Our family is in a huge transition right now. 11 weeks ago we moved in temporarily with my mother after selling our house before we could move into our new one. I knew there would probably be set backs in all areas of my 2 year old’s life. Our routines are different and the dynamic with extra adults around has changed mealtimes in particular. I have always considered my nearly 3 year old’s eating to be pretty good. However, since we have been in this state of limbo and I have been managing more difficult behaviors in other areas (aka pooping in his underwear), I have let his eating slowly decline. It’s not like I didn’t see it happening slowly, but I kept telling myself, “It will be better when we move into our new house. We will get back to our routine.” I was hoping we would be moving in 2 weeks. Now it is pretty certain that it will be another 4-6 weeks. I decided, finally, that his eating needed addressed now, it couldn’t wait any longer. I wanted to share with you some of the strategies that helped me rope his eating back in– quickly!
Some of these strategies I have discussed before and some are quick tips to get you thinking. More than anything, I want you to get a feel for how I problem solve through feeding challenges at my table, in the hopes that you can apply some of the same strategies at your table.
Get a Game Plan
The first step in getting Sam’s eating back on track was to come up with a game plan and get my husband on the same page. Obviously, he totally follows my lead in this department, but it’s really important that I communicate with him exactly how we are going to proceed. Since my mom is a big part of mealtimes, I had a talk with her too.
I had to think– what had really changed? I was still giving a preferred food at meals, spacing meals 3 hours apart, and serving a variety of foods (see Basic Strategies for more on this). Yet, he was getting so particular about what he was eating and playing with his food more than he was eating it. Once I reflected on his eating, I was able to focus on a few strategies in particular, I have outlined them for you below.
Cooking Together and Being Engaged Through the Whole Process
The biggest strategy I had forgotten lately is Cooking with Your Kid– Umm, Hello! If you follow this blog you know that I talk about this all the time and have written many posts on cooking with Sam. It has gotten him interested in many new foods! So, first step in my game plan: Get Sam cooking again. Last night we made tacos and after cooking together, he ate tomatoes and turkey meat willingly, which are foods he has been refusing lately!
Since I am fairly sure that the stress of this tranisition and temporary housing is having an affect on Sam, I needed to address why he may be acting out at meals. Was the meal really the problem? Was he getting enough attention?
A few nights ago I watched a webinar on Positive Parenting Solutions hosted by Creative with Kids (by the way, there is a ton of wonderful posts on positive parenting over there). It was a wonderful reminder for me that I need to really make sure that Sam is getting specific attention on a daily basis. I have been going out of my way to make sure that I am engaged with him, trying to put my agenda aside and really be present throughout the day. It is hard, but I am cutting way back on multi-tasking. By the way, the cooking time that we shared accomplished this plus it gave him a sense of purpose in our family. It is important for kids to feel like they are contributing to the family.
“I’m all done.”
Sam has announced at a few meals recently, “I’m all done.” It caught me off guard initially. I’m not going to get into a power struggle here, so I let him be all done, even if it was only a few minutes after the meal begun. BUT, I told him that there was no food until the next meal. Each time I make sure that he has heard me and make him repeat it back to me. I fully intended to follow through. The few times he tried this, he came back within less than 5 minutes and asked to finish his meal. You know what? He did! I wouldn’t have let him do this if a longer amount of time had passed. I know that his little brain needed a minute or two to process what had happened.
Salvaging a Meal that is on the Rocks
Mealtime with kids can get out of hand in a hurry. Before you throw in the towel, can you make small, reasonable changes to the meal? I use this strategy a lot with both of my kids. I am not talking about getting something different to eat or jumping through hoops. There are times that legitimately the food needs to be changed a little. Kids won’t force down cold food, or foods that isn’t seasoned well the way most of us will. If it doesn’t taste great, then they probably won’t eat it. Also, sometimes kids just need to shift focus, it may have nothing to do with the food… you just have to get them interested. I had to use several of these today at lunch and in the end it was a decent meal. Here is a list of the some the tricks I use:
- Heating up food. A couple of quick seconds in the microwave can make the food a lot more palatable.
- Cut it up or give a big piece. I change up whatever way I originally presented it. Today I gave him a meatball cut in half, thinking he would like to take bites off or cut it himself. After seeing he wasn’t eating them. I asked, “Would you like me to cut them into small pieces?” I did, and he ate 4-5 pieces. I was content with that.
- Sprinkle a little Parmesan cheese, garlic salt, or parsley on the food. I only use a miniscule amount, but Sam thinks it is special and will often dig in.
- Give a different utensil. I might say, “Oh, would you like your digger fork, instead, to eat those meatballs?” This works more often than you would think.
