There are so many reasons why kids refuse to eat. Timing and teething are two big ones, but also age! Usually between 18 and 24 months of age, toddlers start to assert their new-found independence and assertiveness at the table. They also become more cognitively mature and are able to analyze and process detail like colour, texture and taste more than they could previously. So, if your once fantastic eater has suddenly developed picky eating habits, don’t be surprised. It’s completely normal and there is something you can do about it!
Setting mealtime rules and boundaries is important in ensuring that the feeding dynamics are clear and that the division of responsibility is followed. Your responsibility as a parent is to provide the where, when and what as it relates to feeding. It is your child’s responsibility to decide if and how much food they consume. This allows eating times to be pleasant and positive, while allowing your child to grow predictably.
Here are four phrases you can use to help your child become more confident at the dinner table:
• “What was your favourite part of the day?” Take the focus off the food. As soon as you start encouraging your child to eat, the sooner they will start to do the opposite. Instead, keep the pressure off. Ask them about their day and hopefully they will open up — you never know what you might learn!
• “It’s okay if you don’t want to eat, but you still need to come to the table. Meal time is also about family time.” Invite your child to the table for family time — this will help them feel at ease at the dinner table. It’s important to remember that they’re still only little humans. Try viewing food through toddler eyes. If the food you’re offering is new, it might also be overwhelming to your child. Imagine seeing a kiwi for the first time! Don’t become a short order cook or cater to your picky eater, but do remember that food can sometimes be a little scary to kids. It is a good rule of thumb to always include a food you know your child will eat at every meal.
• “Would you like to serve yourself tonight?” Serving meals family style in serving bowls and allowing children to serve themselves (with help, when necessary) sets the stage for more relaxed and enjoyable family meal times. Allowing kids to serve themselves takes the pressure off and puts the kids in control of how much they eat.
• “How does your tummy feel?” This question allows your child to communicate if they’re hungry, full or even nervous! The part that parents often find frustrating is actually listening to their child when they say they’re hungry or full. It’s up to your kids to determine if they need more food or if they are done.