One of the most common problems with young children, especially around ages three to six, is at the dinner table.
Children at this age are notorious for refusing to eat food. It doesn't matter if it is Pizza or broccoli, or whether they loved it the day before. Children can be picky and often without reason. The child loves mustard, cheese, and bologna, but throws a tantrum refusing to eat all three in a sandwich. We have some handy tools for you to not only get your child to eat, but to eat healthy food:
-Withhold the drink until they have made decent progress into their meal. The stubborn child will take one bite, one sip, one bite and one sip, filling themselves up early off liquid. Children who do this are legitimately full, and it is unhealthy to force them to eat more.
-Make it simple, no need to have a battle over eating. If they refuse to eat, there is no need to argue about it or fight; this can lead to other problems outside the meal. Allow them to excuse themselves, but keep their plate. If they are hungry 30 minutes later, they can have another shot at finishing their meal.
-Hide the veggies. Add shredded spinach in the ground beef of a burger, cauliflower mixed with rice and mash potatoes, when preparing spaghetti, use veggie noodles and dice up veggies in the sauce they won’t even notice you did it.
-Place the reward treat in front of them. If they get a piece of candy for eating well, place it just past the plate so they can stare at it and have a visual goal in mind.
-They will see they can’t win and give up. Children may be stubborn at times and refuse to eat very much for a few days, but eventually, they will see they can’t win and give up. A day or two with minimal food will not have any real adverse health effects to worry about long-term.
-Enforce a three bite rule for new foods. Even if they claim to hate it, make them take a bite or two even if they do not finish it. It takes about TEN times to acquire a taste for something. Eventually, they will become more accustomed to it, but you don’t have to force them to eat all of something they genuinely do not like. There will be foods they have a strong distaste for. Be mindful to avoid those few things they prefer the least.
-Eat by example. NEVER talk about foods you hate in front of the child. Bell Peppers are the most horrid torture ever laid on the Earth, but when the child is around, I force it down to set an example.
-Make eating fun. Last night we had broccoli and chicken dinosaurs, the dinosaur was eating the ‘trees.’ Making eating fun will help a lot, they are young, they don’t have to be prim and proper at the dinner table. We can work out manners in another year or so. Baby steps people.
-Try giving them some authority. Five-year-olds are at an age where they are trying to exert authority. Give them some. When it is time for meal preparation, give them a selection of two or three things and let them choose. Also, find a way to have them help you cook, even if it is just adding a bit of salt to a burger patty. They will be proud of something they helped create, you can praise their skill, and will make them want to eat something they helped create.
Finally and most important. Children are stubborn as can be; they will fight you just for the sake of fighting you. I once took pride in how irrationally stubborn I could be, until I have been shown up by someone who learned to poopoo in the toilet just a year ago. He has shown me what willpower is. My five-year-old LOVES pancakes, his eyes light up when I make them. He refuses to eat it and challenges just to be stubborn on principal because his mom does not like them. You MUST BE MORE STUBBORN. Do not give in, do not offer them a substitute meal, do not let them have only crackers if they didn’t eat. Be firm and consistent, and they will give up.
Nothing will work perfect, and they will fight you until they grow out of it no matter what, but this will lessen the degree of being stubborn. Good luck!
Helpful links to recipes and other feeding related tips to use with your kids: