Please Note: Many children are picky. Only a tiny percentage of children have medical or behaviorally-based feeding issues that require targeted interventions. This post is primarily focused on children who have general feeding difficulties and not those with issues severe enough to require medical treatment.
1. Is your child eating at least one thing from every food group? Is your child at a healthy weight? If you answered yes, then allow yourself to relax a little bit. Meal times can quickly become a battle of wills. You may find that backing off and signaling to your child that you are "not worried" about what they are eating can be a more effective strategy than trying to control what he or she eats. This does not mean your child should be allowed to eat whatever he or she wants, but at meal times they should be served small amounts of foods they have eaten in the past along with what has been prepared for the rest of the family. Either they eat it, or they do not.
2. Having a special “meal” for them each night, just feed them what you make for yourself/family.
Why is it a mistake: The child will start to believe they will be able to have whatever they request for dinner and if not they will more than likely cause problem behaviors.
How to fix it: Give them the meal you fix, if they aren’t interested, they can have a PB & J. Whatever food is prepared for your child instead of what is being served to everyone should not be a highly preferred food. Children learn quickly to refuse what they do not prefer if they believe the other option might be something they want more. Using something that is neutrally preferred (not a disliked food, but also not the food they love) is best. Also, having one part of the meal that you know the child likes may help them to be able to sit down and eat with the family without having a “special meal.”
3. Giving a treat after every meal.
Why is it a mistake: The child will begin to accept that every time they sit down to eat, they will get a treat. This may cause problem behaviors to occur when they do not get access to the treat.
How to fix it: they can have access to other activities after the meal. You can tell the child after dinner we are going outside to play, read a book, etc. If you are using treats, you can slowly start to decrease the amounts and frequency of treats they get after a meal and have them occur more random. They may not know when the treat will occur so they will engage in the behavior of eating in case they get a treat.
4. When your child tells you, they are hungry, and you say “of course you can eat” so they go and get a granola bar. This same thing happens when they want juice, milk and any other food. They often eat in the car, while watching TV and while playing in the park. There is no rhythm or structure to eating, and the child is calling the shots on when and what they are eating.
Why it’s a mistake? They aren’t learning to eat out of hunger but learning to eat out of habit. They never really understand what hunger means but know that gets them yummy food when they want it.
How to fix it: Structure meals and snacks at predictable times and in designated places like the kitchen table.
5. Negotiating and arguing with a child - spending too much time on what they are eating is a mistake.
Why: Sometimes for children who are seeking attention by not eating they figure out they can push parents buttons and get attention for not eating.
How to fix it: Stop arguing with them about the food they are eating. Minimize discussion about eating.
*One last disclaimer - if children are at risk for failure to thrive, deficiencies in vitamins/minerals, or are eating a severely restricted list of food, get help from a nutritionist, speech therapist, occupational therapist, or behavior analyst.