Alternative eating for kids
Identify what your child is getting out of acting and eating this way and provide alternatives.
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It may surprise you to find out that most parents don’t know what motivates their kids to eat the way they do.  We think it boils down to taste, but it doesn’t.  In fact, most kids don’t really know what they like.  If you have ever had a kid stop liking something mid-meal, you know what I’m talking about.
    Now it is true that children do have some genuine likes and dislike, but they don’t have as many as they report.  Indeed, when a child refuses to eat something, it’s rarely about the food.  More often than not it reflects some feelings your child is having.  Is she scared something is going to be yucky, is he cautious about new things in general, or does she want to engage you in a power struggle.
    Instead of defining your child’s refusal to eat as a scuffle over what is on the plate, try considering your children’s habits — the what, why, when and how much of eating — and their motivations for adopting these behaviours.  You will more easily see why they approach food the way they do and then you can develop an effective strategy for change.
    Here are some things to consider:
•    Is your child vying for control?  If so, redirect her energies by giving her appropriate control.  Ask: "Which of these two foods would you like to have?",  "Choose 2 from the 3 bowls on the table."  "Would you like to eat now or in 10 minutes?"  The key is for you to set the overall structure.  Then, the more ways you can give away control over small details the more successful you’ll be.

•    Is your child naturally adventurous?  If not, then find ways to make new food experiences less foreign.  Tell your child before the meal that a new food is coming.  Describe what it will taste, smell, and even feel like.  Compare it to something your child already eats.  And remember, always give your child permission to spit it out; he should never have to swallow.

•    Does your child say, “I don’t like it” a lot? Start teaching her other ways to express her objection — “I don’t feel like trying something new right now,” “It looks yucky,” “I don’t like squishy foods,” — that way “I don’t like it,” won’t be the only trick in town.  And instead of saying, “Just try it.  If you don’t like it you don’t have to eat it,” say this instead: “Try a little bit and tell me what it tastes like.”

Read more:
Step 1: Develop a successful mentality
Step 2: Think Big! Decide what habits you want your children to have when they grow up and teach these habits now
Step 4: Identify what is holding you hostage and develop strategy for coping
Step 5: Develop a plan for change

Dina R. Rose, PhD, is an American sociologist who specialises in children and food. She continued her research while in South Africa with her family for a sabbatical year. Dina will be returning to South Africa in August and is available to address groups of parents on food and parenting issues. If you are interested in arranging a visit from Dina for your school or parent group, mail Dina on


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