Surviving the Non-eating Years

There comes a time in the life of every child that they decided to quit eating. Yes, you heard me right, quit eating. This is most common during the preschool years.

Logan has been going through this non-eating stage for almost a year now. It unforturnately coinsided with the day he started preschool, so at first I thought it was just a case of nerves. Sadly it wasn’t. He started turning down food right and left, and giving up what has once been favorites, like milk.

At first, I handled it like I think most mothers would – I tried to force him to eat. I tried threats, punishment, force-feeding, denying treats, but this only led to tears, tantrums and frustration for both him and me. It took time, but I soon realized that I was fighting a losing battle and that if I wanted things to change I would have to handle them differently.

The first thing I had to do was calm down and not freak out when he didn’t want to eat. My main concern  was that Logan was underweight to begin with (he had been sick) and I wanted him to regain what he had lost, so I had to come up with things that he would eat and find ways to add extra nutrition to them that he couldn’t see. It took some experimenting to find out what he would and wouldn’t eat. Thankfully, my kids generally like healthy food, so if, for example, I was preparing chickpeas in a sauce, I would keep some aside with no sauce for him since he would eat large amounts of them plain (and now all 3 of them prefer them plain, so the sauce is for hubby and I). Also, while Logan quit drinking milk, he still loved yoghurt, so the solution in that case was simply to switch the two. (Now he drinks a little milk every so often, but it is at his request. I also had to stop saying things like “You asked for it, now finish it” when he decided he only wanted a mouthful at a time.)

The second thing was that I had to think long-term. His eating habits have changed over this past year, often going from liking something to disliking it days later. Sometimes he picks up again, but mainly I ask him if he wants something or not, and I try to make sure there is always something he will eat. Many times he will also turn down favorites, or will be in the middle of a meal and just stop and not want to finish. Staying calm has helped me to be able to say, “Ok, leave it” instead of forcing him to keep eating. Sometimes he will return to eat it later, or Lila will finish it off for him.

Another thing I found was that he didn’t like eating right away in the morning. Up until he started school, I had never served breakfast as soon as he woke up. He would usually just have a cup of milk and we would eat maybe an hour later. So when he started school and had to get up earlier and eat sooner, it upset what he was used to and he freaked. It took time before he was able to eat soon after waking up. Some mornings
he didn’t eat at all, so instead I would pack him a larger snack and he usually ate that as he was super hungry
by then.

Now, one year later, he is still picky about what he eats. He is up and down about foods, but at least he has learned to say “I don’t want any more” instead of screaming when I ask him to finish. Lila is not quite 3 but is already getting pickier, though I don’t think I will have quite as much trouble with her. She is a taurus and they are known to be quite the food lovers. And Scarlett? At 16 months she will say no to foods – a lot. But then she also eats a lot and is still breastfeeding so I’m not worried about her.

So now I want to offer you the mother’s guide to surviving the non-eating years with food in your child’s tummy and your sanity intact.

1. Stay calm. Relax your stance on how much you think your child should be eating, and instead see how much they eat over a weeks time. Generally it will be fairly balanced.

2. Don’t force your child to eat. Avoid food battles at all cost. Continue to serve meals as usual and don’t make a scene if your child only wants to eat one or two bites. Children will eat when hungry, so don’t sweat it if they skip meals or snacks. They will make it up when they are ready.

3. Don’t give in on treats. If your child is like most, they probably love sweet treats, chocolate, etc. but don’t opt to only let them eat sweets or junk food just to get food into them because then you will be getting into a habit that is hard to break. Save treats for appropriate times and instead make heathy food readily available.

4. Do find out what your child will still eat. This will require that you keep your eyes and ears open at first, but after a while you will have it down. Be aware that likes and dislikes will change frequently at this age.

5. Make food rules. You may need to put some rules in place if you find your child won’t eat at mealtimes but always wants snacks at odd times. A child this age probably needs to eat 5 to 6 times a day (3 meals and 3 snacks), so make a simple poster with the timings and pictures to post on your fridge to use to teach your child about the concept of set times. You could put a clock with the arms on the time when you will serve food, then make a game of showing your child when it shows that time on your wall clock. Then serve your meals and snacks accordingly. Children at this age have no concept of time; it has to be taught.

Logan would come for snacks, and since he has always been on the skinny side, I let him have food when he wanted since I didn’t want him to lose more weight. Eventually though, I got him back on the meals-and-snacks-at-set-times routine. It is also not good to eat randomly as food needs time to digest. I always explained to Logan that if he ate so soon after last eating he might get an upset tummy and that was enough to get him to wait. It could have also had something to do with his fear of throwing up and wanting to avoid it.

6. Expect that your child will stop eating. Even if they were great eaters as toddlers and ate anything at all, expect that this will change. Expect them to give up something they loved a week ago. Expect anything, and you will be prepared for it.

7. Don’t make two meals at dinner. Dinner seems to be the time when it is hardest to get a child to join you and eat what you are serving, since at breakfast and lunch it is easier to just offer cereal or a sandwich. You don’t want to wear yourself out by making two separate meals. Instead, make sure that there is something you know your child will eat on your menu and still offer the other foods, even if you are sure they won’t like them. I always put some veggies on the kids plates and sometimes they do get eaten.

8. The most important rule: Relax. It is so important that I am repeating it. Relax. Keep yourself calm and you won’t feel so stressed out. After all, a mommy has to eat too and it is hard to eat if you are upset.

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5 Comments

  1. This is so true! My son was the best eater in the world. Until he turned 2. It's been all downhill since then.

    Reply
  2. Relax. Ain't that the truth! I am on son #4 and all have pulled this stunt. Relaxing is the best approach. As my mom always tells me…they will eat. Don't worry. They will eat. As #1 is currently not eating again (we go through this every 6 months) I am reminded to relax. Thanks!

    Reply
  3. I think those are very good tips. Sounds like you're handling Logan's eating situation the best possible way. I hear you on the "two dinners" front. I hate having to prepare 2 different meals every day, but I'm a vegan and my kids love meat so I kinda have to do it.

    Reply
  4. With my first I would follow him around and pop bites in his mouth. But with the twins I became much more practical… We'll see how it goes with #4. She's just starting solids.

    Reply
  5. I gave my son carrots for two years before he tried one….and now he eats them all the time. I think the idea of continuing to put foods on their plate works….http://lgoogoogaga.wordpress.com/2012/03/25/a-clean-break/

    Reply

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