We all know that children love to change their minds. They may love something one day and dislike it the next. This certainly applies to food. One minute they’re lapping up your famous risotto and then all of a sudden it is greeted with a grimace and a pushing away of the plate, accompanied by the familiar refrain of “I don’t like it.”
Being fussy at meal times is due to a child’s growing independence and learning control. The number one rule is: don’t give “not eating” too much attention. Your child knows you can’t make them eat so, if it descends into a battle, they will see it as a way to be in control, which will give them a sense of achievement and make them more likely to repeat the behaviour.
A good idea is to involve your little chef in the preparation of dinner. Talk about what foods you need at the supermarket and ask what foods your child likes. When you go shopping let them help you. Do the same when you’re cooking the meal, but make sure you interact with them throughout and get them excited about their “yummy” dinner.
Remember that it will not harm your child if they don’t eat for a short while. I see so many parents fret over whether their child is eating enough, but I would suggest a cup of milk in the morning and before bed is more than adequate for a toddler when allied with three meals. Children may also use the proportion of the dinner as an excuse not to eat it, so try not to make it too big as it will only seem like a challenge.
Try to include at least one thing you know your child likes on their dinner plate, so they should eat that even if refusing everything else. Don’t be too fastidious about how your little gannet eats either. Remember, you’re dealing with a child, so let them get messy with their food if they want to. Being too strict could cause them to feel anxious about eating.
If a child simply refuses to eat anything, don’t make a fuss, just take the plate away and under no circumstances make anything else. They may complain of being hungry later on. If this happens, simply say, “You didn’t want to eat at dinner time,” and then offer some vegetable sticks or fruit. Explain that you would like them to eat their dinner tomorrow.
The secret is to not make dinner time stressful for you or your child. Stay calm, keep relaxed and they will soon be polishing off everything that you put in front of them.
Gemma Jones has been working in child care for more than 10 years. She holds an NNEB diploma in nursery nursing and is currently a creative writing teacher at Zaman International School in Phnom Penh.