Eating healthy at every age

My 4 year old son refuses most foods I serve him. He nags me for snack foods from the cupboard (cheese crackers, peanut butter pretzels, snack bars) for the entire meal. I provide these foods at earlier times in the day, and I even include them as a side to our meals, but he still wants more and refuses new foods. I tell him “no, this is our meal, you can have more snacks tomorrow” and he is usually dissatisfied. I shift the conversation to something else and then we are right back to nagging. After the meal ends and I leave the table, and my husband gives him all the foods he nagged me about. My husband feels it’s better to give our son something he is willing to eat until he is full, even if it’s cheese crackers and pretzels. I worry what kind of message this is sending to our kid, and I worry even more that he eats no vegetables, meats, and only limited fresh fruits. He gets enough calories, but His list of foods is shrinking and I don’t know what to do. Any advice ??

It is very common for preschoolers to go through picky eating stages. This can make trying new foods hard and lead to times where they will only eat a handful of foods. These stages can be hard to navigate, but don’t lose hope! It’s wonderful that you are working hard to create positive food relationships for your family. Here are some more ideas to help ease tensions at mealtimes.

Making a family plan for how to manage meal and snack times can help set expectations and prevent meltdowns. Having scheduled meals and sitdown snack times can help ensure your child is hungry when meals are served.

A good way to encourage children to eat a wider variety of foods is to share family meals and snacks and model the healthy food behaviors you want them to mimic. Consistently serving a variety of foods at scheduled snack and mealtimes (including fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean proteins, and dairy or dairy alternatives alongside beloved snack foods) can help young children build confidence in trying new foods.

Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility in Feeding is a great resource for creating positive mealtimes for the whole family. In this model, the parent/caregiver chooses what is served and when, being sure to include 12 foods that their child likes. The child chooses what to eat from the table and how much. Children can eat as much as they like of any food offered at the meal or snack. Allowing children to serve themselves and eat the amount of each food that they want (even if they only choose 1 food) helps them become more confident and independent eaters.

In this model, parents/caregivers offer a variety of foods many times, without pressure. Even praise for trying something new can be discouraging to a child. Instead, try focusing on pleasant family conversation and enjoying being together.

Growing healthy eaters takes time and kids will test boundaries. However, offering a variety of new foods many times, being positive food role models, and removing the pressure (both on the parents/caregivers and on the child) creates space for positive mealtimes. If you are worried that this is more than just a phase or picky eating, you may want to talk with your child’s pediatrician.


Why can’t I feed my baby honey?

While most people older than one year of age can eat honey without problems, babies under the age of one year shouldn’t have any raw honey at all because their digestive system isn’t fully developed. Raw honey can contain spores from the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, which can lead to a rare, but serious illness called infant botulism. It is generally recommended to avoid all honey for infants, even in processed foods, as Clostridium botulinum spores can be found even in cooked foods.

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