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We have a 6 year old son and food time is often a struggle. My son is not interested in food (and more enticing food seems to make very little difference), and is very easily distracted, making him a slow eater. [A key concern is he is generally very slow to perform most tasks compared to his peer group.]

One parent believes that if he is hungry he will eat, and thinks nothing of engaging him in conversation, and believes that if the child is hungry he will eat, and that learning to converse and interact at the table is important. This parent is not the primary care giver and has less time to spend with the child (but is part of the family unit and involved with the child’s upbringing, save that the child has a lot of activities and heavy homework requirements)

The other parent has an expectation that there is to be no conversation with him (other than encouragement to eat) so that he will focus on eating. This parent is of the strong opinion that if the kid does not eat a proper amount for every meal, on a structured timetable the kid will fall behind (growth wise, intelligence wise, discipline wise). The child normally more-or-less manages to eat to this timetable when not interrupted with distractions - although meal times are often unpleasant due to fighting.

Are there any accepted norms on how to handle a child who is simply not interested in food, and how important is it that a reluctant child is "well fed" every meal?

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    Personally I was get interested in food when I started buy food that I like. – user20376 Jan 3 '16 at 8:13
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This parent is of the strong opinion that if the kid does not eat a proper amount for every meal, on a structured timetable the kid will fall behind (growth wise, intelligence wise, discipline wise).

Simply put, this parent is wrong. Pressuring children to eat is not only unnecessary, but actively harmful: studies have shown that it leads children to both eat less as children (because they become averse to eating) and over-eat when they're older (because they don't know how to regulate themselves). While not an exact duplicate, you'll likely find this question and its answers useful.

The golden rule is, parents get to choose what to serve and when, kids get to choose what they eat and how much of it. Serve "proper" food and don't let them fill up on sugary snacks or whatever if they don't eat it, and they'll be fine.

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    Good answer. In this particular situation I'd suggest also setting a finishing time for the meal ("end of dinner time in x minutes!") so it doesn't go on forever. But not as a way of trying to get the child to eat up, just as a way of getting on with the other things in the day. – A E Jan 2 '16 at 14:38
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    @AE While I agree in principle, I think sometimes an awareness is needed that some kids are just slow eaters. I did a lot of this with my son, but some ten years later, he can still quite happily take an hour to eat a meal. Now he's old enough to talk about it, his response is mostly, 'well why do you eat so quickly.' There's really not much of a response to that. – Michael B Jan 2 '16 at 22:18
  • This is a great answer, I will add 2 things. First off, some things will distract kids, especially electronic devices - don't use those while eating. Secondly, I have one fast eater and one slow eater. The slow eater will get up and play if the fast eater is allowed to leave the table - and then be hungry later. We have to make fast eater (big brother) stay until everyone is done, or at least until both kids are done. – Ida Jan 4 '16 at 23:18
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Stop it, you're getting it all wrong.

Fighting with a child at any time is particularly bad. It is your behaviour that has led to this and you should stop it immediately (I'm assuming that as it's your son you are one of the parents mentioned here). Not talking about anything but eating at meals times is also very negative.

It is you that needs to change (whichever parent you are), not the child. Seriously. If he's hungry he will eat, and if he isn't then he will not. The human body can get into routines, but you can't force it to. And he will not suffer physically and mentally from not eating for a few days, but he will suffer for the rest of his life from growing up with traumatic mealtimes, and your relationship will suffer greatly.

Rather than eating at set times, why not leave out healthy nutritious snacks during the day and allow him to graze. Grazing is a far healthier form of diet anyway -- much better than force-feeding yourself when you're not hungry. If he fills up on nuts and berries and sunflower-seeds so much the better. Put fruit out in a bowl. Cut some carrots and put them near him while he's doing his homework. Leave strips of smoked-salmon on a plate in the fridge and allow him to help himself. Leave little ham sandwiches on a table near him, and always have water and juice available. He can grow up big and strong without overeating or fitting into your schedule.

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