It seems that our daughter is not so fond of most foods. She is fond of milk though - any kind of milk, cow, goat, even soy. While eating I get the feeling she is bored. She eats very slowly and not all the foods. Actually very few. So, in order to eat, we got into the bad habit of playing at the same time. This started at a very young age. When I say "playing" I mean "playing together". This slows eating a lot. Yesterday it took her 1.5 hours to finish her food and at the same time we finished a nice Lego construction with a semi-complicated story in between bites. The story included castles, dragons, knights, and a princess. Maybe I am bit over the edge, but you see my point.

In other words, if there is no playing she doesn't want to eat (thus, she doesn't eat at school). Strange is that she can eat by herself when in company of her cousins and eat all together (safe space?).

So my question is, how can I make my daughter eat by herself without us being there playing with her?

2 Answers 2

  1. be sure to eat as a family
  2. no toys at the table
  3. have conversations, not necessarily all with your child, demonstrate how to have conversations by speaking to others at the table as well
  4. your child won't starve
  5. limit the milk for the hour or so before a meal so she is not full of liquid
  6. if you are giving snacks, limit them for the hour before the meal
  7. relax, enjoy your dinner and demonstrate for her proper eating
  8. put a mental time limit on dinner and then end it, saying dinner is over. (this will allow her, over time to realize she can't dominate your time with dinner)
  9. play with her AFTER dinner, so she still gets playtime with you
  10. no snacks for the hour and a half after dinner, if she is hungry explain that she didn't eat at the meal and snack will be served at snack time

We have all these rules at our table and it has worked with all four kids, all of whom went through a no eating stage (some lasting longer than others)

Always remember number 4, children with NOT let themselves starve

  • Thank you. I have two questions: (1) What would a proper "mental time limit" be for a dinner (or launch)? (2) She always drink a bottle of milk just before bed time. What shall we do if she didn't have dinner before? (Or her dinner was just some bites)
    – xpanta
    Commented Dec 22, 2011 at 8:21
  • Schools often give kids 30-40 minutes in the states to get their food eaten but this does not really encourage a healthy rate of consumption mixed with conversation. It depends a bit on courses how long the meal should be, but if you are just having a one-plate dinner 40-60 minutes should offer plenty of time. If you add a salad OR desert course as a separate part of the meal you might add a little time after this. With dessert I even suggest a 50 minute meal, play for 30-40 minutes and THEN 20-30 minutes for dessert. Commented Nov 18, 2012 at 20:53

We had a similar problem with my son (who is now 3.5 years old). We knew that sitting down to eat was a good habit to practice, so we started eating at the table frequently. He resisted, so we tried to make it fun by having him help us get food ready and then "playing" with his food. He would build potato towers and knock them down by eating them, for instance. That might work for you; it back-fired for us. He became more interested in playing than eating. Then, because he didn't want to sit still and eat, sitting down to dinner became a struggle. However, he would easily eat at his cousin's house because he was distracted and would eat without thinking about it because that was what everyone else was doing. There was no focus on behaving correctly, so he wasn't thinking about it.

What we finally did that worked (after a few difficult days) was to sit at the table and eat for a fixed time. No toys at the table, and we didn't give much attention to him playing with his food. (If he wanted to, that was fine.) We talked about our day and told stories and came up with plans for what to do tomorrow. We didn't discuss eating or not eating. We told him when there were only ten minutes left, and when time was up, we said "Dinnertime is over. It's time to [whatever we were doing next, like play a game]." We picked up the dishes, and that was it.

The first two nights he had another, shorter opportunity to eat again before bed (so he wouldn't be hungry). After that, he caught on pretty quickly that eating time was for eating (we have relatively routine meal and snack times) and he got much better (but not perfect) at eating without dillydallying. He still helps us set the table and prepare the food and sometimes he gets to pick what we have for dinner. We are happier, and so is he.

  • Thank you. Another problem is that she thinks that drinking milk is like having dinner or launch. I am afraid that she would stay at the table having 4-5 bites, then wait with us until eating time is over and playing time is on, knowing that milk is coming afterwards.
    – xpanta
    Commented Dec 22, 2011 at 8:15
  • 2
    Then don't give her milk after dinner or lunch.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Commented Dec 22, 2011 at 14:54

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