Young girl sitting at the table eating healthy salad. Submitted photo

I’m sometimes teased that my son’s first meal was steak. My son ate so much that I’d look at those tiny baby food jars on the grocery store shelves and wonder, “who buys these?” Still, he was not a child who put on a lot of weight which meant I had to listen to his doctor admonish me that if he didn’t put on weight, my son would be diagnosed as “failure to thrive,” even though he was developing at an advanced rate in all other areas. The doctor never considered the rapid metabolism my son had inherited from his extra tall and thin dad, who ate roughly 6000 calories a day.
Then my daughter was born, and I learned that at birth, not all babies eat steak, and some don’t even finish those tiny baby food jars. Some babies eat teaspoons of food, and they’ve had enough. They may eat small bites all day or at times are perfectly happy not eating and are perfectly healthy and thriving.
What’s a parent to do? First of all, scrap the guilt. None of us are perfect. We’re all trying to learn what works best for our children. Society will judge us no matter what we do. Of course, kids shouldn’t only eat chips and drink soda. Under ideal circumstances, most don’t let that happen. What if that’s all you can afford or all they’ll eat? What if you’re so busy with work and making ends meet, you don’t notice? What if you’re so pressured and exhausted, you just don’t care? How much is enough? How much is too much?
Let’s start with the fussy eater. Are they picky or particular? Maybe our children know what they like and how it makes them feel inside.
Here are a few options that worked for me versus some I learned didn’t work.
1. Instead of saying, “make me happy and eat just one bite, then you can get down from the table,” try “eat it when you’re ready” and allow your child a set amount of time before getting down. I tried to put a couple of options in front of them and allowed them to choose. Sometimes that meant my daughter only ate sweet potatoes. Or my son tried everything but mostly ate more beans.
2. No bribing. “If you eat all of your green beans, you can have ice cream.” Bribing puts pressure on the child to please people based on what’s suitable for everyone else but not necessarily what’s right.
3. Your child is a “grazer.” That’s okay, but set limits on when this is allowed and what they can choose.
4. Sitting to eat is safer than running around with food and helps you and your child be alert to how much they are eating.
5. Teach kids about nutrition. Allow food to be fun. Allow children to cook because we know children usually eat what they make. Know there will be days when you don’t care what they eat, and that’s okay, too.

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