7 Psychological Keys to Getting Your Child to Eat

These psychological keys for getting your child to eat will help you introduce new foods and improve the child's relationship with food.
7 Psychological Keys to Getting Your Child to Eat

Last update: 26 March, 2022

Good nutrition is essential for the proper development of little ones. This is why most parents place such an emphasis on getting their children to eat well and varied. However, this isn’t always achieved and, in desperation, parents may resort to inappropriate methods. For this reason, today we want to provide you with some psychological keys to getting your child to eat.

Kids can have all different kinds of problems with food. For example, infants may not eat enough food (in their parents’ opinion), may reject certain products, or may refuse to incorporate new foods. In all cases, you should remember that these are usually temporary difficulties related to the evolutionary moment and that it’s essential not to lose your calm or become angry. Let’s see what happens in these cases.

Why doesn’t your child eat?

The fact that a child doesn’t eat doesn’t necessarily imply that they have a problem or that they’ll never eat as you intend. There may be various underlying causes that you should know in order to act in the best way.

First of all, you should know that nutritional needs vary depending on the child’s evolutionary moment.

For example, when they reach 12-15 months of age, the growth rate slows down and therefore, the child no longer needs as much energy input. It’s possible that at this time, the progression of the intake is reduced and that the parents worry or assume that something bad is going on. Actually, it’s an adjustment to the growth process.

From the age of five, energy expenditure will skyrocket again and the child’s appetite once again increases. For this reason, we must understand and respect their rhythms.

On the other hand, it’s common for the problem to lie in the unrealistic expectations of the parents. Infants have a small stomach and don’t usually eat large amounts of food. What, in your opinion, may be a normal ration may be excessive for your child and this doesn’t mean that they’re malnourished. Consult with your pediatrician before becoming alarmed.

Finally, the psychological plane also has great relevance in this aspect. When a child refuses to eat, it may be because you’re not helping them develop a good relationship with food. Here are some guidelines to reverse this effect.

A toddler refusing to eat.

Psychological keys for getting your child to eat

These are some of the guidelines that you can implement if you believe that your child isn’t eating properly.

1. Respect their rhythms and processes

As we’ve mentioned, it’s important that you understand the evolutionary moment that your child is going through and what their energy requirements are. On the one hand, you shouldn’t overfeed them and, on the other, you need to allow them to self-regulate. Children are very wise when it comes to following their body’s signals: If they don’t want to eat more, then they probably feel full or have a sore tummy.

2. Let them choose

Taking children’s opinions into account is one of the best ways to help them build rapport with food.

You can allow your child to choose a food that they never want to eat (such as salmon), as long as they eat other products from the same group. In the same way, give them the choice of what type of vegetables, fish, or meat they want to eat that day. This sense of control will help reduce resistance.

3. Camouflage flavors

Not all foods are equally palatable to children and this is understandable. Therefore, don’t hesitate to camouflage the most bitter or unpleasant flavors with spices, condiments, or other elements that make them more appetizing.

4. Create attractive dishes

You can use the visual element to spark your child’s interest in eating. Create colorful and eye-catching dishes, with different, colors, shapes, or forms. This will encourage them to try and eat them.

5. Get them involved in the kitchen

As much as possible, and always in an age-appropriate way, try to involve your child in preparing food. Let them help you crack an egg, wash vegetables, or shape meatballs. When they feel that the dishes are of their creation, infants are more willing to taste them.

6. Offer food appropriately

The way in which you offer the food also has great relevance.

If you’re introducing a new food (or one that the child doesn’t like) choose the time of day when they’re most receptive. Also, limit yourself to serving them in small quantities and accompanied by other products that they like.

7. Don’t force them to eat

This is one of the main psychological keys to getting your child to eat, as it’s a mistake that most parents make. Don’t force your child to eat or blackmail, manipulate, or recriminate them.

By generating constant pressure and conflict, children end up associating food with negative emotions and the situation only gets worse. Instead, reinforce their behavior when they’re encouraged to try new dishes or eat properly, and ignore inappropriate behaviors. A relaxed emotional climate is the best way not to perpetuate the problem.

Parents scolding their daughter because she won't eat.

Give these psychological keys time

The above recommendations, if applied regularly and consistently, can lead to big changes. In addition, these will occur in a positive way for everyone, without damaging family relationships.

However, perseverance is essential. Don’t despair if the on first days nothing seems to happen, because helping your child to interact healthily with food is a job that deserves time and patience.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.