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Endless dinner debates? What to do if your child is a picky eater

If your toddles, or older child, keeps refusing food, you no longer have to jump through hoops

Racha Adib

Published: Updated:

Toddlers do not really have control over much except eating – or not eating. Nearly all toddlers can be described as picky eaters because eating is one of the first areas in which they master their independence. If your toddles, or older child, keeps refusing food or only wants the same food over and over again, you no longer have to jump through hoops.

Do not force it

Feeding and mealtimes are more than just ensuring your child gets the nutrients he or she needs. It is an opportunity to support your child’s social and emotional development. The most common mistakes parents make is forcing their child to eat food they do not want. Getting into a power struggle with your child over food may lead to other issues beyond physical development.

Force-feeding teaches children to become reliant on others to tell them how much to eat and what they are feeling. It neither fosters independence nor healthy eating habits. The result is usually that your child will eat less.

When it comes to eating, it can be helpful to see it as you and your child each having your own jobs. Your job is to decide what foods are offered, and where and when they are eaten. Your child’s job is to decide which of the food options to eat and how much. When you approach feeding this way, your child learns to listen to his or her body and becomes cooperative.

Offer new foods

Your toddler did not like peas first time around? Do not give them up just yet. Children are naturally slow to accept new tastes and textures, so you may need to try a new food 10-15 times before your child accepts it. Serve a small portion of the new food once a week, along with foods that are eaten regularly. Encourage your child to try a bit, but drop the nagging, manipulation and force-feeding.

Do not worry

Kids eat better when they and their parents are relaxed. Many parents worry that their children are not getting enough nutrition, but in most cases they are. Kids will learn to be more flexible rather than go hungry. Provide your children with a suitable atmosphere at mealtime. Plan regular meals and snack times in a quiet atmosphere, and give them enough time to eat.

Read signals

Toddlers know when they are hungry or full, and use signals such as their voice, facial expressions and actions to let you know. Watch them closely and learn to read and listen to them.

When you respond to their signals, it is your way of telling them that they should trust themselves. It also assures them that their needs will be met and that their feelings matter. So next time your child indicates that he or she is finished eating, stop feeding them and let them get up.