How do I get my son to EAT?

Hello dopers. I have a problem. My son, who will be 3 on Easter Sunday, will not eat on his own unless he is served pancakes, chicken nuggets, or a hot dog. Needless to say, we cannot serve him this constantly, so we eat many different things. If it’s not something he completely loves, he plays and eats maybe 1 biite every 5 minutes, which eventually devolves into me feeding it to him.

Excacerbating this problem is his extremely sensitive gag reflex. If I give him a bit that should be ok for him (based on how much he stuffs in when eating pancakes or hot dogs) he will gag and then sometimes actually vomit. Beleive me, a kid who vomits on his dinner does not eat much of it afterward :slight_smile: (for those of you taking this seriously, I never attempt to feed him anything he vomits on).

So it’s a tough proposition, and dinnertime takes an hour or more sometimes because he takes tiny bites and chews them up into powder form before swallowing, unless it’s something he likes.

Please help me.

Let him go hungry. Eventually he’ll eat what ever you put in front of him, just make sure he’s not snacking when you’re not watching.

In case you can’t tell I’m not a parent but that was what my parents did to me. If I didn’t like what we were served I didn’t get dinner I got over being picky. My sister didn’t and just didn’t eat some nights.

Likewise. Except that when I was a teen, we found I had food allergies. :smack:

So get him tested.

This is an extremely common problem. When I taught daycare, this happened all the time. The good news is that the kid will outgrow it.

What should you do for now, though? Take his dinner plate away after enough time. Let the hunger convince him to try again tomorrow. Let the kid starve and he’ll eat anything.

I am a parent, and I know ya love the little nipper, but I’ve gotta go with Oredigger on this one. You’ll be doing him and yourselves a big favor in the long run.

Sounds like you should probably just stop feeding him pancakes, chicken nuggets, and hot dogs for a while. He’s probably discovered that if he refuses to eat anything else, you don’t want to see him starving and you’ll eventually feed him those foods.

So yeah, the whole “eat this or nothing” thing works pretty well, be it on pets or children. Survival instincts will eventually kick in and he’ll eat. :slight_smile:

Offer him whatever is served to everyone else. Make it clear it is his choice whether he eats it or not. When dinner time is done, clear the table. If he did not eat, he gets nothing more until the next meal.

The trick here is to remain calm and be consistent. Never make a big deal about it, and never waver. He will not starve. He will not get scurvy. He will not call Child Protective Services on you.

Easier said than done, I know. But it can - and should - be done.

When I was a kid, I was always offered two choices for dinner: take it or leave it.

(BTW, make sure he is drinking enough fluids; you don’t want to mess around there)

Good luck!

We struggle with the same thing with long, drawn out dinners, although my daughter is not as picky as your son seems to be.

A couple things that we find help. First, make sure he is actually hungry at dinner time, i.e. no snacks for two hours before dinner. Second, put an amount of food on his plate that can he can be reasonably expected to eat, so that he isn’t overwhelmed. Third, if he doesn’t eat , he doesn’t eat. He can feed himself, do not play his games by feeding him. Lastly, set a time limit for dinner. You don’t want to make him feel like he needs to cram the food down, but really 30-45 is more than adequate.

Yep - just another note of support for the good posts above. Right now - the boy is in control and you are basically a short-order cook. It’s understandable - nobody wants to see their kid go hungry. But your actions (making him what he wants) are simply reinforcing his behavior. He has learned that if he fights enough - he’ll get what he wants.

With our kids, we have always served them whatever it is that we are having. They don’t have to eat it - that’s their choice. But we never make them a special meal. The only thing we require is that they have a small amount of vegetables before they leave the table. This means that if their dinner is 2 small carrots - so be it. And if dinner is something they really like - they just have to finish their vegetables before they get seconds. We also have to be careful with snacks, and limit what they eat before dinner time.

You’re in a tough spot - because you’ve inadvertently trained him by reinforcing his behavior. In my experience, this is very common. But you can totally change this. It might be a tough couple evenings at the dinner table. But the sooner you make the change, the happier everyone will be.

Pretty much this, except that if he’s hungry after dinner, I’d offer him some more of what you had at dinner and give him the option of eating it now.

Also, does he like dip? A lot of times picky eaters will try different foods if they can dip them in something, because dipping is fun. Dip can be anything. Yogurt, applesauce, salsa, ketchup, whatever. So your kid wants ketchup on everything - as long as “everything” is a reasonably varied and nutritious diet, so what?

And yes, I would not force him to eat. If he’s not hungry, then meh, clear the plates and move on. At 3, kids are very interested in doing anything that gives them a little bit of power and control over their lives, so don’t let mealtime turn into a power struggle.

Get rid of the pancakes, chicken nuggets, and hot dogs, too. If he asks for them, shrug and say, “Sorry, we’re out! Want to try [insert other food here]?”

