How do I get my 3 year old to eat well?

(12 Posts)
cardiffmummy Tue 22-Jan-13 17:27:22

Hi just looking for some advice. DS is nearly 3 and we have two problems wih meals. First we are completely stuck in a rut with meal choices - he does have a reasonable variety in his diet but just won't try anything new, even if its just a variation on something he'd normally eat. Standing our ground and telling him "nothing else until breakfast" rarely makes a difference.

Secondly he just won't stay in his seat to finish his meal. Unfortunately we have an open plan living area so the TV and table are in the same area, but its not just the TV thats the problem (and its turned off at dinnertime anyway) - he'll wander off, find a toy etc etc. I'm finding mealtimes increasingly stressful. I try and just be firm but find myself getting more and more frustrated with him! Due to mine and DHs working pattern we find it difficult to sit down for a family meal in the week, but we do at weekends to try and encourage better behaviour at the table...but is making no difference. Any advice gratefully received.

Teapot13 Tue 22-Jan-13 21:39:17

I can't say much about staying in his seat -- my 3yr old is still strapped into her high chair. (If she starts acting out, though, I often take the view that she must not be hungry and take the food away.)

With regard to trying new foods, I think some fussiness at this age is normal and they outgrow it, but I have followed Ellyn Satter's book "Secrets to Feeding a Healthy Family." I highly recommend it!

The basic idea is that you prepare a meal and eat with the child. (This is not achievable in our household at every meal, either, but we do our best. Sometimes I eat with DD and just sit with DH when he comes home later.)

The parents control the timing of meals (3 meals a day and one or two planned snacks -- nothing but water at other times) and the food served. The child controls whether, and how much, he eats of any food. Make sure that there are foods like bread and butter so that a new food doesn't create too much pressure. They might not try things the first time, but just getting used to seeing it helps them recognize it the next time.

I cooked a white bean, cabbage and chorizo dish last night and didn't really think DD would eat it. I served hers on pasta, which she loves. Not only did she eat all the pasta -- therefore at least tasted all the new flavors -- she also ate all the chorizo, which was surprising to me.

The book says not to discuss eating at all, but I can't resist at least prompting her to try things, especially telling her it is similar to a food she likes. But if she doesn't eat, I say, "Well, you must not feel hungry." If she eats a lot, I say, "Well, looks like you were hungry."

There are no negotiations or substitutions. Both sets of grandparents bristle a bit when I say, "No, that's what's for lunch/dinner" and don't let them fix an alternative -- but they are also really pleased to see her dig into an unfamiliar food and eat it with enthusiasm. She wouldn't do this if I always caved in and gave her macaroni and cheese. Just serving things that you know the child will eat just narrows the circle of acceptable foods because ultimately they get sick of their favorites as well.

I don't serve dessert every day but when I do it is not dependent on whether she has eaten anything else. Dinner isn't something you gag down to get a treat -- you eat it because it's good for you.

A lot of this goes against the grain for me -- I want her to eat what I serve, and clean her plate. But she only weighs about 15.5kg, so having a small piece of cake at playgroup can make a difference in her appetite, and the last thing I want is for her to learn to eat when she doesn't feel hungry. Your post talks about "standing your ground" and being "firm" but I have learned to see it as being relaxed -- I make dinner and put it in front of her and she takes it from there. When she says, "Don't want [X]!" I say, "You don't have to eat it, but it's what's for dinner." The record was when she ate nothing but ketchup and an orange for dinner. I was disappointed putting her to bed, but she was fine!

It also really helps to have her help prepare the food. She gets really excited about trying it. She can help measure things into mixing bowls, stir, grate cheese. She can also stand on a chair with me between her and the stove if I'm cooking on the stovetop.

We didn't have a big problem starting out but I think she does really well, eating a variety of foods and trying new things.

Sorry this is such an essay! good luck

cardiffmummy Tue 22-Jan-13 21:54:01

Hi Teapot that's a really helpful reply! I think, as you say, that I need to learn to just not react too much when he doesn't eat what I've made. I do explain that its fine if he doesn't eat it but there won't be anything else until the next meal. But I probably perservere with trying to get him to eat too long!! We end up with a silly situation of me nagging him to eat and repeatedly putting him back in his seat! But he's not bothered in the slightest, it's me who's feeling frazzled! Need to keep calm!! Also think I need to address the snack issue as he is a bit of a grazer and constantly asking for a snack. Although I try to keep snacks healthy and he doesn't have them when a mealtime is approaching we could improve a bit (or possibly alot) I think! Will take a look at the book you recommend. Thanks again

Teapot13 Wed 23-Jan-13 09:21:04

Yeah, from what you say he doesn't sound hungry, and even small snacks make a difference for such little people. I think if you want him to eat his meals you're going to have to let him build up an appetite!

forevergreek Wed 30-Jan-13 15:09:16

We also do one meal choice, and only one set snack

8.30am breakfast
12.30 lunch
3.30 snack
6.30/7pm dinner

( all approx times)

JiltedJohnsJulie Thu 31-Jan-13 22:58:15

Some great advice on here already. Our dd was fussy at this age, less so now. She would try to get down but we would tell her that if she did it would be the highchair, which she hated.

We have another DC so didnt want her running around when DS was sitting and eating nicely.

We were pretty much like you but once we stopped asking her to eat, only serving favourites etc she has been so much better.

Lookslikerain Fri 01-Feb-13 16:55:16

Hi. I agree there's some good advice up-thread. We've been through similar recently. DS is just 3.

I only make 1 meal too, but I do always make sure there's at least 1 thing I know he'll eat. That might mean him picking the peas out of the pasta sauce, but it makes dinner a more positive and pleasant experience. And every now and then, something will cross-contaminate the peas and he'll taste it, realise its actually quite nice, then eat some!

If he has eaten something, or at least tried it, then I offer a pudding though this is usually only fruit or yoghurt. If he won't try the main course, then I just remove and don't offer anything else. I know it doesn't work for everyone, but I'm pretty sure he wouldn't starve himself.

He has got a lot better recently and will now try foods. I think this is, in part, due to a recent leap in his language skills so he knows what I mean when I'm asking him to try, and he now says "don't want it" when he's had enough. I therefore make sure that if he has eaten a meal, I stop offering as soon as he says he's had enough. I don't want to add any pressure.

I've also had to get my head around the fact that I actually don't think he needs as much food as I think he does! Something about being a mum just makes you want to feed people, doesn't it! smile

Lookslikerain Fri 01-Feb-13 16:58:12

Oh, and forgot, we still use a booster seat. I do often think it would be great if he still fitted the highchair to keep him in one place. I don't always strap him in but it is handy for keeping him at the table.

MsInterpret Fri 01-Feb-13 17:03:53

This advice is great - I also have a fussy dd(3) so I guess it's all normal. We try to serve what we're eating and be relaxed about her not eating it, but the relaxed bit is hard. Interesting what teapot's book said about having familiar foods out. DH esp doesn't think she should 'fill up' on bread etc but think I might give the book a read.

MsInterpret Fri 01-Feb-13 17:09:24

I wonder if there are any parents of older children around who could give us an eta of when/if fussiness likely to stop!

25? grin

JiltedJohnsJulie Fri 01-Feb-13 17:49:07

DS used to be fussy Nd for a while and would have only had cheese sandwiches if it had been up to him. He's 8 now and only refuses fresh tomato, so not quite 25 smile

brettgirl2 Sun 03-Feb-13 08:34:02

I think the fussiness is probably a gradually reducing process. Mine is nearly 4 and since 3 has got gradually better. Still not perfect but at 2 the only veg she would eat were peas and sweet corn. By about 25...... grin

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