Having children who don’t eat in the family is one of the many problems parents face today.
To top it off, some of these children only eat junk food like potato chips, sweets and candy, jelly, biscuits, chocolate, ice-cream, fries, etc.
When it comes to proper meals, they run for the hills. But when they are offered junk food, they are like bees to honey.
Totally upside down…
Fortunately, though I used to have a picky eater at home, my two young children now eat almost everything we put on the table, especially K.
I believe the culinary likings children have in them has got to do with parents’ attitude towards food, the way parents teach them about food, and whether they are given the opportunity to try different types of food.
The Story of a Child Who Doesn’t Eat
I had a visitor last weekend and she fits the description I just mentioned above.
She is not fancy of any “proper” meals – except food that she always have: porridge. Followed by her second love: junk food.
Joyce is my niece and she is 4 years old. Her mom always has problems getting her to finish her meals. The best result: two spoonfuls of whatever she is eating and that’s it. And then she stops eating by making sad, “don’t-feed-me-anymore” kind of look.
She’d rather sit there at the table or get away from dining table if she can than eat.
But when she is offered something else (like ice-cream), she will smile and say a loud “yes!”
How to Get Children to Eat
I prepared spaghetti aglio olio for dinner that night. Worse than I thought, Joyce didn’t even try the food at all (my cooking is not that bad, okay!) and she just clenched her lips when her mom tried to feed her.
After trying to coax her to eat with different tricks and failed flat, it’s time to try my method. This was what we did in general:
- We explain to her why she had to eat.
Otherwise, she would be hungry. In this case, the consequence of not eating is hunger. Joyce might not understand the meaning of hunger but she would experience it first hand if she didn’t eat.
- If she insisted not to eat, we would let her off.
But we told her that she would not have other food until she finished her dinner. We tried to offer her ice-cream if she finished her meal, she didn’t buy it. She chose not to eat. So we let it be. No forcing was needed here.
- After about two hours, she started to cry suddenly.
No one knew exactly what caused the crying. We speculated it could be due to hunger pangs or not having to enjoy ice-cream since she didn’t finish her dinner.
- After some consolation, she stopped crying.
Her mom tried to talk her into having the spaghetti after she had calmed down. It didn’t work at first, but after offering her that she could have the spaghetti with some biscuits (in fact, crumbs sprinkled on top of spaghetti), she agreed.
- As the saying goes, “The rest is history.”
Joyce finished everything – without a single word of whining. That was the most peaceful meal I ever saw Joyce ever had at my home.
Why The Technique Worked (and Didn’t Work)
Let’s take a look at why the method worked.
- First of all, don’t force food down the throat if the child refuses to eat. Avoid any conflicts.
- I wanted Joyce to know how it was like to feel hungry. No words could explain it better than feeling it herself. No one likes to feel hungry, even a baby knows it.
- I wanted Joyce to know there were consequences if she didn’t finish her meal. In this case, they could be no ice-cream or no milk (she loves milk and has one bottle before bed every night) for the night. It depends on the parents to set the consequences but they must be strong enough to be effective. Feeling hungry was one of the consequences too.
- For this method to work, parents must be strong and strict enough to follow what has been laid down. Being consistent and choosing what is right over something you fancy are equally important too.
- If you overly sympathize with your child, this method will not work. You must be “cruel” enough to follow through with consequences. Sometimes we need to be cold-hearted for the good of the children.
- Many parents are too lenient and they give in by offering what children like to eat even though they don’t eat what we provide for dinner.
- If you do so, the message you are sending to your child is: It’s okay not to have dinner. Because if I don’t eat, mummy will offer me milk (or chips, ice-cream, or whatever) instead. I won’t go hungry if I skip dinner. And yet I get what I want to eat. Life is good. Hooray!
This method may seem harsh to some parents but I don’t think so. It is important to drive home the message that skipping meals is absolutely not allowed – by teaching him in a way that your child won’t forget easily.
Otherwise, children tend to take the message lightly without knowing the impact it has on them.
I strongly believe that if Joyce’s mother follows through this method whenever she makes a fuss during mealtime, it can eventually turn her into a meal loving child.