1. Don’t “face chase”. For little ones, Do: hold the spoon at “midline” and let her bring her mouth to the spoon. A turning away of the head means “No”. Get permission. Forward posture and an open mouth mean “yes”. Let her be an active mealtime participant from the start!
2. Don’t “make” kids eat. It may work in the short term but it will NEVER make them healthy eaters for life. Do: Notice when they try a new food and ask them about their experience with it. Accept their critique and move on. Don’t dwell on it.
3. Don’t spend more than 20-30 minutes at a meal. If the food is rejected, Do: offer the next meal at its scheduled time without giving in to unscheduled snacks before. Water is always an option. Hunger is a great internal motivator.
4. Don’t bargain. Aside from offering “dessert” after a well enjoyed meal, don’t promise external rewards in exchange for eating. Satiation is a natural reward we get from eating. External rewards will not likely garner a healthy physiological relationship with food. This also means we don’t need to praise kids for eating. They should not eat to please us, but to survive and thrive. Do: Again, notice when they are willing to try new things but avoid telling them they are “good” because they ate. Kids are literal folks.
5. Don’t stop offering a certain food because it was rejected once, twice, or more times. Do: Keep offering a variety of foods even if they are rejected ten times. Studies show we humans require repeated exposure to a food before it is accepted into our palate of preferred foods.
6. Don’t compare your child’s growth to the 50th percentile on the standard growth chart. Do: Find a way to be OK with them plotting their own upward curve.
There is nothing more exhausting than trying to get a child to eat as much or as well as you think they should. Eating is one of the things a typical child has complete control over, whether we want to admit it or not. Tasting, like talking and toileting, must come from within the child. We cannot get inside their little bodies and make them do any of these things. We can, however set up their environment in a way that will bring about lasting change without a daily battle of wills.
Sherry LeVota, OTR/L