As They Grow: Mealtime Battles

Pediatric Interactions is an LLC partner.  This post is part of their partnership with Little Lake County. Written by Clinical Director and Speech-Language Pathologist, Sarah Rosten; all thoughts and opinions belong to her.   

picky eaters vs problem feeders

Your Kids Say:

“I’m not going to eat that.”
”I don’t like broccoli.”

…and you find yourself saying:

“It’s not yucky, it’s yummy.”
“It’s healthy.”
”Just taste it or try one bite.”
”Ok, I’ll make you a third dinner choice” (even though you didn’t eat anything you’ve already asked for.)

For many of us, mealtime is a battle, one often we as parents lose. Young children have very little control in their lives, and unfortunately, two aspects they can control is what goes in and what comes out (potty training is a whole separate battle). Feeding; however, doesn’t have to be a struggle.

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In Feeding with Love and Good Sense by Ellyn Satter, the author reminds us that you are the parent, you decide when to eat, what to serve, and where to serve it, and the child decides whether and how much to eat. Meals and snacks should be scheduled and we shouldn’t allow “grazing” or eating small amounts here and there throughout the day. Grazing doesn’t help a child learn the healthy feelings of hunger and fullness.

Other advice includes:

  • Create routines around meals.
  • Allow your children to get their wiggles out before meals.
  • Have your child participate in shopping, selecting foods for meals and helping prepare.  Choices give your child a feeling of importance and control.
  • Don’t offer your child a food you don’t want them to have, but rather two choices that are ok with you.
  • Be good eating models for our children. If you say, “I can’t stand asparagus,” how can you expect your child to be open to trying it?
  • Eating together at the table is a great time for kids to be exposed to different foods and have conversations. This exposure is important because a child may have to be presented with a food more than 10 times before they eat it!
  • Make new foods interesting and relatable. You can be creative with placement, putting foods in a shape on your child’s plate, making a picture with different foods on their plate or cutting foods into different shapes.
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Photo Source:
  • Give foods fun names and create stories or games as your child is eating. Use broccoli as the tree that stands up and the child blows on it to knock it down– eating a forest may be exciting.
  • You can also point out familiar characters in TV shows or books that are eating and discuss that at meals–“Eat your carrots like Bugs Bunny did!”
  • Kids may not care that foods are “healthy” or will help them “grow,” so give them a reason…”eat your celery so that you have energy to score a goal at soccer”.
  • Don’t ask questions such as, “Do you like this food?” or  “Is it yummy?”  You may be setting yourself up for a response you don’t want.  Rather, talk about the foods, ”That carrot was crunchy and loud,” or  “Strawberries are sweeter than tomatoes.”

According to guidelines from the Institute of Medicine, after your baby’s first year, growth slows down by about 30%, and so may appetite. Infants need to eat about 35 to 50 calories per pound, while toddlers require roughly 35 to 40 calories per pound. Your child’s stomach may only be as big as your first. Start with scheduling times for your child to eat to experience hunger/fullness and provide appropriate portions.

If your child won’t eat, don’t push them. They may not be hungry, not be feeling well, have a sensitivity to the food or may not be eating for another reason and can’t verbalize it. “Forcing” your child to eat or even finish food on their plates may lead to negative food experiences. Have realistic expectations about introducing new foods. Not everyone likes the same things and we can’t expect our kids to like everything we think they should like.

Picky Eater vs. Problem Feeder: When to talk to your Doctor
Talk with your doctor if you have concerns about your child’s weight, growth or health. The suggestions above are for “picky eaters” not “problem feeders.” There are about 25% of typical developing children (up to 35% with neurodevelopmental disabilities) who have true feeding issues. According to Toomey & Associates (2015), a few signs of problem feeders include:

  • Eats less than 20 different foods
  • Usually refuses an entire category of foods
  • No longer eats foods they previously ate and not adding foods to their repertoire
  • Cries and “falls apart” when presented with new foods
  • Takes more than 25 “steps” or experiences to accept foods

PI_WB Long

Pediatric Interactions works with children with feeding issues in individual sessions and groups. This fall, we’re offering a “Taste Workshop” to explore and learn about foods in a group setting.

Taste Workshops
Each week we will explore tastes and learn vocabulary to talk about food in a group setting.  Flavors will be sampled from extremes such as a lemon to the more routine such as a strawberry.  Suggested ages: 6-10 years old.

Monday Nights,  6:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Cost: Sessions may be billed through insurance / Tuition $180 or per class $35
Please confirm with office manager [email protected]

More information can be found on our Group & Enrichment Classes page.


Pediatric Interactions and WeeBits invite families to these other upcoming programs:

Spanish Classes with Fun Fluency:
Children will learn Spanish naturally through immersion, movement, games, songs, rhythm, reading and acting out/listening to stories. Classes are taught by native speakers and experienced/certified Spanish teachers.

Parent and Tot Spanish
Thursdays, October 1 – October 22 from 10:00 a.m. – 10:45 a.m.
Cost: $45 per 4-week session (materials included)

Afterschool Immersion Spanish (Kindergarten – 4th Grade)
Wednesdays, October 7 – October 28 from 5:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.
Cost: $55 per 4-week session (materials included)

To register for classes please go to Fun Fluency and click on Registration.  If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Anne Dunn at 847-845-1166 or annemdun[at]gmail[dot]com.

Photo Source: WeeBits on Facebook
Singing and Signing Class – Photo Source: WeeBits on Facebook

Singing and Signing Class:
Singing and Signing to Encourage Communication and Socialization. Suggested age: 6 months to 3 years old, with a grown-up. Facilitated by a speech-language pathologist and handouts will be provided.

Fall, Saturdays, September 26-October 17, Ms. Shana, 9:30 a.m.-10:15 a.m. Grayslake $40
Fall, Fridays, October 16-November 6, Mrs. Jill, 9:30 a.m.-10:15 a.m.  Grayslake $40
Fall, Saturdays, October 24 – November 14, Ms. Brittany, 10:15 a.m.-11:00 a.m. McHenry (United Way) $40

Registration for two or more session will receive $5 discount. Drop-in session available ($12/class,) but child must be pre-registered. 50% discount for siblings within the same age group. Childcare may available for older/younger siblings: $5/class (registration necessary, but pay as needed)

WeeBits Enrichment Program (non-profit charity to empower and educate families to improve their child’s development and overall wellness). Additional financial assistance may be available, request can be made to: info[at]weebitsforfamilies[dot]org.

For more information contact info[at]weebitsforfamilies[dot]org or 224-360-2542


Pediatric Interactions is a Speech and Language Clinic located in Grayslake and McHenry that supports independence and self-esteem using creative therapy approaches. Pediatric Interventions provides FREE developmental screenings, individual and group therapy, classes, workshops and other resources to help children better communicate.

WeeBits is a non-profit organization bringing awareness and guidance to those families with infants/toddlers who fall outside the boundaries of existing child developmental programs. 

About Loralie 245 Articles
When Loralie isn’t out exploring with her two pint-sized adventurers you’ll often find her in front of her computer plotting to take over the world (or at least Lake County.) She appreciates good friends, good food, expensive shoes and parents who make two lanes in the drop-off/pick-up line at school. Her spirit animal is The Hobbit. She invites you to join her on her quest for unique distractions, diversions and deliciousness in this county we call home. She is the Features Editor and Marketing Director at Little Lake County.

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