Food is essential for life and therefore part of our nurturing and love. If a child rejects the food we have lovingly prepared then it is easy to feel they are rejecting us. Many of the children I’ve fostered have come to me with some form of ‘eating disorder’: refusing to eat, eating the smallest of amounts, eating only sweet foods, or gorging or binging until they are physically sick. Based on training, research for my book Happy Mealtimes For Kids, and over 25 years of fostering experience, I’ve put together some guidelines that can help achieve healthy eating.
Expect your child to eat
As we expect good behaviour from our children so we should expect them to eat – at the table and the same food as other family members.
Set a good example
You can’t expect a child to eat heartily, healthily and happily if you are sitting there picking at your food and claiming you are on a diet. Start early: If good eating practices are established early in childhood, a child is far less likely to develop eating difficulties later.
Encourage children to feed themselves
A child is far less likely to reject food if they are feeding themselves rather than having food pushed into their mouth
Check nothing is worrying the child
If a child suddenly starts to refuse food, make sure there is nothing worrying them. Worries can take away a child’s appetite just as they can an adult’s.
Give suitable-sized portions
Children’s stomachs are a lot smaller than adults’ so they feel full sooner. Give a suitable sized portion; they can always have seconds. Keep meals simple: especially with young children. If a child has too many different foods on their plate (or too much), they may take the easiest solution and eat nothing.
While a little snack mid-morning or mid-afternoon will sustain a child’s energy levels between meals, too many, too large or very sweet snacks will dramatically reduce a child’s appetite at the meal table.
Never use food for punishment
And try not to bribe children with sweet things tempting though it can be at times:
A parent or carer may have to be firm with a child if they are refusing to eat or not eating enough for their needs. If necessary, allow the child extra time to eat, but don’t leave them isolated at the table.
All children have food preferences and a few dislikes are acceptable, but refusing to eat all nutritious food is not.
Food refusal can be a way of controlling a parent or carer. You will find that a child who is using food as a means of control will like something one day and reject it another.
Don’t worry if the child doesn’t want to eat one day or eats very little. A child’s body usually regulates its food intake and that can vary from day to day. If the child refuses food assume it will pass and the child will be eating normally in the morning and in most cases that is what will happen.
I hope this helps. Cathy x (www.cathyglass.co.uk)