Originally posted 1 July 2010
It was all going reasonably well, dd was usually eating most of her dinner herself, sometimes using a fork and we thought we were doing well.

When ds came along, feeding time started to change, now 2 1/2 dd no longer liked sauces but we got around by just throwing the food in a sieve and running it under the cold tap.

Recently dd has started weaning and there has been a further regression in dd’s eating capabilities for eating (everything except chicken nuggets, chips and snacks) wanting us to help and feed her directly as we did ds.

My wife and I were getting increasingly frustrated and angry, not knowing wither to give in and feed her ourselves, make her sit at the table until she eats enough or just to let her down and go to bed hungry as we wouldn’t indulge her with alternative snacks.

I’ll admit initially I indulged her and feed dd myself, but as it has gone on I questioned the wisdom of this and my wife was of the same view.

So we turned to Dr. Green, who provides a refreshing dose of advice on how to tame that bundle of joy causing you to tear your last remaining hair out.

When it comes to feeding time his advice is relatively simple. He pours water on all our hard efforts to make our kids eat, all the effort we go into playing airplanes, dive bombers or other entertaining ways of getting our kids to eat is just that, entertainment and won’t get them to eat any better. Toddlers haven’t died from going on hunger strike, they will give in and eat something. He cites one conversation he had with a parent advising her that the it takes a hunger striker 68 days to die, and she should call him on day 20 if her child is still refusing to eat anything. A bit extreme maybe, but what is needed is creativity, patience and cunning.

A recent BBC program pointed out that toddlers are rather good at regulating how much they eat to meet their natural requirement (apart from treats, but then are you any better, I’m not). Some toddlers will eat like sparrows, others like vultures so there is no correct amount of food that they have to consume each day. In Ireland, like the UK we have a problem with portion size, we make our own too big and hence toddlers often sit down to too much food, leading to our current national childhood obesity problem.

So Green advises us to let our toddlers eat when they are hungry and not to force them. If a child refuses to eat anything then put the uneaten food in the fridge and if he’s hungry later simply whip it out and reheat it in the microwave.

We all want our toddlers to eat a variety of foods, but it is pointless fighting about it. We often have certain foods we don’t like and a void (Brussel Sprouts anyone?) and our toddlers are the same. The only way is to repeatedly introduce small amounts of new foods every few days until the novelty wears off. Green advises “Remember that persistence, not pressure, is the way to go”.

It also helps to make food fun:
– Engage their senses
– Use Garnishes as baits (dd will eat almost anything with ketchup on it) but cheese or yoghurt also can work
– Try to make food look more interesting
– Offer small courses rather than one huge meal
– Vary the venue (picnic in the garden etc)
– Have snacks during the day (cubes of cheese, pieces of fruit or little sandwiches)
– Get the toddler involved in making the food (dd didn’t noticed that she ate a ham sandwich and cheese cubes while she was helping me make her mum’s lunch)

Green’s last round up of advice is to avoid eating meals in front of the TV at the end of the day, focus on the toddler and the meal without distractions. Serve simple, fuss free meals, building up a repertoire of successful dishes and throw in new ones from time to time. Don’t rush, let her eat at her own pace and if necessary let her come back to it later. If she refuses to eat, don’t let her fill up on milk, sweet treats and the like, only reward her with foods she would rather have. Once it’s clear that she is not going to eat anymore, clean her up and let her down from the table, don’t wait till her plate is cleared. Finally remember, mealtimes are not only for nourishment, they are for enjoyment.

“New Toddler Taming, A parents’ guide to the first four years”, Chapter 15, Dr. Christopher Green, 2006, Vermilion.