04 August 2006

Getting a few more bites of dinner into a three year-old

Here's how Carissa gets a few more bites down the hatch:

Some nights my three year-old is more interested in getting to dessert or getting up to play than she is in eating her dinner.  I've discovered that telling her, "I bet there is NO WAY you can take 3 more bites of tuna" or "I bet there is NO WAY you can eat another bite of potatoes" etc. will keep her going for a while!

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I have a similar technique. I take the food (e.g., a green bean) and say, "I bet you can't eat this" and airplane it near their mouth and then jerk it away. It amazing how much more they will eat if they think they are "winning" it.

*Disclaimer* - Use the game in moderation else they will only want to eat this way.

Our modification on that;

Dad: Whatever you do, Lucy... DON'T EAT THAT BITE OF CHICKEN!

Lucy: [sneaky grin as she reaches for the chicken]

D: DON'T... DO.. IT!

L: [snatches chicken into her mouth and grins]

D: NOoooooOOOO!

Repeat as necessary.

I tried that, but it backfired.

My daughter basically called me out on it with a, "Yup. Guess so." And I had no where to go. :-)

I've taken to asking, politley, that she eat N bites. Where N really depends on how much she ate and how much is left.

I've had 95% success rate with just flat out asking.

The rest I offer money. One WHOLE penny per bite goes a long way.

Follow up thought on that... I think it's the number that's important. It's an end goal that's seeable.

Plus it's always a number she can count up to - which she takes as a challenge.

The eat "more" or "finsh that" is too big of a job to digest I guess...

ew.. that was bad.

Animal bites: "Can you bite as big as a crocodile?" Or a bear or a shark or a tiger, and if they take little bites I tell them I don't want any mice eating here! It usually takes care of the last bites (from their point of view anyway, once they're not interested there's no way to get them to eat anymore).

Or their Dad will tell one of them, or me, while looking the other way, "Look, Mommy, I will not let that ghost eat any of my food". Food gets stealed, giggles follow, "Oh, no! Who took my food!" Suddenly, the plate is empty (or nearly, anyway). Hope this helps.

"Races" work for drinking getting our 3 year old to drink milk. I pour a glass for her and I. On the count of three we both start to drink. And we BOTH do!

Along the same lines, if you go "This is MY bite. You can't have it. I can't wait to eat MY bite of food!"

It restaurants this really comes in handy.

I wouldn't do the racing idea with food....too big a chance that they will choke!

There's the old "Where did that go?" trick while holding the fork in front of their mouth while looking away. Can usually get 3-4 bites to "Disappear" before the novelty wears off.

I've always found that the simple "finish your plate of food or you don't get dessert" is the most powerful motivator on the planet. You just have to ensure that you set out a plate with exactly the right amount. If you're unsure, start with a little less and work your way up. They can always ask for more.

For my kids we used, take a bite for grandma, take a bite for your aunt, take a bite for mommy, take a bit for daddy, take a bite for grandpa etc. We were ussualy able to get them to clean there plate that way.

I like the lightness of most of these ideas - less stress means eating better (after all, I don't like eating when stressed, either!). However, a note: I think a lot of parents press kids this age (when their growth is slowing down and their appetite is dropping as well) to eat when they don't need to.

Here's a couple of good links on the subject:

http://www.wholesometoddlerfood.com/Toddlers.htm
http://www.childrenshospital.org/az/Site1753/mainpageS1753P0.html

(We've had to press both of our older two to eat, for different reasons. One had a feeding disorder, the other had a growth failure that dropped him from 90th%ile to 20th in 2 years... the docs would break a cold sweat if his appetite dropped... so we learned to encourage him to eat a few more bites. The older one had no hunger cues, and had to be taught how to tell when his body needed food and how much. Both experiences - plus a few rounds through the feeding clinic - have taught me that they need a lot less than we usually think at this age!)

I try to follow the approach recommended by Ellyn Satter in her wonderful books about feeding children. She says it's the parent's role to provide a variety of nutritious foods and the child's role to decide what and how much to eat. When we try to persuade kids to eat more, we are teaching them not to listen to their body's cues about when they are full. That can lead to overeating and even to weight problems.

I know it's frustrating when a toddler seems to have little to no interest in eating. I just try to trust my child's instincts, knowing that if one meal or snack is very small, he's likely to eat more at the next meal or snack.

I used to remind mine that anything they didn't eat would go to the possum that lived behind the compost heap. I don't know why that worked, but it did.

Wow, so much reverse psychology going on! It does work but what I've found is if I say, "Let's ALL take a few more bites. Ready? One, two, three, GO." and then we all take bites a chew and I say, "Again! One, two, three, GO". We do this a few times at the end of a meal when needed. By the end , we're all laughing so it's a fun way to end the meal. Way better than nagging.

Thanks, J, for mentioning Ellyn Satter's book, "Child of Mine." It has been recommended in the "Things We Like" sidebar since Parent Hacks launched. I feel her feeding advice is the best I've ever heard. The basics: the parent is in charge of the "what" and "when" of feeding, the child is in charge of "how much." (There's more to it than that -- the book is well worth a read.) We try to live by her advice in my house.

Another trick: when my youngest only wanted to eat one thing (e.g., to focus on the pasta and exclude the vegetables) we'd play a game in which she would rotate among all the different colors on her plate. This worked especially well at salad bars where there were lots of colors.

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