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My 8 year old son refuses to eat dinner.

by Lynn
(Brisbane, Australia)

My 8 year old son absolutely refuses to eat dinner. He has never eaten red meat, and consequently he is very low in iron, but he does have boundless energy funnily enough.

He only eats chicken that has been roasted at the supermarket, not by me. Never eats vegetables. Takes one look at dinner and says "I'm not eating that!" He doesn't even try it!

I have tried lots of different things but he flatly refuses to eat and runs upstairs, usually screaming.

I am at my wit's end. What can I do?

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Healthy Eating For Kids - Part One
by: Annie Desantis

Hi Lynn,
It is very common for parents to end up in a battle with kids over food. We worry that our kids are not getting enough nutrients and if they miss meals we are convinced it will harm them.

So, what can you do? Relax about it all and trust that he will be fine! The fact that he is bouncing around happily is a good indicator that he is probably getting the fuel he needs.

However, it is easier said than done I know. We are very conditioned to our time-tabled mealtimes. In actual fact we would do much better having 6 - 8 small meals spread throughout the day. Dinner time in particular should be very light, we need more of our calories in the morning. You can try reversing dinner and breakfast! Maybe give him a steak and tomato toasted sandwich for breakfast!

Kids burn energy in bursts and snacking is the ideal way to top back up. It is also a bit of a myth that we have to have a whole range of foods at every meal. Studies of kids who were offered a wide variety of healthy food and left to their own devices, showed that over a longer period of time, children did in fact eat a good variety. It may just have been that they ate mostly fruit for three days, then protein for two etc.

Of course the important thing is offering healthy food and not giving in and letting them live on nutritionally empty junk-food.

Have a wide selection of things he is allowed to eat when he is hungry - Fruit, carrot sticks, hard boiled eggs, unsalted un-roasted nuts - hummus and vege sticks to dip into it. You can have cold sausages, or strips of meat, cold meatballs or Kofta squares.

He may well eat things you would normally serve for dinner as a snack cold after school the next day. You can turn almost anything into a dip - blend up beans or cooked spinach and cheese.

Something that works well with picky eaters, is get him involved in food preparation. Kids that have chopped a salad are much more likely to eat it. Even get him involved in food production - if he grows his own silver-beet and makes an omelet with it, he may well start eating a wider range of vegetables.

Part Two Follows . . . .

Healthy Eating For Kids - Part Two
by: Annie Desantis

The more you set up a battle with your son, the more resistant he will get. If he is medically deficient in iron, then find other ways of increasing his iron intake. Making pate is easy and maybe he will eat pate stuffed in celery or rolled up in lettuce leaves if he has made it. (Did you know Goji berries contain more iron than meat?)

Pasta sauces are another way of including lots of extra finely chopped or grated ingredients, or pizza - you can put anything at all on a pizza - try spreading a layer of pate instead of tomato paste.

Make food fun, get him toasting sesame seeds in a fry pan, and then dip banana pieces on toothpicks into them when they have cooled.

Get him to help making sushi or burritos, maybe choose a different country each week and focus on their foods.

Use chopsticks for dinner, or soup out of straws! Make a stock pot of soup and lots of chopped ingredients and everybody skewers them to cook in the stockpot.

Making kebabs with a huge range of various ingredients - anything that you can skewer!

Eat baked beans with toothpicks! Spaghetti without any utensils!

Get the idea? Kids respond far more when things are lighthearted and fun. When we get bossy and cross with them no wonder they switch off.
Switch the dynamic from struggle and pressure to eating being interesting, fun and experimental.

We want our kids to be in tune with their bodies and what they need, and yet as well meaning parents, we are telling our kids, I know best what you should eat and when you should eat. What we do instead, is train our kids out of listening to their bodies.

Part Three Follows . . . .

Health Eating For Kids - Part Three
by: Annie Desantis

There are also some fabulous books around about bodies and nutrients and what foods help us to grow.

Connie Liakos has written several books packed with activities for helping parents (or teachers) educate kids about healthy food. However, just be a bit wary of coming on too strongly about him having to eat better. Keep the focus on fun activities around food and his body and he will be learning to make better choices in spite of himself!

How to Teach Nutrition to Kids is one of Connnie's books, plus she has another I think called Broc and Roll!

Watch me grow is a book aimed at children, and the same authors have a range of books about the body, with lots of science experiments he will be fascinated with.

You may find your local library has some helpful books that will give you some ideas.

Part Four Follows . . . .

Healthy Eating For Kids - Part Four
by: Annie Desantis

Do some online research with him - research funny food or body facts like:

* How many peanuts do you need for 1 jar of peanut butter?
* *What percenage of water is there in various vegetables?
* What is the weirdest thing People eat in China, or South America (any country)
* How many eggs does a Queen honey bee lay each day?
* Where is the heart located on a prawn?
* How much does your skin weigh?
* Are coffee beans actually beans?
* How much did the biggest pumpkin weigh? (that has been recorded)
* What is the oldest known vegetable?

Try to switch the focus from pressure eating, to mealtimes being family time. Introduce some dinner table rituals or games.

Some ideas:

* Everyone takes a turn saying the best thing that happened to me today.
* Everyone says something they like about the person on their left.
* Play alphabet games - name a food beginning with A - then the next person has to think of one beginning with the LAST letter from the previous food. For example - A is for Apple - E is for Egg - G is for Goulash etc.
* Every family member takes a turn saying something they like about themselves - (a good self esteem building game)
* You can have a quiz based on the country whose food you are trying that week.
* Put music on - definitely turn TV off over dinner. Music introduces a different mood. Chew in time to the music!
* Eat with your eyes closed, or with a blindfold on and guess what you are eating. An alternative is feed each other with blindfolds on!

That should give you some ideas to introduce. Just keep it fun and enjoy your time with him. He grow out of this phase soon, and before you know it you will have a great hulking teenager eating you out of house and home!

Good luck with it all,
Annie Desantis

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