child refusing to eat: why you don't have to worry if your child won't eat

Being a good parent is the hardest job in the world and it’s your responsibility to look after your child’s basic needs – sleep, oxygen, shelter and food. But what if you are unable to satisfy one of those needs?

In my case with my second born child I was confronted with a baby that had a terrible relationship with food from just a few month old. She was never really interested in food, both formula and solids and a “meal” would end in tears for both of us no matter how many “how to feed your baby” books I read or how many specialists I saw. My child just did not want to eat full stop.

What to do when your child just won’t eat

She would fill up on yoghurt and then not eat for the next few meals. There was no routine or logic to her meal choices. One day it would be only pumpkin that she loved and then the next time I gave her her “favorite” it would end up as a pumpkin mush on the floor.

This pattern of eating carried on and, with me so desperate to get calories into my petite princess, she was able to eat WHATEVER she wanted, whenever she wanted: chips for breakfast, chocolate for lunch and ice cream for dinner in the most interesting of places; on the table, in the car, sitting in the kitchen sink and my all-time-favourite in the cats basket.

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For 3 years I plied her with copious amounts of a meal replacement formula in her bottles, which is what kept me sane and gave me peace of mind that she was getting all the necessary nutrients for the day. And as she has grown (normally) and been able to communicate with me more, I have come to realise a few things :

child refusing to eat: why you don't have to worry if your child won't eat

  • Children are like animals – they are either grazers or hunters.
    • A hunter likes structure, routine and making a meal out of food. They like to master eating through familiar eating locations such as a high chair or dinner table, at a set time with repetitive foods.
    • A grazer likes to just stroll along and eat what they want, when they want and they will run at the first sign of disruption or pressure (especially from a parent ). They also like to change their minds regularly depending on the offering as they are looking for different foods.
  • Unless your child is not thriving, happy and content, then stop stressing. They are individual beings and need to be respected as individuals and not machines or cookie cut-outs of what society dictates children should be.
  • You know your child better than anybody else so when Aunty Merle tells you that your child is sick because they never eat, you can confidently tell her that times have changed and many childhood sicknesses are in fact caused by the food that they eat and not by the food that they don’t eat.
  • Don’t give up. Trust your instinct and your child to work through this minefield together.
  • Be prepared to try suggestions and new ideas which may or may not assist in your plight.

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  • Be patient with yourself and your child and always offer positive reinforcement.
  • Focus on the job at hand, which is trying to feed your child. The rest of the formalities, eating at a table, with cutlery, during family meal time, will follow.
  • Peer pressure is the most effective eating tool. When they enter playschool and they see their friends wolfing down food they too will follow suit.

child refusing to eat: what to do if your child won't eat & why you don't have to worry

  • Try to make eating fun and not a chore. Allow lots of colors, smells and textures. Allow for mess and encourage and repeat the same foods a lot.
  • Allow your child to be part of the food-making process – allow them to pick the carrot with you (even if it means picking it from the shelf at your grocery store and not your vegetable garden), clean it together, steam or prepare it and then eat it together.
  • Don’t doubt your ability as a parent. Know that your concerns mean that you are in fact the best type of parent: one who cares.
Amanda Rogaly is the Founder and Chief Mommy of #1ParentingPortal, BabyYumYum. She is passionate about empowering parenting, leveraging her own parenting journey to educate and inspire others. She was inspired to create BabyYumYum for real parents who understand the stresses and challenges of life.