Q: How can we get our finicky four-year-old to eat what we give her? Her selective eating habits are driving us crazy. I see this as disobedience, but my spouse fears that making an issue of it will lead to eating disorders later. Help!
A: First, make sure that you and your spouse are on the same page and can work as a united team to map out and follow a plan of action. And rest easy: responding to mealtime wilfulness with appropriate consequences will not cause an eating disorder later in life.
Begin by setting firm guidelines as to what she eats, how she eats it, and how long it takes to finish a meal. Make it clear that you expect her to eat what you prepare. You can offer a choice between two equally nutritious options – say, broccoli or beans as the vegetable – but don’t allow her to pick between beans and biscuits.
Most importantly, don’t turn meals into power struggles. Just give clear, simple instructions about your expectations and then move forward with your normal mealtime routine. If you provide a wholesome selection of foods and she isn’t interested, don’t fight or force her to sit for hours at the table until she eats it. Give her a reasonable amount of time to finish her food, then put it in the refrigerator until she’s hungry. Don’t allow her to become stuck in a rut of three or four foods that are “the only things she ever eats.” She won’t starve if you hold your ground.
Note: be aware if she’s responding to certain textures – some children can be more reactive than others in their sensory world, including food.
Remember, mum and dad must agree on how to respond to this issue, and each of you needs to stick with it and follow through on the plan. Otherwise, the problem will persist and your mutual frustration level will only increase.
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