3-year-olds really don’t need that much food, and if he’s eating a bite here and a bite there of other things, that might well be enough for him. I have often heard it repeated that you have to present a new food to a kid up to ten times before they will accept it, so just keep trying. Short of having a physical problem (do have him checked for food allergies), he will not starve himself.

Good luck!

I’m the parent of a 13yo who still has a sensitive nose and palate. yet she loves to cook (how to get a pciky eater to eat, let them cook!) and makes a mean eggplant parmesana, though she won’t tastemore than a bite of it.

This is very important, don’t make a battle over mealtimes, don’t feed him, cajole or make up silly games to trick him into eating his food. He’s still learning to eat really, so put a variety on his plate, include a small portion of his favorites and what everyone else is eating. Then leave him alone! He’ll eat what he wants, and will get used to seeing different stuff on his plate.

Don’t make his appetite the focus of your mealtime, and discourage others from making a fuss as well.Do have healthy snacks available during the day, and use positive reinforcement. I may get drowned out by chorus of dopers, but I say respect his palate, don’t cater to his every whim, but be flexible.

Slightly off-topic, but I was at a restaurant with family once when Whatsit Jr. was about 3 years old. My brother was cajoling the little guy into eating more of his broccoli, which he had left mostly untouched. He was doing little “here comes the airplane” tricks and really pulling out all the stops. Finally, success! He got Whatsit Jr. to eat all of the broccoli! But before he could bask in glory, Whatsit Jr. rather spectacularly revealed that he was coming down with a bad stomach virus, by depositing all of that broccoli all over the table. And the chair. And his coat. And my coat. And the floor.

That was the very last time I ever tried to trick any of my kids into eating more food. (Or allowed anyone else to!)

If your child has a history of what they call oral or tactile defensiveness (cannot tolerate being touched, cannot tolerate certain textures) or has other issues suggesting sensory integration issues or food allergies, you need more help than you can get on a message board. These all assume that this gagging and vomiting is not a recent development but has been going on in one form or another since he was a baby.

In that case my advice would be different. It would be, have him medically evaluated. I assume this is not the problem as he will eat foods he does not like, only he likes to torture you while doing so.

I also assume that you have not had any major uphevals recently which would cause him to need more control. A 3 year old can really only control what goes in and what comes out adn I would not like to see you solve one symptom only to set off another one. In that case my advice would also be diferent, it would be, try to address the problem and roll a little with the food thing in the mean time.

Otherwise, I would set the table, require him to sit at the table, put his food in front of him, clear the table when dinner is over. Happily. Cheerily. Do not talk about food or respond to his eating habits at table, other than as you otherwise would in terms of table manners and so on. Nobody wants diner to be a war zone. Or a puppet theater.

I have always made a practice of telling my kids when the rules get changed and why beforehand, it seems only fair. So I suggest you tell him the morning of Day One and then start with lunchtime. If the problem is not resolved in fairly short order I would proceed to consider numbers 1 and 2 above.

Making up interesting names for foods, though, does work, as described in this post and this study.

Thanks for all the advice. It’s heartbreaking later to hear this really jolly kid complain that “I’m really hungry” and he doesn’t seem to be to the point where he conencts actions he takes hours earlier to his feelings now, but I guess we’ll have to give it a try.

Also, for the record, he eats what we eat…he does not get hot dogs/chicken nuggets/pancakes at every meal. It’s just if he DOES get those, he wolfs them down.

Two different, but relevant stories. I was once baby-sitting a child whose parents swore would only eat chicken fingers, french fries and broccoli, so that is what they fed him. When I watched him (with parental approval) I fed him following the above suggestions. He ate what I ate and had 30 minutes to do so or the food went away and he didn’t get to eat until the next meal or snack time. I stuck to a really strict feeding schedule so he would know exactly how far away that was. After a couple weeks, he would eat what I put in front of him with no problem. His parents, however, could still only get him to eat chicken fingers, fries and broccoli. They gave in when he wouldn’t eat and made him what he wanted.

Conversely, I have a friend whose parents forced her to eat vegetables for years, despite her claims of adverse physical reactions to them. They always said she was just making it up. They would have full on wars, including her sitting at the table for hours, etc. Years later, she was allergy tested and it turns out she is allergic to pretty much all (uncooked) fruits and vegetables except citrus and coffee.

So, moral of my stories, follow the schedule and eating plan listed above, but you might also want to get him evaluated, just in case.

If he’s not making the connection then you have to make it for him: “Oh, then at dinner you should try to eat more!”.

About hours before, though…at three, both my kids ate something every two hours to two and a half hours. How long is he going between offers of food or drink?

I think he has inadvertently trained the OP.

Some reverse psychology might be in order. “Oh, of course you won’t like X, it’s grown-up food. Little kids don’t like it”. He might eat it to show you what a big boy he is. Comment on what a big boy he is for eating X.

Most kids want to show you how big and grown-up they are. Let them do that by eating the foods you want them to eat.

I might suggest the advice from Ms. Blume, esteemed child expert:

Eat it, or wear it.

Then again, maybe I won’t.