Questions and Quandaries


I often discuss with other parents the hows, whats and whens of kids and eating.  Here are some of the issues we’ve talked about recently, along with comments from the book My Two-Year-Old Eats Octopus: Raising Children Who Love to Eat Everything.

My problem is that my daughter (25 months) literally won’t eat anything but snack foods.  She eats with us at mealtime, but her diet consists of crackers, pieces of fruit, Goldfish, things like that.  I know we’ve gotten off track somewhere, but how can we turn this around now?


This is a tough one, only because there is probably no way out of this situation without some short-term pain.  It’s going to take a revision in the way that she is being allowed to eat, and that may not come easily, at least at first.  Two-year-olds are notoriously finicky and fussy and usually not shy about asserting their preferences.

I would start by eliminating the most offensive snack foods (the Goldfish, the Cheerios, whatever the case may be) completely from her diet.  She’s not old enough to understand that it’s OK to sometimes snack on these items, but that they are not appropriate mealtime fare.  Then, gradually, start stepping up the “real food” and recipes that she is served at her meals.  Make them very specific to the time of day; for example, scrambled eggs and bacon for breakfast, a sandwich and fruit for lunch, cooked meat and a vegetable for dinner.  Start with very small portions of each, and when she does try something new, reinforce how good it tastes.  If she does refuse to eat, tell her you’re sorry, but that this is what we’re having today.  And it’s at this point that you must hold firm!  The snack foods can’t be an option.


My son (2 ½) does not like meat.  He eats plenty of fruits and even vegetables, and I give him things like cheese for protein.  But we are big meat eaters and I don’t want this to be a long term problem.


Here’s the great thing about “meat:” There are so many different kinds, offering so much variety in terms of tastes and textures, so many different cooking methods, so many ways to prepare it, that eventually, all kids should find something that they look forward to eating.  The key is repetition and constant exposure.

Serve a few bites of meat at meals throughout the day.  Alternate a lot: Try various kinds of fish, chicken, beef and even things like veal, turkey and lamb.  Include sauces that are served with the recipe.  Don’t pass up an opportunity to have your kids try meats cooked in various ways, perhaps when you eat in restaurants: grilled, roasted, broiled, slow-cooked.  When you hit on one that works, expand from there.  “Remember how much you liked the tuna fish sandwiches we had last week? This is tuna served another way.”



My brother makes his kids (3 and 5) take three bites of everything before they leave the table.  I have been at their home many nights when this turns into an all-out battle. Is this a good idea? How can I avoid this when my own child (now 1) gets to be that age?


Remember the “clean plate club” when you were growing up?  And how you had to finish everything on your plate before leaving the table, because of all the starving children in Africa?  Thankfully, that theory seems to have been replaced by the “two-bite” rule: You don’t have to finish your meal, but you do have to take at least two or three bites of everything.  But can this rule, too, be carried too far and actually do more harm than good in setting long-range healthy eating habits?

I think the answer to that lies in the presentation of the message, rather than the message itself!  I do think that kids should be required to taste everything on their plates, and that you have to guide them towards consuming each of the individual meal items, rather than letting them fill up exclusively on one thing.  But you will have more success if you present this to them in a positive, upbeat fashion, rather than as a punishment, or something that they are being forced to do.  They get to try three bites of this great food, rather than must try!


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