North Dakota State University
NDSU Extension Service



Children and Eating

Parents are responsible for what is presented to eat and the manner in which it is presented.
Children are responsible for how much and even whether they eat.

Ellyn Satter, How to Get Your Kid to Eat...But Not Too Much


If your preschool child continued to double his body weight as rapidly as he did in infancy, he would weigh hundreds of pounds by kindergarten. It makes sense then that, even though he is growing, he would eat less and grow more slowly after infancy.

A preschooler's habit of not eating as voraciously as in younger days often causes alarm in parents. In their worry, parents tend to give the situation a lot of attention which in turn causes the child to refuse food more to get the attention. Or the child may simply wish to assert his independent thinking skills.

Sometimes parents go overboard trying to get the child to eat. This may come in the form of extra treats to keep her from "starving" before morning, bribes, rewards, fixing only the foods she will eat and, of course, favorite fast food restaurants on a regular basis.

Sometimes the attention comes in more severe negative ways. The child is threatened, spanked or sent away from the table. Snacks are withheld, and everyone goes to bed sad.


What Can Parents Do?

Children pick up food habits from their parents. These habits children develop can be positive or negative. When adults drink soda and expect that children will happily drink milk, parents will be disappointed with the outcome. Parents need to eat a variety of healthy foods at meal and snack times with their children.

Prepare a variety of foods every day. When your child sees different foods being enjoyed by the family, she will eventually get curious enough to try some if she is not being forced or cajoled. Perhaps the first time you serve brussels sprouts your child will look at them, the second time she will look and smell them, and the third time one might even make it to her plate to cut and feel. Just be sure to keep serving them from time to time and let the little "scientist" make her discovery when she's ready.

Have regular meal and snack times that your child can count on. Serve only nutritious foods and then no matter what he chooses he will choose wisely. Keep the empty calorie snacks out of your home if you don't want them eaten.

Don't become a short order cook or a waiter for your child. Plan nutritious, attractive meals and expect that everyone will try new foods at their own pace. Always serve a favorite vegetable, bread or fruit along with new recipes so the child will have something to eat even if she decides not to try the main fare. Let her get the ketchup herself if she requires it and you are already seated. Let your preschooler do as much for herself as she can.

If you are coming home from a day away, have a piece of fruit or fresh vegetables waiting to share before dinner preparation begins. Soups and salads, fruit kabobs on pretzel sticks and cheese can all be served to keep peace until the meal is ready.

Include children in growing, buying and preparing food when possible. Children like separate foods better than mixtures because they can tell what they are eating. The same principle applies when they are helping with the cooking.

Television, radio, other loud music, reading materials, telephones and doorbells are intruders to your family meals. Hang a "Do not disturb" sign on the door at mealtime, unplug the phone and turn off the noise.

Healthy families share family meals. Pleasant memories are made when all members contribute their thoughts and feelings about their day, share funny stories and celebrate traditions. Developing happy and sociable mealtimes is much more important than forcing a child to eat three peas. Consider your goals for eating together now and in the future.


Additional Reading

Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense,
Ellyn Satter, M.S., R.D., 1991, Bull Publishing Co., Palo Alto, Calif.

How to Get Your Kids to Eat...But Not Too Much,
Ellyn Satter, M.S., R.D., 1987, Bull Publishing Co., Palo Alto, Calif.


This newsletter is published for North Dakota families with preschoolers by the NDSU Extension Service and distributed through your county extension office. See your extension agent for more parenting information and other home economics programs.


Parenting Preschoolers, Issue No. 5


NDSU Extension Service, North Dakota State University of Agriculture and Applied Science, and U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Sharon D. Anderson, Director, Fargo, North Dakota. Distributed in furtherance of the Acts of Congress of May 8 and June 30, 1914. We offer our programs and facilities to all persons regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, age, Vietnam era veterans status, or sexual orientation; and are an equal opportunity employer.
This publication will be made available in alternative format for people with disabilities upon request (701) 231-7881.


North Dakota State University
NDSU Extension Service