I have often wondered why sometimes parents are too concerned about how much a child is eating during lunchtime. I sometimes had parents who only wanted to know this at the end of the day. Getting the children to eat right is a major concern in our society nowadays but why obsess about getting your child to EAT? Eating is a physiological need so why have adults changed it into a power struggle, demanding their child to eat certain foods and certain quantities sometimes without taking into consideration their child’s taste? Children are aware of our weaknesses and know how to use them in their advantage. If your child knows it’s really important for you to see him eating his lunch, he might refuse to simply test your reactions. The child’s behavior in this case is predictable: crying, pushing the plate away and knocking it down by “accident”.
Sometimes a child’s behavior is a projection of our own actions. Let’s think of some cases.
Keep calm and eat your lunch. It’s important for him to see that this is not a way to attract your attention. Try to have a relaxed conversation with other people that are around the table. It’s important that everyone sits down and carry on as if nothing’s wrong.
If you spend all your energy trying to make him open his mouth then it’s going to be fun for him (and in time, not so fun for you). He’s going perceive it as a form of play, in which he pretends “not wanting to eat” so that you can chase him with the spoon around the house.
Make sure he knows you’ll have to tidy up the table at some point, so give him a few reminders about the fact that you’ll put away the food at some point. If you tried everything, don’t despair. Have enough strength to tidy up the food and tell him that he’ll have to wait for the next meal. Next time he’ll know that you won’t beg him to eat.
No sweets, no treats. Why “reward” a child for something as simple as eating? I have seen cases when parents give their child biscuits and other unhealthy snacks just to fill their tummies because they didn’t have anything for lunch.
Don’t play with the food! It doesn’t sound too nice, but he/she is not a baby anymore, so teach your child to appreciate and respect the food in their plate. You’ve worked hard cooking it and spent money buying the best ingredients. Getting the children involved in the process makes them more aware of this.
It’s okay if thy spill food while trying to eat but don’t transform dinner time into playtime. Make it fun and enjoyable through other means.
I know cases when parents have made mealtime fun for their child as a baby and when the baby became a toddler, the parents kept their pattern. Now they’re always complaining about the fact that their 3 and a half year old won’t eat unless she’s playing with something while one of the parents is feeding her.
Your child only eats certain kinds of food
I’ve heard this many times. You should ask yourself why and try to find an explanation. Maybe the rest of the dishes are too spicy or simply don’t look tasty. Try to avoid spices because children don’t have a taste for spicy food.
Use your imagination to display the food in interesting ways. You might get some inspiration from the Japanese bento boxes.
Don’t give up, but don’t be too insistent. Children’s taste might change over time, so you shouldn’t avoid a dish because you know your child didn’t eat it. Present it as a choice alongside something you know he likes and ask him to get a bite. Remind him that he won’t know the taste unless he takes a bite.
I love the book “Green Eggs and Ham” by Dr. Seuss which approaches this subject. “Eat your Peas!” by Kes Gray it’s also a fun book to read with your preschooler. It’s relevant for this situation, and everybody can lean something from it- children and parents. So try to talk about food and preferences during the day, not only during mealtimes.
I noticed that some children change their eating pattern while in the nursery. There are parents who couldn’t believe that their child was eating certain dishes. That happens because as I said before, children need role models. They look around and see the other children eating, so they will do the same.
Here are some general rules that should apply all the time during meals, and you can follow them at home:
No TV or toys that might distract your children.
Don’t feed your children “snacks” before meals. Don’t give them any juices or milk because they won’t feel hungry.
Involve the little ones in the preparation of the meals. You can even take them shopping and let them help you in the kitchen (washing the vegetables, folding the napkins, counting the plates.) These are wonderful learning opportunities.
Don’t fixate about how much your child should eat (don’t force him/her to empty the plate).
Don’t feed your child. Children should be encouraged to eat by themselves, even though sometimes it takes longer and their clothes get dirty. Hershel should be watching you eat because children learn by imitation. Soon they’ll manage it.
Try to transform mealtimes into something enjoyable. Don’t threaten them: “If you don’t eat your lunch then…” Instead you can tell them that they need to eat in order to grow up big and strong like mummy/daddy, to have energy to play, to run faster, the sooner they finish their meal, the faster they can go out to play.
Don’t bribe them with dessert. Avoid doing this in order to shape healthy habits. Dessert is something they should have from time to time, not daily. Teach your child to make healthy choices instead of banning sweets altogether.
Don’t cook a special course for your child. Everybody should eat the same thing. Cooking only for your child might transform him into a picky eater.