Food power struggle with your baby or toddler can start very early. One mom I talked to said:
“My baby doesn’t really like solid foods, so I have to force the spoon into her mouth.”
Sounds bad? Or sounds like your baby? This is much more common than you might think.
Well, it’s easy when you’re not in this mother’s situation to understand that this is not the way to create positive eating habits. But if you’ve had a very picky child, it is also easy to understand this mom’s desperation and frustration. And maybe worry over that the baby does not get the nutrition she needs.
Power struggles and food fights at the dinner table can really be endless unless you take control of this situation. And by taking control I do not mean forcing your child to eat.
Below you’ll find some tips on how to avoid food fights with your child at mealtime.
Checklist To Avoid Food Power Struggle With Your Baby or Toddler
- Children are picky eaters for good reasons
- Time considerations
- Where to sit
- Avoid distractions
- Encourage, don’t force
- A fun conversation
- The cutlery
- What to serve
- The child’s choice
- Praise and consolation
- Eating together
- Serving the food
Children are picky eaters for good reasons
Before going into the actual, practical tips on how to avoid food power struggles with children, I want you to take a step back and consider why children are picky with new foods.
The reason is that it makes perfect sense to survive!
I have never heard about babies that are picky when it comes to breast milk, but for other types of foods; yes. And it is common. 14-50% of all parents to preschoolers identify their children as picky eaters.
Up to 50%… Then you have to agree that being hesitant to eating some foods is probably normal rather than a problem. Expecting a baby or toddler to eat everything without a struggle, would be as realistic to expect all 10-month-old babies to walk!
From an evolutionary perspective, it is perfect that young children refuse to eat new things or to eat when they are not hungry. It made them survive!
So before you make a problem out of your child’s unwillingness to eat, remember that this behavior is one of the reasons your ancestors actually survived!
Let the meal take its time. Time is important. Allocate enough time for the meal so that both you and your child can eat without stress.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but babies, toddlers, preschooler, and even school kids, simply can’t hurry up. It’s like they have their own pace, and asking the to hurry up seems to make them slow down! My theory is that when we try to make them do something faster, we just complicate things for them. So whatever they are up to will actually take more time. So, let your baby or toddler eat at his or her pace – whatever that is. If you are in a hurry – serve less food on the plate and then a healthy snack on the go.
Where to sit
Make sure your child sits well.
To have a steady chair, a high chair for babies, is important. If your baby can hardly see the food or if you keep worrying that he or she will fall off the chair, your meal will be disturbed and your child will be distracted.
Also, as young children tend to love routines, having their own place to sit is good.
Avoid things that can distract your child, such as toys and the TV.
Take away all toys and turn the TV off. Make up your mind that the meals are for eating and communicating. Not for playing. Otherwise, you’ll soon be engaged in power struggles over which program to watch or who can play with a certain toy.
Encourage, don’t force
Encourage our child to try new foods, but never force him or her.
Children generally learn to like food that they eat often. If your child is not given the opportunity to try different tastes during his or her first two years of living, the risk is higher that your baby will be pickier later on.
The first reaction that a child of any age usually has when offered new foods is “I don’t like this!“.
Babies frown and spit. And then sometimes they gape for more.
Older children might even refuse to taste anything new. They are completely sure that it will taste awful.
Try to make new foods interesting and be content even if your child only tastes a tiny little piece on his finger the first time and make a bad face.
And don’t force ever force your child! Studies claim that children need to taste something new at least five times before they just might relax and like it. So have patience!
If you’re just about to start with solid foods for your baby, click here for some simple baby food recipes.
A fun conversation
Talk about nice things, not about problems, especially the children’s problems. Talking about awkward things doesn’t help the appetite. Your child will feel uncomfortable, will lose his or her appetite, and soon the food power struggle is about to start.
Adjust your child’s cutlery to his or her level of development. For babies younger than 12 to 15 months, it is often the easiest to let them use their hands. Or a spoon if they want to. Or a combination of hand and spoon. :-)
Later on, the opposite is often true. Being allowed to use the same plates, glasses, and cutlery as the adults do, can really make a 2-year-old want to eat more.
And later on, NOT having the same plate et cetera as the rest of the family would be an insult and a completely logical reason to put up a food power struggle for the child!
What to serve
It is very common that the food power struggle starts over some foods that the child refuses to try.
Make a responsible choice on what food and drinks you serve. With responsible, I don’t only mean healthy. but also to include at least one type of food in the meal that you know that your child will like.
If everything is new or something your baby does not like, he or she will not be able to become full and have a pleasant experience.
It is also much easier for your child to dare to taste something new if it is combined with something he or she really likes.
For older kids, you can try to agree on a “Tryout Tuesday” or something similar, when they agree to try at least one new type of foods. And of course, you will be very positive every time they dare trying a new taste.
The child’s choice
Let your child decide if he is hungry and how much he wants to eat.
This is a great way to avoid a food power struggle and it is also one of the hardest rules to follow as a parent.
Children don’t starve themselves. If your child eats nothing at one meal, he’ll compensate it at another.
And no forcing of the spoon into a baby’s mouth!
Remember, when breastfeeding (if you did or do that), you really have no clue how much your baby eats. Continue to let your baby decide how much food is enough.
Praise and consolation
It is very common to praise a child for eating or to use something sweets for example for consolation and distraction when a kid is sad.
Don’t do any of this!
Eating is and should be very natural. A healthy child will eat just enough if he’s allowed to decide for himself.
Don’t teach your child to be consoled by eating. And don’t teach your child to go against his or her sense of being hungry or not by praising him or her for finishing the plate.
Give praise for daring to try something new, because that takes courage for a little one. But that’s about it when it comes for praising for eating!
Eating together is much nicer than eating alone. And more inspiring! Studies have shown that children that don’t eat together with adults tend to be pickier with what they want to eat.
Serving the food
Serve the food in a nice way. Children often like colorful napkins and nicely set tables. Also use your fantasy to create spaghetti hair, cucumber stars, happy sauce mouths on the plate, etc. A great way to make your child want to eat the foods.
The food power struggle is more common for toddlers than babies. Still, starting early with trying to implement good routines for nice meals will be of great help now and later.
PS. This online course on positive parenting has great tools for food power struggle with toddlers, as well as tantrums and lots of other behaviors. It is a great course! They also offer completely free webinars, so be sure to check it out!
These were my tips on how to handle and avoid the food power struggles with babies, toddler and older children too!
If you have additional ideas on how to avoid food fights with your child, or if you’ve tried these ideas, please share by leaving a comment below!