HELP! My Child Won't Eat: 4 Schools of Thought to Make It Easier!

There are a many different schools of thought regarding kids and eating. Some parents feel that kids need to explore the world of food and they should eat anything they want. Some parents feel that children should eat healthy choices, and what mom and dad eat is what the children should eat as well.
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Funny sandwich for kids lunch on a table
Funny sandwich for kids lunch on a table

So you have a child who just won't eat. Many kids will go through that picky eater stage and some will even remain that way into adulthood. I knew a child who decided at the age of four that she just didn't want to eat anything with eyes, and so she became and stayed a Vegetarian well into her twenties.

I also have known kids who won't eat anything that's orange, green, brown, or squishy. There are so many things that can turn a child off to one type of food or another, and, as parents, we sort of have to figure out how best to navigate it and what makes us most comfortable.

There are a many different schools of thought regarding kids and eating. Some parents feel that kids need to explore the world of food and they should eat anything they want. Some parents feel that children should eat healthy choices, and what mom and dad eat is what the children should eat as well. Still others feel that kids need a well-rounded diet regardless of what food choices they have, and they will work to make sure they get it. If they want to be a Vegetarian PARENTS will send veggies, tofu, and fruit to school.

For the most part, and most pediatricians and grandmas seem to agree, if a child is hungry, they will eventually eat. So don't be overly concerned if you have a child who barely eats or skips a meal here or there. However, whenever a child changes their eating habits for more than a few days, I always feel that it's better to err on the side of caution and check with your pediatrician to rule out anything that might be concerning. For the most part, when a child won't eat something, it usually comes down to being in control.

Children like to know that they have some say over things, and they also like to know that in this crazy world, where things can sometimes seem upside-down, there are things they can control all the time. One of those things is the food they eat. So what do you do when your child never seems hungry, only wants to eat junk food, or has so many food aversions that you become a short order cook at home? There isn't one right answer. You have to decide what you value as a family, how much choice you are willing to give your child, and what tolerance you have for offering more choices for lunch and dinner than your local diner. So which parent will you be?

1. You have two choices, TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT
Unless a child has an allergy or a food aversion so dire that it causes them to become ill, many parents will go with the Take it or Leave it approach to dining. Fixing your child a meal that you feel is appropriate, healthy and acceptable with no choice is one way to make sure you won't have to prepare too many dishes. The everyone eats the same thing approach takes the guesswork out of meal planning for your child, and also ensures that they are trying various foods. It's also not a bad way for your child to actually find out what foods they like and don't like. When a child has to try various foods, they have the opportunity to eat things they might ordinarily turn their nose up at, simply because it looks funny, smells different or just sounds weird.

2. TRY IT, YOU'LL LIKE IT (and if you don't we have Mac and Cheese)
This approach is similar to the TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT approach. However, it gives your child a little bit more control, and still manages to keep mom sane without too many other choices to have to prepare. If you make something for your child with the understanding that if they don't care for it, they do have something comfortable to fall back on, you may just be pleasantly surprised. Often times, kids just need to know that they have an option and that they have some control over the food they are going to eat. That alone will be enough to get them to open up their mouths and try something you would like them to try.

If you are not totally against giving your child some say over what they would like to eat at home or at school, shopping together is a nice way to compromise. Going to the food store with your child will give them some control over what they eat, and working together to come up with a menu creates something that is both yummy for them and acceptable to you. By looking at food choices together you can get a feel for what your child enjoys eating and also use the trip as an opportunity to talk about healthy eating habits and why you both feel the way you do about certain foods. If you child says they won't eat things that are green, ask them why? What is it about green food that bothers you? Can we look around and see if we can find one green thing you might like? Start small and eventually try to build up that list of acceptable green foods. For example, perhaps your child tried Asparagus once and didn't care for it, but what if they tried little green trees (yes, asparagus!), sautéed in soy sauce? Or perhaps broccoli might be ok!

Some children just don't have the same schedule for hunger as adults do and they just can't eat when we do. If your child is 5 or older and you just want your child to "eat something" try leaving it up to them. Stock your refrigerator with things they like, that are easy to eat, and they can grab for themselves. Having cut up fruit and veggies, milk, juice boxes or small waters handy, or fortified cereal and child appropriate protein bars might be just enough to keep your child healthy and energized until they move to that stage where they can sit with you for an extended meal. Perhaps you give your child some free days where they can have a noshing dinner on their own, and a formal dinner with you on other set nights. You might also ask your child to provide a menu of things they especially love for one or two nights of the week that they will be excited to participate in.

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