Many parents ask me, “How do I get my child to eat?” There are a few common variations, such as “How do I get my child to eat fruits/vegetables/another food group?”
Let’s get the bad news out of the way: if you’re trying to get your child to eat, it’s probably not going to work. Instead of stressing about this, I recommend that you feed your child according to Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility.
The Division of Responsibility consists of two simple parts:
- The parent is responsible for what, when and where the child is fed.
- The child is responsible for how much and whether to eat the foods offered by the parent.
This is also known as the Trust Model. For it to work, you have to trust your child’s appetite, let them eat as much as they want, and let them choose what they want to eat from what you have offered. The child, on the other hand, has to be provided with age-appropriate food at regular times throughout the day.
In order to ‘get’ children to eat particular foods, there are two main methods I recommend:
- Offer these foods on a regular basis — but without any pressure to eat them. For example, if your child doesn’t eat any fruit, continue to include fruit at one or two meals a day. Put it on the table without comment or encouragement that may come across as pressure from the child’s perspective.
- Children learn to eat new foods by watching us eat. Even after watching, they may not be ready to actually consume a new food. They may look at, touch, smell, taste, or spit out new foods. It may take years until they actually eat fruit or vegetables. The main thing is to accept that they will do it when they are ready. Patience is key!
Take my brother, for example. He didn’t like certain vegetables and my mum wasn’t happy about that. She tried to get him to eat them. Imagine if you were told you have to eat something that you really don’t like. Wouldn’t that make you more stubborn?
My brother would pretend to eat the foods, and then go to the toilet and spit them out. I would feel sorry for him and even eat them for him sometimes. With this conflict going on, mealtimes were unpleasant.
He eventually learned to like most foods and grew up to be an amazing cook, a true ‘foodie’ who likes most foods from simple to gourmet. So was it worth all the battles and unpleasant mealtimes? I don’t think so. Your children will learn to eat a variety of foods by repeatedly being offered a wide variety of foods. It might happen next week, but it might take years. Be patient – your child will learn to eat a variety of foods eventually, but forcing them won’t help.
If you’re still having issues with your child’s eating, or want to discuss nutrition and other food-related concerns with a professional, contact Family Food Works today on 02 9437 4752.