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Dealing with the "Mealtime Refusnik"

​​This information is included in our Guide to Parenting At The Table. Click here to see the rest of the guide.

You may have consoled your next-door neighbor or you may have complained about the problem yourself - reluctant eaters or what we lovingly call "mealtime refusniks." Unlike the growing number of children who are overeaters and at risk for heart disease, diabetes and asthma, reluctant eaters are a more fluid group.

Of course, if this problem persists you should always talk to your pediatrician. Your family doctor may suggest a more clinical approach, based on the child's condition or may suggest that you add supplements to the small amounts of food your child is consuming. For the most part, try to stay calm and avoid over-reacting to what may be a simple food jag (wanting one type of food). And, keep in mind that children's stomachs are only as big as their fists, and their attention spans are even smaller. Staying happily at the dinner table through a two- or three-course meal is not very likely to happen.

The following ideas may help deal with your mealtime refusnik. But remember: Check with your pediatrician if necessary to rule out the need for medical attention. 

  • Camouflaged snacks. If you have a little snacker at home that eats everywhere but at the table, make sure that most of her or his snacks are nutritious. This can include such things as carrots covered in granola (be sure the carrot pieces are small) celery and peanut butter suckers and cheese-topped broccoli. These fun, nutritious foods will delight your child.
  • Table manners. Try to focus mealtime on teaching table manners as opposed to eating. By getting your child to practice appropriate social skills at the table, you may get him or her to eat more and misbehave less.
  • Few children starve themselves. There are few very young children who eat less than they need unless an adult care provider models it as appropriate behavior. If Mommy is on a diet and is constantly concerned about not eating this or that, you may see a preschooler doing the same. Otherwise, most kids will eat enough to live on.
  • Development plays a part. In the first year of life, most children consume large amounts of food. Usually, this changes drastically in the second year. Children's bodies need less fuel, and they discover independence as well as discrimination against some foods. Don't be too alarmed when baby's appetite is not what it used to be.

Did you know?The average 4-year-old asks more than 400 questions every day.

Refer to Help! There's a Toddler in the House!​ for more helpful hints.