When your child is very picky about his food, it’s no wonder you start thinking that your precious offspring may have an eating disorder. In case with very young children, the truth of the selective eating issue is that your baby prefers certain types of food — and eats them with great pleasure — while refusing to eat other foods no matter what ones.
During the first year of life selective eating shows the real need of your baby’s body in certain food products. Many kids aged 6 to 10 months reject all kinds of vegetables vehemently and prefer eating dairy products. This kind of situation is quite natural since baby’s body may have increased demand for calcium necessary for growing bones and teeth. And, as we are sure you well know, milk and diary products provide big supply of calcium. Once again: that’s natural, absolutely normal, and shouldn’t be a reason for any fuss and attempts to stuff your child with veggie soup armed with a rock-solid opinion that it should be good for your child since your neighbor’s kid eats it.
One of the really special things about human civilization is that for people, unlike animals, eating is not just a process of biological necessity, it’s also one of the most popular ways to enjoy yourself. A child can refuse eating his lunch just because he is not hungry at the moment (has no natural need to fuel himself up) but will readily accept an offer to eat something sweet and yummy. Even when appetite is just not there, a rare kid will reject an offer to have a bite of chocolate…
But when appetite is present and your older child has a chance to choose between soup, a piece of sausage and porridge, he will pick very specific types of food. Parents often encourage this kind of behavior at first (“let him eat what he wants as long as he is eager to eat up”) and start complaining afterwards, going like “our kid refuses to eat anything but potatoes and sausages”…
It’s important to note that in most cases the selective appetite issue is not an issue at all. It’s not based on any health problems and it’s definitely caused by socio-cultural factors.
If you made a decision that your child will have soup for lunch, and he doesn’t want to want to it then a wise decision would be not to scold your kid and not to start huffing and puffing — just let your child work up his appetite peacefully. Because in 100% of cases the only medicine that will solve the selective eating issue is… hunger. It’s just important to make sure that in two or three hours you offer your kid to have some soup again. He doesn’t want to? Then your child is not hungry enough. The only complication here is your state of health: more often than not, after a kid refuses to eat his soup twice, moms and grannies need urgent psychotherapeutic help and are quite ready to throw in a towel and agree to give their precious kid some potato fries he demands.
Another problem is when selective eating is not about choosing the type of food but about choosing the way to eat it. You know, when a kid doesn’t want to eat his porridge with a spoon or drink his milk from a cup — only from a bottle dummy. Opens his mouth willingly when granny gives him a spoonful of soup but refuses to take this spoon into his hand no matter what you do. In this case hunger can help.
A particular case of selective eating is eating between meals. If it’s easy to find all the tasty things in your house (sweets, cookies, chocolates, oranges etc.) then your child will get himself a good calorie supply during hours between lunch and supper so that he wouldn’t need any supper (or even breakfast, for that matter). On one hand, wholesomeness of such diet is quite doubtful, while on the other one, there is nothing dangerous in it, provided parents won’t over-dramatize the situation and make mistakes we have already mentioned before (force-feed their kid or start looking for illnesses etc.)
If absence of appetite is a real issue you should do everything to keep your child from finding and eating food in between the main meals.
Let’s sum it all up
Never ever treat your child’s refusal to eat as a tragedy. Stop worrying; a human body is biologically fit for not taking food for several days in a row. It’s adults who turned the process of taking food into a ritual, a pleasurable routine: breakfast, dinner, supper.
Breakfast, dinner, supper… year after year. Without taking into account real needs of your body, just because you got used to it ever since you were a kid: you have to! A child’s body, not yet spoilt with standards of civilized society, lives by different rules. Rules that are natural, wise and reasonable.
The main rule is that amount of food should be equivalent to the energy spent. Mother Nature has a universal mechanism of making this rule work — the appetite. Sure, you can deceive nature and turn eating into a habit or a way to please yourself. But this way is so fundamentally wrong and unnatural that it can lead to illnesses, however sad this may sound.
You can’t indulge in your worst instincts. You can’t feed your baby just because his family has an urge to feed him at whatever cost. Don’t go looking for illnesses. Don’t make a cult of food. Your child knows better when and how much food he needs.
Don’t fuss around. Leave your pots, medical guides and cooking books alone. Forget about your TV at least for a short while. Go for a walk. Jump, jog, take some fresh air into your lungs — it will be so good for you. Just please, don’t think about food. Your child will remind you about it, take our word for it. And everything will come into its place. Your instinctive desire to feed your child will not be in conflict with his natural needs.