(This blog was featured in Elephant Journal!  Click here to see the published version!)

Getting a child to eat can feel like playing tug of war.  Kids go through waves of being good eaters who munch down everything on their plates to barely touching foods that at one point were there favorites.  For many parents this can bring up fears and concerns about kids getting the appropriate amount of nutrition for healthy development.

Over the years I have seen how this type of motivating fear can lead parents to some not so helpful solutions.  In order to dissolve these fears and shed some light on this issue we are going to take a closer look at two opposing solutions.

For our first example we will take a look at what I like to call, “The Drive by Spooning”, where mom follows the kids around spoon in hand, shoving food in their mouths at every chance they get.  This approach ties into the fear that kids will starve and not get the proper nutrition needed for healthy development or that they will wake up in the middle of night as hungry little monsters crying out for food.

I highly recommend staying away from using this tactic as it has many downfalls and here’s why…

Kids need to learn healthy eating habits at an early age.  They are looking to their parents to guide them in the development of these habits but when a spoon is always flying around kids are not learning any boundaries around HOW to eat.  Let’s take a second to dive deeper here, healthy eating habits are not just about eating your fruits and veggies but about what I refer to as, “The How’s of Healthy Eating.”  Which are as follows:

1.  Eat meals around the same time each day

2.  Sit down to eat

2.  Eat slowly

3.  Chew thoroughly

4. Listen to when your body is full

5. Minimize snacking

6. Only eat when hungry

All too often it seems that kids are never truly hungry because they are snacking all day long.  kids need to understand what it feels like to be hungry.  Aside from all of it’s negative connotations, feeling hungry is NOT a bad thing. Our digestive systems needs to rest in between meals in order to function properly. The unfortunate truth is that with our snack obsessed society kids generally eat because things taste good not because they are actually hungry.  If you find that your little one won’t sit and eat when it’s time to, take a closer look at how much they are snacking.

Healthy eating habits need to be established at an early age because they are a good predictor of how kids will eat when they are older, possibly warding off potential eating disorders. Eating habits also affect cognitive functioning and obesity rates.  So, the next time the urge to pull a “drive by spooning” comes up remind yourself of the How’s of Healthy Eating and why they are SO important.

The next approach we’ll look at is the Stop, Start Timed Approach.  Here’s how it works, a timer is set for an hour and a half, the child has been primed to understand that if they get up they cannot eat, eating is done at the table. There is no walking around with food.  The child can get up from the table but is always encouraged to come back, because if the timer goes off, dinner is over and the food goes away.  During meal time family members share events of the day and enjoy quality conversations. (For more info on how to engage your family in quality conversation click here)

Now, at first look this may feel a bit too rigid but I for one am a big supporter of this strategy and here’s why…

For many families mealtime equals stress, the wild streak comes out.  Kids won’t listen or sit down and only eat a few bites of food.   The Stop, Start Timed Approach is a mindful approach that takes the stress out of mealtime.  Children know what the boundaries  are because the parent has outlined the expectations beforehand.  The How’s of Healthy Eating are built into this process and over time it becomes routine.

With the Stop, Start Timed Approach your little one is the ultimate decision maker on whether or not they eat.  This approach helps foster independence and also teaches good decision making skills.  If they go to bed hungry because of a bad choice one evening, I can almost guarantee you will see them sitting and eating at the table the next.

Now if you’re reading this and thinking this approach is simply too cut and dry or feeling that parental guilt well up in the pit of your stomach then here’s a small caveat to the process.  If the timer goes off and your little one complains that they are hungry give them two options, a fruit or vegetable, but stick to the rule that dinner is over.  Take baby steps and do what feels comfortable for you but make sure to be consistent in your actions and before you know it your wild eaters will be tamed and your mealtime will be STRESS-FREE!

Have any helpful suggestions to add?  Leave your comment below!



  1. I really think the Stop Start Timed approach is a good one. I went back and forth with my kids and making the whole thing less about emotions and more about “this is what we are doing now” works well. 🙂

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