Dear Dr. Rene,
Our three-and-half-year-old daughter has started to struggle over mealtimes. She is becoming extremely picky. She will not try new foods and refuses to eat dinner with us at the table.
Ginny, Mother of One
Struggles over food are another matter all together. The folks who write about food intake say it shouldn’t overlap with discipline, so all the ideas about appraoching power struggles with choices and consequences don’t apply. The good thing is, the experts tend to agree on a few guidelines to address pickiness.
The overarching guideline is; parents are in charge of what is offered, children are in charge of what and how much of that they eat. This means you provide a healthy wide range of choices at regular times and let them decide what and how much to eat once they’ve sat down to eat. Following these guidelines, they don’t have to try new foods. It is simply your job to provide a wide range of healthy choices. Keep foods in rotation. Even if they don’t like broccoli and claim they won’t ever eat it, if it is out of rotation, it is not available to try. There is a great deal more detail about these and other guidelines in How to Get Your Kids to Eat But Not Too Much by Satter.
Not sitting at the table to eat is along the lines of behavior rather than food intake, so it’s fair game in the realm of discipline to curb behaviors. This might be contribution such as having her make place cards and choose where everyone sits. This might be choices of where to sit or consequences of having to sit in the booster seat or eat when others are done.