Almost all children go through eating “phases” where they like some foods more than others. If your child’s pediatrician indicates that development is fine (*note – the following suggestions will not apply to all children who have special needs or conditions that would need specialized care and training), it might just be a matter of waiting it out while encouraging them to TRY foods they are resisting. If you have a child that is resisting entire MEALS, here are some common issues and possible solutions.
Scenario: Michael is 3 years old. For the last week, he hasn’t touched his dinner. After 1/2 an hour, he announces he is HUNGRY.
What to do:
1) Offer him a reward for eating; 2) Make him something different to eat; 3) Go ahead and offer food when he announces he is hungry, or 4) Make him eat his dinner anyhow.
Thoughts to consider:
1) Offering rewards for eating – Rewards may WORK in the short term, but they are rarely effective at changing behavior in the long term. The eating behavior may be changed, but it is from an external reward and not an intrinsic desire. Eating should not be a reward/punishment issue.
2) Make him something different to eat – When children are allowed to choose their own menu on a REGULAR basis, it will become a pattern that is difficult to break. On occasion, it is FUN to have several menu options; but on a regular basis, most households need a meal plan and should stick with it. Children can be allowed to help in the meal planning process in order to make healthy choices; but when a meal is served, it is best not to offer other foods.
3) Go ahead and give him snacks or food when he wants -If Michael has chosen not to eat his dinner, then he has made a decision to wait until the next time a snack/meal would be offered. In this case, it would probably be a bedtime snack. If foods are given randomly during the day, Michael will never be hungry during regular snack or mealtimes;
4) Make Michael eat his dinner – It MAY seem like a great idea, but ultimately it is the child’s responsibility for eating or not. When we force children to eat particular foods, the child may grow to dislike them even more (or vomit it up). Children who are forced to eat often develop resentments or problem eating behaviors.
While picky-eaters are not uncommon in the early years, establishing healthy patterns for eating will help both you AND your child through difficult phases.
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