Food Resistant

We have a 3-year old son who is “food resistant.” He rarely seems to be hungry and consumes a very limited range of foods. At every meal, he asks for a cookie, as sweet foods are his strong preference. He is also a very slow eater and we have the most success with him eating small portions of his meals if we read continuously to him at mealtime. We have consulted a community nutritionist who advised that “healthy children don’t starve themselves” and we have followed her advice by getting our son involved in cooking with us, letting him serve himself from communal bowls on the table, eating at the table with him, refraining from commenting on his eating habits etc. We have had no success in increasing our son’s consumption of food. Our son demonstrates his dislike of foods by tipping them off his plate or throwing them, despite our telling him that he can simply hand us the offending food or tell us that he doesn’t want it and we will remove it from his plate. How can we get him to eat more healthy food?

Many children go through phases when they don’t eat a lot. When your son goes into a growth spurt he will want more. In terms of his eating, you have been doing a lot of the right things, especially by not making his eating a big issue for discussion or comment.

I’m a little confused, however if he’s serving himself, why is he still throwing things off his plate? Are these foods he’s served himself, or foods you have put on his plate? You are also sitting with him for a very long time while he eats, and reading to him to encourage him to eat. This, as well as your putting things on his plate, gives him the message that his eating is an issue for you more than it is for him. The power and attention he gets from you around eating is rewarding his behaviour.

I suggest you get a little “tougher,” not in terms of insisting that he eat, but in terms of insisting that his behaviour not inconvenience you. You need to remove the pleasurable attention from your efforts to get him to eat. Let him serve himself from a selection you provide, and don’t put anything on his plate that he hasn’t chosen. Then insist that he not throw away the food that he chooses to take. If he throws food, get him down on the floor, give him a cloth, and ask him to clean it up (with your help).

Tell him that you will leave the table half an hour after the meal starts, and show him where that is on the clock. He may choose to stay at the table and finish, or to leave his meal unfinished (and you will then get rid of it). If he doesn’t finish, don’t panic he may need to see what it feels like to be hungry before he values the food put before him. Give him cookies only after he eats something nutritious. Keep your word after half an hour ask whether he wants to stay and finish or whether he’s done. Then either throw his food out or leave him at the table, and get on with your day. As the nutritionist said, “healthy children don’t starve themselves.”

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