- Add a sauce, dip, or liquid. Sometimes I mix more milk in the homemade mac and cheese or add some chicken broth to the rice. I let my kids see me do this and then re-present. Often, they see that has changed and you have engaged them a little so they may be more willing to give it a try. Also, think of offering dips or more sauce.
At the top of this post I shared that our family was in transition, and in this instance I think that is part of the reason for the decline in Sam’s eating. BUT, it is very typical for kid’s eating to go up and down over days, weeks, and months. They go in and out of phases. The important thing is that WE stay consistent. The times when their eating goes down hill a little, use some of these strategies to get things back on track!
I disagree with my partner on our best approach with our fussy 5 year old. There are limited foods he will eat, most likely because of poor routines established when I went back to work when he was weaning and I needed to get quick meals out to him before bedtime. He would have to eat alone whilst I carried on working. I feel awful about it but we had no other way and I had no support. Now we’re trying to claw it back with several meals altogether to model good eating practice but he will still refuse new foods saying that he doesn’t like it without even trying. What’s our best approach?
So glad you reached out! We’d recommend implementing a no pressure approach to start building the relaxed mealtime and comfortable environment for your child. This is a really good first step in getting your child to work towards trying of new foods. We do have a free workshop as well that will walk you through the steps. You can save your seat here
Hello. I have 5 year old kid who refuses to eat rice meals anywhere but only at home specifically in their kitchen. Whenever they go out as a family to eat at a restaurant or relative’s house, child refuses to eat or would just eat small snacks instead of rice meals and would insist that he would only eat at home. Suggestions? Thanks a lot!
We understand how hard this can be. If he’s only eating it in the kitchen at home, I’d first start to try to change it up there. Utilizing different bowls/plates, eating it out for a picnic at home to see if you can slowly work on him transitioning to eating it within the home. Then utilizing the same bowl, etc that you do at home when you go out. Making sure that the food is the same!
Hope that helps!
HI I Have a 4 year old and she refuse to eat after 5.
during the day you can feed her or she will eat herself but when it comes to the night she just point blank refuses to eat. i even tried asking her what she wanted to eat, so I could go and make it, nothing helps.
she does sit in front of the TV while eating. i have no idea what to do.
at times I resort to feeding her just plain butter and rice but that is not healthy.
Can you assist with advice on how i can get her to eat
Hey Thanks for reaching out! I’d first start by looking at the scheduling/spacing of meals that you are having. We typically recommend every 2.5/3 hours for mealtimes, so making sure the spacing isn’t too far apart or not long enough (even a few crackers can interfere with being hungry). Also, we do recommend getting rid of distractions. We do have a free workshop that will walk you through both of these strategies for more in depth help. You can save your seat for the workshop here
So my 4 year old just refuses to eat anything other than mac and cheese he use to eat anything and now nothing I started letting him have his way cause he had to eat something but I know it’s just made it worse I let him cook with me he loves the helping part its normally just me and him at home during the day so he gets all of my attention then he will literally go to bed without eating anything before he will take even a bite of anything that is not certain chicken nuggets mac and cheese or some French fries. I dont know what to do I’ve tried everything I can think of.
We understand how hard this can be and can relate! I love that you are having him help you in the kitchen, this is a great first step. I’d continue with that and engaging him in touching all the different foods this way. We do have a free workshop that can help with some suggestions to work with your picky eater. You can save your seat here
I have a 3 year old that has been very very picky since 1.5. His diet is basically crackers, hotdogs, chicken, pancakes, chips, sometimes hamburgers spaghetti, any type of bread. basically he’s a carb eater. He did once eat veggies but now the only one he will eat is corn. He’s never ever liked any fruit except bananas and that’s a hit and miss. Because of this diet his gets constipated alot and we have to use miralax to get him poop. When we do make his plate and we do exactly what his pediatrician says and thats always offer fruits and veggies. We sautéed some spinach and tried to feed him. He will say
” No, I don’t want it” I want to take him to a Gi specialist but I’m wondering what can they do? You can’t force a toddler to eat. I don’t want scare him or make him have a bad experience with trying healthy foods.
Thanks for reaching out! GI specialists will rule out any medical causes for any of the constipation. We do have a post on some remedies that you can read all about HERE
Also, if you are looking to work on that picky eating and haven’t signed up for our free video series (available for a limited time) You can join us NOW and receive all the replays to watch and help guide you for helping your picky eater!
My boy is 2.6 .He is always reluctant to eat his meal.Sometimes he sits with me and eats 2-3 table spoons but then lose his intrest and runs away from the place.He always asks for his fav chips,cookies or milk.I have to spend hours to feed him everyday.He wouldn’t even try to eat his food by himself.May Be I hv always been there to feed him but the other things he likes most he eats sll by himself.i literally feel frustrated.How can I develop his intrest in eating ?
