
- Allow your children to get their wiggles out before meals.
- Have your child participate in shopping, selecting foods for meals and helping prepare. Choices give your child a feeling of importance and control.
- Don’t offer your child a food you don’t want them to have, but rather two choices that are ok with you.
- Be good eating models for our children. If you say, “I can’t stand asparagus,” how can you expect your child to be open to trying it?
- Eating together at the table is a great time for kids to be exposed to different foods and have conversations. This exposure is important because a child may have to be presented with a food more than 10 times before they eat it!
- Make new foods interesting. You can be creative with placement, putting foods in a shape on your child’s plate, making a picture with different foods on their plate or cutting foods into different shapes.
- Give foods fun names and create stories or games as your child is eating. Use broccoli as the tree that stands up and the child blows on it to knock it down– eating a forest may be exciting.
- You can also point out familiar characters in TV shows or books that are eating and discuss that at meals–“Eat your carrots like Bugs Bunny did!”
- Kids may not care that foods are “healthy” or will help them “grow,” so give them a reason…”eat your celery so that you have energy to score a goal at soccer”.
- Don’t ask questions such as, “Do you like this food?” or “Is it yummy?” You may be setting yourself up for a response you don’t want. Rather, talk about the foods, ”That carrot was crunchy and loud,” or “Strawberries are sweeter than tomatoes.”
According to guidelines from the Institute of Medicine, after your baby’s first year, growth slows down by about 30%, and so may appetite. Infants need to eat about 35 to 50 calories per pound, while toddlers require roughly 35 to 40 calories per pound. Your child’s stomach may only be as big as your first. Start with scheduling times for your child to eat to experience hunger/fullness and provide appropriate portions.
If your child won’t eat, don’t push them. They may not be hungry, not be feeling well, have a sensitivity to the food or may not be eating for another reason and can’t verbalize it. “Forcing” your child to eat or even finish food on their plates may lead to negative food experiences. Have realistic expectations about introducing new foods. Not everyone likes the same things and we can’t expect our kids to like everything we think they should like.
Picky Eater vs. Problem Feeder: When to talk to your Doctor
Talk with your doctor if you have concerns about your child’s weight, growth or health. The suggestions above are for “picky eaters” not “problem feeders.” There are about 25% of typical developing children (up to 35% with neurodevelopmental disabilities) who have true feeding issues. According to Toomey & Associates (2015), a few signs of problem feeders include:
- Eats less than 20 different foods
- Usually refuses an entire category of foods
- No longer eats foods they previously ate and not adding foods to their repertoire
- Cries and “falls apart” when presented with new foods
- Takes more than 25 “steps” or experiences to accept foods
Pediatric Interactions has therapists trained in many feeding approaches and often offers groups, as well as individual feeding therapy.