I taught a four year old child who refused to eat any fruit or vegetables. His parents were extremely frustrated with his stubbornness, but they were also worried that if they pushed too hard, he’d become even more anxious about food, and potentially develop emotional or psychological problems. Of course, they recognized that his diet was less healthy than it should be, but they hoped he’d grow out of it. While I understood their concerns, there are many reasons why they needed to nip this problem in the bud, and find a way to get their toddler to eat a variety of foods, especially healthy ones.
These parents believed that his refusal to eat fruit and vegetables was a control issue. What he put in his mouth was an area he could control. Unfortunately, that is a red flag right there. Kids with eating disorders generally get into trouble because that is an area they alone can control. At four years old, I believe that his parents needed to find a way to encourage him to get over his issue of control.
Before seeing a psychologist, nutritionist, or other health professional, there are things parents can do first. Involving the child into decisions about his food will also give him control. Take him to the supermarket and let him choose one fruit or vegetable that he will eat. Maybe he’ll choose something exotic, like a pomegranate or artichoke. Tell him that he must taste this food. If he likes it, fantastic! If not, he doesn’t have to eat it, but he has to choose something else.
Also let him help you prepare his meal. Cook a food like carrots in several ways. Let him taste them raw with a veggie dip or dipped in peanut butter. Also, steam them or add them to chicken noodle soup. Let him help you use cookie cutters on other foods, like apples, to make the shape interesting. Wilton 101 Cookie Cutter SetApples can also be dipped in honey or sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar.
Children should also be given choices, though limited ones. He can choose between string beans and corn, or cucumbers and red peppers, but he must choose one. Of course, you must be willing to eat varied foods, to show him the importance of it. If he sees you turn your nose up at vegetables, that is the example he will follow. Always use positive reinforcement and not punishments. If he eats his vegetables for a week, he can choose a special dessert or you will take him to a movie or playground.
Also, try foods repeatedly. Just because he doesn’t like something once, doesn’t mean he won’t develop an appetite for it another time. You can also encourage him to have dinner at a friend or relative’s house where he might be too embarrassed to balk at a food. Once he tries it, he might actually like it.
Getting your child to eat a variety of foods, especially healthy ones, is important. Getting off to a good start will make his life much healthier as he gets older.