The development of good eating habits begins when children are quite young. At the point your infant begins to eat baby food and especially at the point he begins to eat from the table, he is developing preferences of taste and patterns of eating. It is not uncommon for a grade-school child to have a long list of foods he does not like. Usually, this can be traced back to habits and patterns established in early life.
Grandmother’s old rule you try at least a spoonful of everything is applicable to children of all ages. But what if your child tries and does not like it? Encourage her to taste it again from time to time. There may be a few things your child simply never likes. Nonetheless, if the rule is she at least try everything, the “I don’t like it” list does not grow so long.
It is a good idea to occasionally and intentionally serve your toddler or preschooler something he has not had before. It is fun to encourage him to experiment with different textures, flavors, and odors. If you do this yourself in a fun way, your child develops a sense of adventure when it comes to trying new and unusual foods and expresses dislike for only a few foods. Although some people may say he is not old enough to make such an issue out of it, if you do not deal with the problem when your child is very young, it becomes nearly insurmountable by the time he is nine or ten.
How do you deal with your child who is a fussy eater, i.e., not wanting to eat when others eat, not eating enough at meals, or wanting to snack between meals? Children should not be allowed to snack for an hour or so before mealtime. By the time your child is three, it is quite reasonable to withhold between-meal snacks if he does not eat enough at meals. Tell him, “You did not finish your lunch, so you are not getting any snack.” Or, “You have to finish your dinner if you want a snack before going to bed.” Remember, young children can spoil their appetites just like adults. And children, just like adults, are sometimes less hungry than usual, sometimes more hungry. Forcing your child to eat more than he wants is generally a bad idea. In addition to running the risk of his getting ill, you are encouraging the habit of eating more than he wants. Many adults still exhibit “waist line” evidence of the old edict to “clean up your plate.”
If your child does not eat much at a particular meal, he should not be allowed to snack shortly after the meal. If he learns there are no snacks if he does not eat his meals properly, he soon learns to eat meals with everyone else. Generally, there is no reason why a four-year-old should not be expected to sit up at the table, eat a good meal, and at least try some of every dish served. If the pattern for your child varies from her norm, a problem is developing. Withhold snacks until the eating pattern improves. Insist your child at least try her vegetables before eating her potatoes. Discourage your child from separating the corn from the beans before eating succotash. Almost all children can be taught good eating habits.