10 Things *Not* to Do to Help Your Child Eat

10 Things Not to Do to Help Your Child Eat at Natural Parents Network

There’s a lot of talk these days about how to get your kids to eat. There are many manuals and memoirs (some of them quite interesting) about what people do – rules, regulations, dietary restrictions . . . in some cases baby boot camps where they force feed your child (who is strapped into a high chair until the food is all gone – I wish I was making that up).

But really, it’s all about approach and finesse and what not to do.

With that in mind, here are ten things that you need to give up before your child will come around to the foodie way of doing things.

10 Things to STOP Doing (So that Your Child Will Start Eating)

Ten Ways You're Not Helping Your Child Eat Without Making a High Chair Face

That cute face is actually right before a sneeze and a giggle – after which he devoured the potato leek soup in that bottle.

  1. Assuming the “High Chair Face” means what you think it means. Keep this in mind: 3 Bites to actually taste. 10 servings to actually enjoy. All tastes are acquired . . . except breast milk and chocolate.
  2. Deciding that your child isn’t getting anything out of prep when they choose not to eat it anyway. We’ve all been there – the kid has a special knife and they’ve got a cute apron and a mini-me prep bowl and a mini-me cutting board and they’ve diced and seasoned and stirred! You plate, you serve . . . your forehead hits the table as your child very calmly says “don’t like that” and then requests cheddar bunnies. The solution is not removing child from food prep. The solution is not prepping cheddar bunnies and dino bites and stick cheese with a side of milk. The solution is keeping on and making a huge deal to anyone who hadn’t witnessed it that your child cooked and your child is awesome. Do this in front of your child – then invite a taste. But do not push the eating.

    Actual conversation in my house

    Me: “Hey, Little Dude, why don’t you taste that artichoke leaf? It’s in the lemon butter you helped make!”

    Baz: “Um . . . I don’t think so.”

    Me: “Just a lick, it’s pretty tasty.”

    Baz licks: “Hey, that’s pretty good.”

    Me: “I know! Do you want some more?”

    Baz: “Um . . . no.”

    No sweat. More for me. Two nights later he ate 4 leaves. Progress is progress.

  3. Making Food Fuel – food is more than fuel – it is all-encompassing. If stopping for meals is a chore for you, it will be a chore for your child. If it is purely a gas-n-go situation, it will be so for your child. Do whatever you need to do to make at least one meal a day (or as often as your can manage) feel like you’re on a well-deserved break. Bring out the good cheese and the good bread and the good beverages – even if it’s take out pizza, make it the BEST take out pizza you can afford and serve it on plates with napkins and sit at the table (or have a picnic, better still) and really savor the flavor and the feeling of recharging. Talk about your day and talk about the food. Share a favorite pizza memory. Like that time you played truth or dare and someone dared you to put strawberry on your Build It Yourself Pizza – “with tomato sauce or it’s too easy” – and how now it’s one of your favorite unexpected flavors. Particularly with pineapple. See what your family shares. Make a memory. The best memories involve food in some way, don’t they?
  4. Load your spoon with all the masago from the top of your sushi roll, pull away from child, and watch the amazing balancing act as child’s mouth follows the spoon.

  5. Getting emotional about what your child is not eating. Think about all the foods you do not care for. Now imagine that your plate is loaded with them and someone whom you usually respect and enjoy is flipping out at you to just eat your food already! Regardless of how you react, that situation is unpleasant for everyone. Encourage tasting. Encourage actual ingesting. And if they choose not to eat, they choose to be very hungry for their next meal (or snack). Perhaps not caring so much whether every single pea is ingested will do everyone some good.
  6. Sticking to the kid’s menu, which is a $5 plate of mac-n-cheese that is likely the same thing in the box in your pantry. Spring for the good stuff – at least you’ll like the leftovers. The downside for this is when you do and your kid loves it. Then even your own plate is in danger. That masago to the right there? That came off of my hamachi roll. Mine. Baz just loves his Fun Popping Balls. (Hey just because it’s not on the kid’s menu doesn’t mean it can’t have a kid’s name.)
  7. Not growing anything. Food shouldn’t be foreign. Your child should see the progression from seed to table. The “brown thumb,” “no space,” and “no time” arguments are all valid, but can all be trumped with this card: food is science and science is experimenting.

    Use Pinterest and the good ol’ fashioned library for small space gardening solutions (they’re there. Trust me.). Contact local homeschool groups or garden clubs or science teachers and ask about what can grow inside and in containers. Potatoes in a sack by your front door? Sure! Green onions in a vase by your sink? Yes! Sun + air + soil + water + seed = food. Grow some.

  8. Never having sweets/carbs/junk food. Life is to short to skip dessert every night.
  9. Toddler See, Toddler Do . . . Toddler Eat?

