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Coping with children not eating

Children not eating

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Ever had a lunchtime when your child will only eat olives and cucumber? (Olives? No child of the ‘70s or ‘80s liked olives till they were at least 25!) Or watched your kid survive for weeks on the breadstick-and-yogurt diet?

And is there anything more dispiriting that scraping into the bin your child’s uneaten bowl of lovingly-prepared organic chicken with un-sulphured apricots and brown rice, only to watch them chow down on your leftover prawn crackers from last night’s takeaway?

What do you do when your child refuses to eat?

Every child’s willingness to eat the right food (at the right time) seems to come and go with the tides. One minute your child is tucking into anything you put in front of them. The next thing you know, you’re ignoring the children’s menu and ordering ‘just chips’, because you know that’s all they’re going to eat anyway even if they say they are not eating at all.

There are, of course, tactics you can try to persuade your child to eat what you want them to – or sometimes, anything at all. But they won’t all work for your child, and be careful not to make mealtimes more like a war-zone than an enjoyable occasion. You’ll be the one with indigestion!

Girl refusing to eat

Tactic 1: No snacks between meals. If they’re hungry enough, they’ll eat, right? Not necessarily, and can you stand the howling in the supermarket when you’re buying food they’re not allowed to eat RIGHT NOW? If the snacks are healthy ones – fruit, breadsticks, cheese cubes – does it matter that they won’t eat at lunchtime?

Tactic 2: No pudding if you don’t eat your first course. But doesn’t this just tell them that dessert is nicer, and the main course is something to be suffered through to get a’ treat’?

Tactic 3: Incentives (aka bribery) seem to work better than withholding the ‘good stuff’ anyway – if you eat everything, you get a sweetie… Break out the stickers, or save up gold stars for meals eaten well, to get a new toy.

Tactic 4: Break the rules. Have pudding first, if that’s what gets them eating. Make it a healthy one, that combines as many food groups as possible, and at least some nutritional stuff is going in.

Tactic 5: Trick them into eating.  Put a bit of yogurt on the front of each spoonful of pureed shepherd’s pie, so they think they’re getting pudding. Tell them spaghetti is knitted by fairies, and meatballs are magic, if it helps. (Carrots make you see in the dark and sprouts give you curly hair, remember?)

Tactic 6: Make food fun. For young ones, arrange their veggies into a happy face. For older children get them involved in cooking their pizzas with monster-faces themselves. Use cookie-cutters to make sandwiches into fun shapes (don’t worry about wasting the cut-off bits; you’d be throwing them out anyway if no one eats them).

Tactic 7: Get experimental. Let them choose a new food to try – think coconuts (fun to crack open, even if they don’t like the taste); lychees (look like eyeballs once the skin’s off); and pasta shapes (orecchiette = ears for tea!) Or buy a kids’ recipe book and let your children decide the menu, and help cook it. You could even grow your own!

I’m still not eating!

But, try as you might, there will be times when your child simply won’t eat. All you can do is take deep breaths, repeat the mantra ‘it’s a phase’, and remember that no child has ever self-starved to death. And, one day, you’ll watch your hulking great teenager clearing out the fridge (again) and you’ll laugh (all the way to the shop, to re-stock).




About Alison McKay

About Alison McKay

Alison McKay is a charity PR professional with over 15 years' experience in full-time, part-time and jobshare roles. Since being made redundant while on maternity leave, she has divided her time between working for a local museum, freelance and volunteer writing, and being chief wrangler to a two-year-old mud-magnet and an almost-seven-year-old wannabe dog-care worker with a penchant for hair accessories. Alison's hobbies include yoga, reading cookery books and putting away just enough clean laundry to keep the pile below 3ft tall.

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