I have an almost-2-year-old who tends to be difficult at the dinner table. She'll usually eat a few bites on her own, then either focus on something (e.g. "don't want carrots", "want cheese") or just start saying no. Going around the focus, e.g. pointing out that there aren't any carrots, or adding shredded cheese, is usually only good for another 2-3 bites.

In general, I think that she quickly starts thinking about the tastier things to come (cheese or bread after the main course) and then of course veggies don't look so good.

One trick that seems to work is for me to take a spoonful of food and pretend that it's an airplane flying around her head, trying to land in her mouth. It turns it into a game; she smiles and covers her mouth, but eventually lets the plane land. However, I'm worried that this will devolve into being a necessity to get her to eat at all. Am I giving in to her inappropriate whims, or is this a harmless game that she'll eventually grow out of?

  • I don't have any background apart from my own experience but personally, I think that she'll grow out of it. Once she starts to feed herself more and is using utensils, it'll be exciting or her to do it herself. I did the airplane thing with my little girl (she's just over 2) and she now likes to do the same thing when feeding her dolls. She's started using utensils now so its a novelty for her to get food on her fork/spoon which encourages her to eat her veggies.
    – LauraJ
    Commented Jan 23, 2015 at 11:03
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    Toddlers love playing games and love getting attention from parents. I think that this is simply bringing some positive emotions to the meal (she'll associate the dinner table with enjoyable, positive experiences), but would love to hear a more authoritative response than my gut feeling :)
    – Acire
    Commented Jan 23, 2015 at 12:22
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    I would hate to see the airplane method be discouraged. It's fun and effective, and it's been used for generations now. :-) Commented Jan 23, 2015 at 15:11
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    My parents used the airplane trick on me and my 3 siblings. We all turned out fine.
    – Becuzz
    Commented Jan 23, 2015 at 16:44
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    Do you always feed her or does she sometimes feed herself? The airplane thing is fine BTW, train going into the tunnel also works. For comedy value get her to feed you some food airplane-style.
    – A E
    Commented Jan 23, 2015 at 21:13

4 Answers 4


I have four adult children, and we played food-as-airplane with all of them. While it's true that they all lost weight upon entering college as they struggled with learning to feed themselves without our entertainment, I can say that they have all achieved normal weight and are adept at self-feeding now.

OK, that was an attempt at a joke. :-)

Play airplane if you and she like it. It's fun for the toddler, and if it gives you some peace about getting something nutritious into her, then it's doubly rewarding. All children grow out of this stage some time. Normal children grow up healthy in the presence of nutritious foods, even if they are not eating as parents think they should. Make sure there are lots of healthy options around the house, and not much sugar or junk food. If you're really worried, talk to her doctor about a daily vitamin supplement.

It's important to model good eating habits and to avoid food battles. I've added a link below that, if you can overlook the constant use of the words food neophobia, has some valuable advice about stages picky eaters go through, why they are picky eaters, and what to do about it. While I doubt your child is a picky eater, it just explains the phenomena pretty well (if it is a bit dense) and has some tips that anyone can use to get kids to eat healthily.

One last anecdote. I knew a child who had extreme tactile defensiveness, and would only eat (I kid you not, it was very strange) plain cheese pizza, chicken, pretzels, spaghetti/lasagna, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and raw carrots. Nothing green ever entered his mouth, no fruit or other vegetable, nothing but those foods, vitamins, and lots of fluids (low fiber meant lots of fluids). He also had problems in other areas (clothing, unfamiliar surroundings, weather sensitivities, etc.) He had the perfect parents, God bless him. They just fed him what he would eat without making a fuss. They accepted him and loved him as he was. Believe it or not, he was not sickly, obese, or detectably malnourished. He was very intelligent, unfailingly polite, athletic (not school sports, though), and grew into a fine young man who married, makes a living, and now feeds his own children. You may think that's not possible (I would not have believed it myself if I had not followed him for over a decade).*

In other words, it all turned out well in the end. He's eating better now as an adult. But I believe a saving grace in this child's life was having parents that just didn't make him feel bad about himself, either at the dinner table or away from it.

* Nothing worked for this child, not dietitians or occupational therapy, or psychologists. The parents threw up their hands in defeat, and made the best of it.

Food neophobia and ‘picky/fussy’ eating in children: A review

  • The link is very interesting, thanks. But the point I'm trying to get at in my question is more whether this will get out of control, to the point that she wouldn't eat without playing the game.
    – Kricket
    Commented Jan 26, 2015 at 14:53
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    I'm sorry this isn't clearer in the answer. My answer is "no", for the vast majority, it won't get worse. She will want to feed herself, and, most importantly, if you don't worry over her eating, there will be no need to make her eat, therefore no reason to trick her into eating with games and such. Commented Jan 26, 2015 at 15:47

I think it's reasonable to ask ourselves whether we're setting up something to be repeated rather than just getting past an obstacle, but remember there's also the good associations we may be making. You don't want this to be the only way she'll eat, but on the other hand you don't want to set up the main course as something she only gives lip service too long enough to get to desert.

So if you're setting her up to think meal time means airplane spoon time you're also setting her up to think that meal time means eating most of the main course. The lessons we want or fear our kids taking from things aren't always what they absorb.

I try to take an approach where I incorporate some sort of independence when I help. Can you get her to sometimes hold the spoon herself as you make airplane noises, for example? When my 2y/o is tending to fall back on grabbing food instead of using the spoon I will put some things on the spoon for him, still leaving it to him to pick it up.

  • "The lessons we want or fear our kids taking from things aren't always what they absorb." Amen to that! Commented Feb 5, 2015 at 7:30

It's easy for parents to worry themselves that they may be helping the child form habits which might be hard to break.

I can assure you, in this case, you have no need to worry.

Consider this. Is it likely your child will eventually be a 21 year old woman sitting in her chair and waiting to play the spoon aeroplane game in order to eat her food?

I suspect not. So sometime between now and then she's going to learn, all of her own accord, that the spoon isn't a plane and that she can eat her food regardless.

These harmless little games are just that, entirely harmless fun. Children quickly grow out of this, and learn to eat regardless.

If it helps you now, go for it.


However, I'm worried that this will devolve into being a necessity to get her to eat at all.

Probably not a serious peril at this age, but if one doesn't eventually require a child to complete required tasks independently, regressive/problematic behavior can result. My husband refused to see the wisdom of this fundamental fact of child development, and now has to do airplane/similar games to get our FOUR year old to eat.

It's a real problem. Not only is this kind of dependency bad for a kiddo's psychic development/maturation, it also has logistical implications - he is only borderline functional at school lunch - plays and talks incessantly, trying to get his peers and/or the adults to make an entertaining game of his eating. As a result, many lunch periods he's actually ingested very little by the time it's over, which in turn means he's starving an hour or two later and they have to interrupt class for him to go off to the side and ravenously wolf down some food. :(


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