Photo by: Staff

My Kid Won't Eat Anything

Photo by: Staff

I often have other moms (and dads, and grandparents) tell me their child won’t eat anything but cardboard. For some kids it’s french fries, for others it’s crackers or pureed pears (even when the kid has a mouthful of teeth). Regardless of the kid’s food of choice, he might as well be eating cardboard, because, let’s face it- there’s not a whole lot of nutritional value in french fries.

I’ll admit, Hayden is a great eater. He has not yet mastered the mechanical skills of eating: He can barely use a fork and has only recently improved his techniques with a spoon; he will not eat crunchy foods like apples or raw carrots (even though he had all of his teeth by age 2); he takes his sandwiches apart, which are already cut into bite sized pieces, and approaches them like he’s in an Oreo cookie commercial. No, he’s a great eater because most of what he does eat is nutritious, and he does so with gusto. He loves dark green vegetables (Brussels sprouts are a fave), happily digs into pasta with meat sauce, and could eat berries until they give him the runs.

Yes, this is in part due to genetics (because Mama likes her Brussels sprouts), but heredity isn’t everything. From Day 1 of solid foods (solid = pureed), I tried to give him what I would eat. If the ingredients sounded gross or boring to me, I assumed he would feel the same way. Do I ever feed him junk food? Absolutely! But, I try not to lose sight of the food values I am trying to instill in him. No kid is going to like everything you offer him, but we must keep trying. Just like introducing a bottle or paci, sleep training, or getting your kid to ride in the car without screaming, persistence is the key. Kids do not respond well to wishy-washy parenting. “Oh, I get it, Mom says I have to eat the green ones, but last time she gave me cereal after, instead, so I’ll just wait for the cereal.”

Hayden has turned down MANY foods I offered him (he hates green beans), but we have also had many successes with food (he likes broccoli). From my research and my own experiences, there a a few things I know about feeding your kids:

1. If your kid won’t eat, he likely doesn’t need to. Unlike adults, kids stop when they are full. If your child has a snack at 4 pm and then refuses dinner at 6, he’s probably still full of raisins. This also goes for milk, of any kind. If your toddler is on the boob/bottle/sippy all day, even 2-3 times a day, he won’t have much room left for solid food.

But… (you protest). That’s two hours between feedings, and yesterday he was hungry for dinner at 5! Yeah, well, every day is different. Maybe your kid grew during his nap yesterday and was extra hungry. Maybe he’s plugged up today, and his bowels don’t have room for any more. Could be anything.

But… (you protest). He cries when I deny him my boobs- he’s hungry! He might be hungry. He also might be irritated with you- those are nice boobs, and he wants ‘em! Rule of thumb: always consult your pediatrician, but if your child is gaining weight normally and is over a year old, milk of any kind should supplement solid foods, not the other way around.

2. Kids learn by example. We have all learned the hard way, as we watched our child copy something we do (with shame). The same rule applies to food. If you never eat your veggies, why should he? On the flip-side, if you feed your child french fries and frozen nuggets every night, while you sit down to a plateful of leafy greens and sea bass, your child gets a mixed message. He may think you are a short order cook who will forever prepare a separate meal for him because he doesn’t like real food. Or, perhaps, he will think that what’s good enough for him isn’t good enough for you (ouch!).

At the very least, he will be denied the opportunity to try something amazingly tasty and oh-so-good for him. Now that Hayden is old enough to eat just about anything I eat, I try to keep the policy of “kitchen is closed” after meals. It is hard to do, but please don’t get yourself into the trap of fixing a separate meal for every member of your family.

Along the same line- kids are more likely to eat what you offer if you sit down and eat it with them. Meal time can be the best family bonding time. Even if you can only swing it once a day, try to sit down and eat together.

3. If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. Our pediatrician (love him, love him, love him) once explained to me: with babies (and young toddlers, too), it’s an all or nothing policy. Most babies will not understand why you sometimes bring him to bed with you and other times not (he will show his disapproval with his voice!), or why he can have the paci when he is upset, but not all the time.

It is the same with food. Little kids need consistency- with daily routines, discipline, and an approach to mealtime. As mentioned earlier, if you sometimes give in and let him eat Snickers for dinner, he will wait for the Snickers. Consistency will eventually lead to more food in his tummy and less work for you.

Just because he hates it the first time, or the first five times, doesn’t mean he will never like. it. We all hated our first bite of meatloaf. Our first taste of broccoli. Our first glass of wine (need I go on). Be persistent! If he refuses it today, try again tomorrow. Try again next month. Try cooking it a different way. Try adding some SALT. Get creative, like sneaking the sweet potatoes into a cake.

The authors of Toddler 411 say to introduce a food ten times before moving on. Some more final tips:

  • Let him eat with his fingers (kids are tactile and may get impatient with utensils)
  • Toddlers only need 16 ounces of milk a day (the rest should be water), with most calories coming from solids
  • Let your older toddlers help prepare the food or choose what color plate/spoon/bowl he will eat from
  • Cut food into bite sized pieces- most 2 year-olds can’t pick up and eat a big hamburger
  • Sneak broccoli into an omelet or beef into the mac ‘n cheese
  • Establish a few, simple rules, such as milk only with a meal or snack; milk stays in the dining area; first fruit, then cookies
  • If your child is a grazer or can’t sit still long enough for a meal, make every calorie count
  • Use a fun presentation: try serving food in muffin tins or a collection of small, colorful bowls
  • Focus on the positives: if your kid won’t eat berries but loves oranges, be glad he eats citrus

Note: This is different than, “If you eat your fruit, you can have cookies.” It’s all in the wording- try not to bribe with treats.

Carrie Meadows is a mom, wife, runner, reader, cook, and wine drinker. She blogs at The Sweetest and at This Blogger Makes Fun Of Stuff. You can find her on Twitter @TheSweetest3 and on her Facebook page, The Sweetest.

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