“I’m not hungry, Mom”
“I don’t like that!”
“Yuck! I hate peas!”
etc. etc. etc.

Any of this sound familiar to you? And are you finding that mealtime is stressful, with much of your attention focused on the problem eater? You’re not alone, as this is a familiar challenge for many parents.

You’re concerned about your child getting proper nutrition and worry about his/her resistance to colds and flu being lowered. Also, some kids seem thin and under-nourished and this drives you crazy.

The first thing I’d like you to think about is whether you do any of the following:

– talk about the problem in front of the child with your partner or others
– spend time at meals coaxing and possibly pressuring your child to eat
– bribing him/her or using dessert as a reward for eating
– offering snacks between meals (especially lunch and dinner) because you’re worried about your child not eating enough
– using snacks as a way to “babysit” your child when you’re out (keeping him/her happy while you get the things done you need to do)
– offering a meal before bed because he/she hasn’t eaten dinner

Also, think about what’s going on in your family. Is there another child who seems to be getting more attention? Are you a busy parent who may not be setting aside enough time to spend with your picky eater? In my own family, the problem eater was the middle child who (I finally realized after taking a parenting course) thought his brother was loved more than he was. The way he got our attention was by becoming the focal point of the dinner table when we tried to persuade him to eat. The more we paid attention to his lack of eating, the worse he got. This wasn’t a conscious plan on his part, but a misunderstood way to feel important.

What to do?

Here’s what I did and it really worked:

1. I learned to totally ignore his eating habits and did not talk about them at the table or anywhere else, especially in front of others.
2. I told him that we would only be eating at mealtimes and if he missed a meal, he would have to wait until the next one. I responded to his asking for food between meals by simply saying, “Dinner is at 6:00 pm”.
3. I made a point of giving him lots of loving attention and encouragement during the day. I also asked him if he thought his dad and I loved his brother more than we loved him and reassured him that we loved him just as much.
4. I set up a family snack time after school with a few veggie and fruit pieces and a small glass of milk or juice. NO OTHER SNACKS were offered between meals.
5. I made sure that the family sat down together at a set meal time as often as possible.
6. I served from bowls of food at the table instead of serving plates with the amounts of food I thought each one should eat.
6. I was CONSISTENT in the above actions. I found that deviating even once could set the whole thing right back to square one.
7. I had faith that the situation would turn around and didn’t give up.

My problem eater stopped attention-getting at the table. He became more interested in food, especially when allowed to serve himself. (Sometimes parents serve portions that look like Mt. Everest!)


If you really want to change your situation it’s more than possible if you assess your family situation, your own actions around your child’s food, and your child’s feelings about his place in the family. Then, take the action steps above and you’ll find mealtime will be a more pleasant experience for the whole family.

If you’d like to talk with me further about this or any other challenge you’re encountering with your kids, do take me up on my offer of a free conversation on the phone or Skype audio. Just click on the contact button and we’ll set up a time.

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