Guide to deal­ing with your three to five-year-old child


You went through the tod­dler phase of food tantrums, in­tro­duc­tion to solids, grad­u­at­ing from the bot­tle to the sippy cup and to a real glass. Of course, with all the drama that came in tow. But now you have a whole new ball game to play and it can be over­whelm­ing. We share some sim­ple tips to help you un­der­stand the rea­sons be­hind why your preschooler is putting you through the wringer when it comes to eat­ing

Let’s face it, lit­tle ones have a whole uni­verse of un­fa­mil­iar flavours and tex­tures to deal with as they grow older and par­ents be­gin want­ing them to try new foods. Ev­ery lit­tle guy is al­ready be­ing bom­barded with new things ev­ery day, both, with their own bodies as well as the way they re­late to things around them. So imag­ine how over­whelm­ing it can be when the most ba­sic com­fort of food is also not spared from changes. Here are some sim­ple but cru­cial point­ers to guide you when deal­ing with your three- to five-year-old child who is strug­gling with food is­sues:

1. New is not good:

As hu­mans we have evolved to be sus­pi­cious of new foods for the sake of sur­vival, and lit­tle kids are sim­ply dis­play­ing age old hu­man be­hav­iour when they re­sist any­thing new. Don’t use this to la­bel them as picky eaters, right away. Stay­ing neu­tral is more help­ful and they will learn to adapt and be more ad­ven­tur­ous with grad­ual re­peated ex­po­sure to the new food, over time.

2. Por­tions are key:

Want­ing a child to try a new food is tricky enough; don’t make the mis­take of scar­ing them with a large por­tion at the very first go. Be­gin small, ridicu­lously small if needed, like a sin­gle green bean, or a small slice of an or­ange. Make it so that even the child looks at it as a small goal to con­quer. Follow it up with some­thing they do like. Very grad­u­ally, in­crease the por­tion of the new food and slowly phase out the follow up food, un­til they start to en­joy and ask for more of the new food.

3. The rule of six:

Be­fore giv­ing up on a new food, give it at least six tries. Re­search says this is the magic num­ber for a child to start ac­cept­ing it. If meal times can get con­tentious, sim­ply choose to do this dur­ing snack times.

4. At­ten­tion-seek­ing be­hav­iour:

If not eat­ing means a child will gar­ner more at­ten­tion from par­ents, he might start to use this as a means of seek­ing at­ten­tion. Are you spend­ing enough qual­ity time with your kids? Do you check your cell phone or watch TV dur­ing meal times in­stead of fo­cus­ing on them? Ban de­vices from the ta­ble and use meal times as an oc­ca­sion to bond with your ba­bies.

5. Avoid threats and bribes. Lead by ex­am­ple:

Even a preschooler is smart enough

to know when you’re eas­ily ma­nip­u­lated and will re­sort to tears, tantrums or worse, ag­gres­sion to get out of eat­ing. Don’t be fooled but don’t re­sort to pun­ish­ments and beg­ging ei­ther, as th­ese will set off a cy­cle of reg­u­lar drama at meal times. In­stead, sim­ply model the be­hav­iour you wish the child to copy. En­list the help of older kids to openly dis­play their love of the new food as this will tempt the younger one to im­i­tate the be­hav­iour. Even in­vite over friends with kids who you know love a food your own child hates. Some­time just watch­ing a non-adult reach for a new food, makes it in­trigu­ing and less daunt­ing for your young child.

6. Flavours, tex­tures, colours:

Of­ten, par­ents can get so fo­cused on the healthy as­pect of what they’re try­ing to feed their child that they for­get kids have sen­sory needs too. Appeal to those by play­ing and ex­per­i­ment­ing with dif­fer­ent flavours, tex­tures and colours. A bor­ing bowl of peas can be made more fun if your child has to push them through a fat straw; car­rot sticks will turn in­trigu­ing if poked through salty black olives; noo­dles tinged green with spinach juice or dyed pink with beet­root juice can be­come alien worms! You don’t have to do this for ev­ery meal but at least try with the dif­fi­cult items.

7. Full means fussy:

Any kid who has been snack­ing all day and sip­ping juice is not go­ing to be hun­gry when it comes to meal time. This is why su­per­vi­sion of their food in­take is nec­es­sary be­fore jump­ing to con­clu­sions about whether they are picky.

8. Record and re­mind:

It’s not only you, but also your child, who will ben­e­fit from a reg­u­lar not­ing down of what new food they tried and how long be­fore they be­gan ac­cept­ing it into their reg­u­lar diet. Look back and re­mind your child how they came to fall in love with a cer­tain fruit or veg they used to de­test ear­lier, and use this to point out how fun it can be to try out new things. Look­ing at things from the child’s per­spec­tive can help ease the anx­i­ety that par­ents un­think­ingly sub­ject them­selves and their chil­dren to, es­pe­cially when it comes to their diet. It’s been sci­en­tif­i­cally found that chil­dren tend to stop gain­ing weight be­tween the ages of two and five. This means that their food re­quire­ments also take a hit. And when par­ents force kids to eat de­spite them not want­ing to, it can set off a cy­cle of fussy eat­ing that can travel well into the teenage and adult years. As long as your child is man­ag­ing to fuel their en­ergy in­take in a rel­a­tively-bal­anced way, there’s no need to freak out and ob­sess about it. Yes, kids in this age bracket tend to dis­play some er­ratic be­havioural pat­terns when it comes to food choices, but that’s all part of grow­ing up. They are learn­ing to make de­ci­sions for them­selves, and choos­ing what to eat and when to eat is a way of as­sert­ing this new-found need for au­ton­omy. In­ter­fer­ing, or worse, try­ing to al­ter this process can cause the child to be­come even more re­sis­tant to what you are try­ing to achieve.

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