Developing Good Eating Habits in Children

Well, it depends on the age of the child. Little kids who are, like, in the eighteen month to twenty-four month age range seem to go on almost no calories at all because they’re so busy exploring the world. You think they’re running on fumes sometimes. So that’s a normal child development stage; all of my kids went through that, and I see kids go through it all the time, so that’s not a time to be concerned.

There are some children, as they get older, though, who have something called Sensory Processing Disorder. Sometimes it’s a disorder, sometimes it’s just a sensitivity. Some kids are very sensitive to smell, some kids are very sensitive to taste, and some are very sensitive to the texture of the food in their mouths. So if you are noticing that kids can’t take food that has a lot of texture to it, you might start to realize that that body is receiving the texture, the feel in the mouth of the food, like, a thousand times more than the average person perceives it. And that’s a high sensory sensitivity. So don’t get mad at these kids, because they’re actually sometimes being tortured by what their senses are telling them. And occupational therapists can help kids with this, so this is a really good opportunity to have your child evaluated by an occupational therapist to see if there’s something they can do to give little increments of different types of food to the child so that, in stages, they get a little bit more tolerance for the foods built up.

Some people just live with this with their children, and they just don’t require them to sit at the table when the food smells are intense. I have one little girl whose parents I coached, she just takes her plate in the other room and she can eat where there aren’t other plates around. She can eat her own plate, but she can’t be in the smell of the other food. Isn’t that interesting? And she can’t be too close to the kitchen. So if they allow her to take her food someplace else, she can eat. So there’s all kinds of ranges.

Sometimes kids are picky just because there’s been a lot of pressure put on them to eat food. So try not to pressure. Sit down, enjoy your own food, put good food in front of the children, allow them time to eat, take the food away, and don’t make a big deal about whether they eat or not. If they’re hungry an hour later, provide a snack. Really, the natural way of eating for children is to graze, so they should have lots of different small meals during the day. A three meal a day model isn’t really built for growing children. So kind of relax about this. Control your own sense of anxiety around what they eat; don’t express it to your children, and just offer food when they’re hungry. That’s really the best way to prevent an eating disorder later on down the road.