  10. Bribing/threatening – you ratchet up emotion, you make something other than the full belly and happy taste buds the reward. Food is its own reward. Also – think about the precedent this sets: do you really want a kid who’s behaving out of either a fear of punishment or a sense of entitlement? Neither do I.
  11. Placing limits or enforcing a clean plate – then it’s about willpower and not about the food. Also, see above re: fear/entitlement. Furthering this: serving your kid. Family style is where it’s at. Fine motor skills, portion control, a bit of adventure . . . let your child take control and determine how much he thinks his stomach can hold. It might just be the tiny step he needs to join you at the table.
  12. Worrying that a missed meal is akin to starvation. I will give you two things to remember when it comes to a few refused meals:

    a) when your child is a teenager, you will wonder how you ever worried about how little he ate; and

    b) toddlers are like snakes: they exist on air for a week, ingest a whole mouse and spend a week digesting it, exist on air, eat an entire mouse . . . you get the picture.

    Tomorrow is a new day with new food and better attitudes. Embrace the newness because this time, your child won’t just lick that strawberry, he’ll bite it.


    All photo credits: Author

About The Author: Emily Bartnikowski

Emily B emmieb My NPN Posts

Emily is a wife, mother, photographer, and aspiring novelist. She blogs about parenting and life at Embrita Blogging.

13 Responses to 10 Things *Not* to Do to Help Your Child Eat

  1. Melissa P  

    Also, helpful hint, my son choked and gagged on carrots.Turns out he is allergic to some types of carrot and also sprays. Keep that in mind if your child has an odd reaction. The dr said he juts didn’t like it and to try again, but because he had other allergies we didn’t. As a toddler he got rashy and coughed a lot after carrots were reintroduced. Try and try again, unless it appears to be a food allergy. Great article btw!

  2. Sarah

    Also if you know your chidl likes something,a dn is hungry, but they don’t want to sit, find ways to work with them.

    For us, our kids pretty much don’t stop eating all day long, until supper. Then 2 bites and they’re done. BUT we’ve discovered that for them it’s like the end of sumer – they must stuff every oz of playtime into the last hour before bed. For us we eat supper,t hen they have roughly 30-45 min to play, then snack, then we begin bedtime – so they just try to skip eating supper to play (and no, just telling them to stay at the table and withholding the play does not get them to eat more)> BUt then they’re hungry at bedtime or the middle of the night.

    So what we do is we pretend to be a fuel station (hahaha) and they’re cars/airplanes whatever – and they dash around the kitchen while we eat, but every lap they come for fuel. We give them a bite and off they go. We still get the family connection time, they still eat, and we have no fights. They let us know when they’re full and it’s a win-win over all.

    And a slight twist on one of the above – Dh and I will get some food on our fork, but then pause to chat to each other while we hold the fork out toward one child or another (while looking away from the child) Dh and I discuss how yummy the food is and how much we enjoy eating it and then “wow, where’d the food go” (giggle giggle giggle) our children absolutely love the games and I’m less inclined to end up with hungry children plus there are more smiles as we head to bed each night.

    (Note our children are 2, 4.5, and 6 – over time they each gain more ability to actually sit at the table and eat vs playing – but it’s still fun to do with the biggest on occasion).

  3. amelia

    What do you do with a kid (18 months)who stuff her mouth full, barely chews, but will not swallow? When she starts to get full she keeps putting food in her mouth to the point that she can’t close it and just sits there. Sooo frustrating!

    • Emily Bartnikowski  

      I’d forgotten about that stage! Baz *definitely* went through that- to the point of choking on his food. I started regulating how much he could put in his hands between swallows and often scooped out what was sitting in there. I also encouraged swallowing and removed distractions so he would focus. Our pediatrician called it “chipmunking” and it’s a totally normal stage. I feel like it didn’t last that long and is not a problem at all now. Good luck!

    • Sarah

      We also just put one or two pieces in front of our littles at a time to prevent full blown chipmunk cheeks. It is a short phase, but frustrating non-the-less.

  4. Jennifer P

    Love your game Sarah! We have very serious issues with lack of appetite and practically zero weight gain with our toddler, but I am completely against the pressure/intense games/reward options many people have offered to get him to eat more. It’s absolutely not worth the cost to his long term relationship with food and his parents. I am relieved that we’ve done all kinds of testing and determined nothing is actually wrong with my skin and bones little guy, and determined to keep trying to breathe through meal times with a little playfulness and a little cajoling and a minimum of anxiety.

  5. Gretchen  

    Just the post I needed to read tonight! Thank you!!!

  6. Bridget Palkow

    My daughter is 6 months old and breastfed. I love this article! It has definitely helped educate me and has taken alot of stress out of what it will be like when my daughter starts to eat solid foods. And the responses from other mom’s helps knowing even more situations that can happen. Thank You!

  7. Birdie Skolfield

    These are great uplifting tips for me & my lil fussy eater im getting a lil impatient lately as hes wasting a lot of food thx these will help wish I could print em off & post of my fridg thx again