Feeding Problem or Picky Eater? Solving the Dinner Dilemma
“When he gets hungry enough, he’ll eat.”
“We don’t play with our food. We eat it.”
“Kids can live on mac and cheese. Can’t they?”
Are you guilty of using one of these phrases? If so, then you’ve probably faced the high-chair hero. He won’t open his mouth for anything or anyone – not even if Sponge Bob himself were the one holding the spoon. He gives you the trademark head turn. He cries big crocodile tears and repeats the word “no” over and over again. Welcome to the dinner dilemma!
At some point, a child learns to test his or her boundaries, and, unfortunately, the perfect place to try to test boundaries is the family dinner table. Suddenly you’re scouring the cupboards, combing the fridge, offering every possible food just to get your “stubborn” kid to eat.
As a parent, what can you do?
- Realize you’re not alone
- Praise yourself for your efforts
- Devise a mealtime game plan
- Recruit support from your partner
Try these tips to make mealtime more pleasant:
- Establish a routine. Offer four to six small meals a day, at the same time each day.
- Start with hand washing. Getting children involved in this process sets them up for a lifetime of good hygiene habits and prepares them for coming to the table each and every time.
- Eat at a table. There is no better way to shape a child’s behavior than leading by example. By routinely sitting down and enjoying a meal together, you establish predictability, and kids crave predictability.
- Offer primarily preferred foods, but also place a small portion of a newer food on your child’s plate. It may take up to a dozen times before your child shows interest in this food, but be patient.
- Talk about the foods you are eating. Describe them by color, shape, temperature, texture and taste. Avoid subjective descriptions like “good” and “yummy.” Let your child be the judge.
- Be truthful, be honest and be aware that you and your child may not have the same likes and dislikes when it comes to food.
- Involve your child in clean-up. Even if you place the trash can near the dinner table and let your little one scrape his or her plate off, you are still establishing and maintaining a routine.
It is important to note that while children crave routines and predictability, adults yearn for variety. It is an awful pairing. Try your best, be patient and realize you’re human.
So, you’ve attempted to conquer the dinner dilemma and your child is either not gaining weight, not progressing to table foods, refusing all but one food group or continuing to demand the same foods day after day. You may need some extra help.
Luckily, Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network offers inpatient and outpatient feeding therapy. An evaluation performed by an occupational therapist and a speech language pathologist with advanced training in feeding and eating interventions will help to make sense of the situation for you and your child. If ongoing feeding therapy is recommended, your child will receive services at a frequency most appropriate for his or her needs. You will learn:
- custom-tailored strategies to try at home
- suggestions regarding how, when and what to feed your child
- ideas on how to explain your child’s needs to friends and family members
- frequent weight checks for your child