Help! My 3 1/2 year old was refusing to eat vegetables a few months ago and we thought we were doing the right thing by telling him no dessert if he didn’t eat his vegetables. It worked well at first but now it’s getting out of control. He’ll eat only his favorite (mac and cheese for example) and then repeatedly ask how many bites of vegetables/meat he has to eat to get dessert. Meal time was getting very long so we then set a time limit. This resulted in a few “no dessert” meals/meltdowns. How do we undo this?! We have a 5 month old boy as well and this all started around the time baby arrived.
I totally get it and I know it’s so hard! I’d just go cold turkey and either skip dessert for a while or just let him have it without making it a reward. I have an article on picky eaters and dessert here that I think is just what you’re looking for!
I recently found your blog and started implementing your tips a week ago and it’s made a huge difference in our meal times! I have triplets, 20 mo old, and meal times were becoming chaos and I felt like I was losing my mind. You have helped me restore order and I have been so much happier. Plus my girls are way eating better, they’re calmer, thank you! I was wondering what you do if kids ask for more of only one thing like fruit and don’t want to eat anything else? Do you just keep giving them fruit or say that’s it? And if they say “all done” and then want to sit in your lap to eat more instead of at their table (we have a triplet table) is this okay? Thank you thank you thank you! I am so happy I found your site. 🙂
Oh that is so wonderful! Thanks for sharing that, you surely have your hands full! You have some great questions! First, I recommend using your best judgement if they aren’t eating anything else. At their age it could be helpful to give one last serving of fruit and then put it away or out of sight so they are distracted by it. Redirect them to the other foods if need be. They are toddlers though so you very well have some meals when they do that. Ideally, I’d prefer them to not sit on your lap, but I think you have some wiggle room. My biggest concern would be for this to turn into a habit, if you can avoid that I think it is okay occasionally. Thanks again!
my daughter is only 1 year old and its very hard to feed her I’ve tried everything I could think of, she will just take 1 teaspoon and look away, I’m worried because she is now sick and vomit that little she ate!
It is best to wait to try any real intervention until they are better. Is it possible for you to get additional help from a feeding therapist? If not, keep foods smooth and not too thick. Keep meal time positive and follow the strategies in the eating basics tab in the menu bar.
While I think your heart is in the right place, I think feeding your kids should not have to be so difficult. There are children in other countries who are starving and who would gladly take the table scraps that spoiled children just won’t eat. We are sending our children the wrong message when we allow them to grow so picky over food. I have five kids and if I allowed our dinnertime to be so persnickety and child-centered, I’d go bankrupt or be in the kitchen all day. This is not an all-night-diner. While I make every effort to serve things that my children like, I also serve many things that they don’t because they are healthy, affordable, and as mom, I know better than a two year old.
I totally agree with you! However, as a pediatric occupational therapist I see many kids that have developmental delays and sensory processing issues that make it difficult for them to eat a varied diet. These issues can be mild and undiagnosed in many kids. The strategies I suggest are to get at the heart of those issues. Of course, the way that we as parents approach eating can also have a lot to do with it. Many parents get uncomfortable when their kid doesn’t eat at a meal and will start to cater to them. A lot of poor habits can take root. My hope on this blog is to cover a host of strategies to meet the needs of any kid that is struggling to eat. It is so prevalent in our society today and a major source of stress for many parents.
Thank you so much for that. My son has autism and sensory processing disorder. When we go out to eat, people make comments about him being a bratty picky eater. There are certain things he CAN’T eat, not won’t eat. Certain tastes and textures cause him to gag and spit up. He just can’t handle certain foods. There’s a difference between picky eaters and problem feeders. I wish more people understood that. We always supplement him with vitamins and pediasure to make sure he’s getting the nutrients he needs.
Thank you for chiming in! Kids on the spectrum and/or with SPD usually an extremely hand time with eating. I’m glad that you have found a system that works for your little guy and hopefully gives you some peace of mind! I have been meaning to write a post for some time on the difference between picky eaters and problem feeders- it is a huge difference!
Amen! My child has SPD and people always seem to give me the lecture “what I serve is what they get”… So annoying. She will starve and become malnourished if she doesn’t have food she can actually eat. She will gag, spit, and even throw up, and its all out of her control. So nervous for kindergarten starting in 2 weeks! How will she handle cafeteria food? If I pack her a lunch will she get bullied for the types of foods she eats?!
These are great tips! I enjoy following your blog…you always have great advice on feeding issues.
Thank you! I enjoy you blog too!
Great advice! Loving your posts, thank you!
Thank you, that’s so nice to hear!