Sunday 11 July 2010


Managing Challenging Mealtimes for Toddlers

J, 16 months, is getting picky about food. He tells you clearly what his will is. He only wants to eat a particular food on the table, and ignore all the rest, such as vegetables. He only selects the baked or stir-fry food, and refuses those which are boiled. I do not wish to take one food out at a time (such as first vegetable, then rice, then meat), as we would like to have all the food on the table and eat them together. I have done some research and will be trying out the following ways to deal with it.

1. Start with small portion
Start with small portion with a variety of grain, vegetable and meat, and let the child request more food.

If he stubbornly refuses to eat certain food (such as vegetable, and you know it is a submission issue), but finish a particular food (such as meatballs or dessert), insist on him finishing his plate before re-filling it with that food and other food.

My Japanese friend, Himiko, taught me that if he throws a tantrum, bring him down from the high chair and tell him that he can come back when he has calm down and is ready to return to eat. Be consistent and don't relent. And it worked when I tried it on 5.11.2011 (2Y8M). Repeat this again and again, and if he throws a third or fourth tantrum, then this shows that he is not hungry. Take the food away and tell him that meal time is over. If he is hungry, he will learn his lesson.

2. Use your child’s name
Say, “J, place your hands on the side of the highchair please” or “J, do not drop your food” or “J, be patient, mommy is coming with your food”.

3. Move his high-chair to a boring spot
Do this when you have the time. Keep him on the high chair until his meal is done. The battle of will would began, and if this is the first time this method is used, it may take 1 ½ hour before the child surrender and eat his food.

4. Use a timerSet the timer and when it goes off, the meal is over. If your child hasn’t finished his meal, he will lose his snack or milk bottle for tomorrow.

5. Teach the concept of taking responsibility for own action
If he makes a mess under his high-chair on purpose, when the meal is over, put him on the floor and ask him to help you clean up by asking him to hand you some of the peas. Say to him, “We made a mess, so we have to clean it up together.”

6. Teach your child to sign “please” and “thank you” with his hand
With the “please” sign, your child learns how to seek what he needs by asking rather than telling you. In the context of meal time, you might want to take his little hand and sign please with him, saying to him, “Let’s do please” then give him his food or drink.

7. Keep him on highchair until the whole family is doneThis is a good habit even if it means to offer some bite-size snack or bring a toy to the highchair.

8. Relax
If your child refuses to eat vegetables and grains for a period of time, don’t make too much of an issue out of it. Continue to make mealtime relaxed and fun. His taste for vegetables and grain will return unless you turn eating them into a power struggle. This contradicts with point 1, and had made my parenting inconsistent. I have found that point 1 worked. Once one gets past the struggles described by point 1, meal time will become relaxed and fun. It would be a joy whether it is meal time at home or at someone's else place. My Japanese friend, Himiko, taught me this. I followed her advice and now I am speaking from experience, now that J is 2.5 years old. Point 8 didn't work for me until I was determined in implementing point 1 full force.

Pre-Toddlerwise by Gary Ezzo and Robert Bucknam

Toddlerwise by Gary Ezzo and Robert Bucknam

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