Pediatric Nutrition

Food Wars No More

Toddlers and preschoolers seem to have a knack for turning mealtime into a battle. Either they don't want to eat, or they want to eat only the same thing meal after meal after meal! Avoid these "food fights" and other mealtime pitfalls with a few simple strategies:

  • Involve your child in grocery shopping. Children enjoy being part of the process and helping to choose fruit and vegetables, among other grocery items, can build their anticipation of seeing these items at mealtime.
  • Offer only healthy foods at mealtime and snack times. Don't allow your child to fill up on junk food between meals. Then your child will come to the table with a better appetite for the meal that is served.
  • Serve meals at the same time each day, preferably at the kitchen or dining room table, and turn the TV off.
  • Suggested reading (All by Ellyn Satter):
    • Child of Mine - Feeding with Love and Good Sense
    • Feed Me, I'm Yours
    • Getting Your Child to Eat, But Not Too Much

Common Problem, Simple Solutions

Following are a few common mealtime situations, and tips for how to respond:

When a Child: A Parent or Caregiver Should:
Wants to eat the same food over and over again If the food is a healthy food, allow the child to indulge. However, continue to offer other foods at each meal.
Refuses to eat what is served Don't become a short-order cook. Prepare your usual meal with 1 or 2 simple, additional foods that your child can choose—bread, rolls, fruit, cheese, or corn. You decide what to serve, and allow your child to decide how much to eat. Don't worry—your child will not starve if he or she misses a couple of meals.
Watches TV during meals Turn of the TV during meals, and "entertain" with family conversation and soft background music. Mealtime is a wonderful time for a family to connect and is better for overall health.
Refuses to try new foods Don't force a child to try foods. Serve new foods along with familiar foods. Encourage your child to try one bite. If he or she refuses, don't give up. Continue to reintroduce the new food at other meals. It can take seeing the food on the plate many times before a child will try it.
Whines or complains about the meal Encourage good table manners. If your child refuses to eat and continues to whine/complain, ask the child to leave the table until the meal is over.
Will only eat "white" colored foods or gets upset if foods touch each other on the plate Do not focus on the "new habit." Instead, provide a sectioned plate to keep foods separate, and offer enough variety on the table so the child has some choice.