Psychological Tips for Helping Your Children Eat Well

Mothers tend to worry excessively about how much their children eat, which can be counterproductive. Eating should be a pleasant moment for the entire family, not a power struggle focused on your child's poor behavior. Discover the following tips for helping your children eat well.
Psychological Tips for Helping Your Children Eat Well

Last update: 15 September, 2019

What and how much children eat is one of the biggest concerns among parents today. However, on occasion, in their quest to provide good nutrition, parents make some mistakes. Unfortunately, these mistakes can cause just the opposite of what they desire.

Sometimes, problems arise due to lack of knowledge or excessive worry. As parents, we all want our children to eat all sorts of foods without it becoming a power struggle. However, it’s common for children to refuse to try certain foods or to eat smaller portions than parents consider necessary.

Most of the time, problems with eating arise during the first and third year of life. It’s important to remember that during this time period, children’s stomachs have a reduced capacityTherefore, we can’t expect them to eat nearly as much as an adult or older child would.

It’s not until children reach the age of five that their energy exertion and nutritional requirements increase. But, furthermore, we must also remember that eating well is a habit that children learn and acquire. 

This requires time for adaptation, and parents need to be patient. The textures, smells, and flavors of foods are all very new to children.

Despite this, there are some strategies that you can put in place to help your children eat well. Read more to discover what they are.

What can parents do to help their children eat well?

  • Don’t cause your child to perceive food as something negative. If you’re too insistent about a specific food, your little one will become suspicious. At the same time, avoid offering rewards to get your children to try something. You’ll only be reinforcing the idea that the food in question isn’t worth trying without reward.
Psychological Tips for Helping Your Children Eat Well

  • Focus on positive behaviors. Offer positive reinforcement when your child eats well and, at the same time, ignore negative behaviors. Your lack of attention to these conducts will be enough to get your child to stop.
  • Don’t pressure your children, but don’t give in either. Your goal should be to show your children that eating is something natural and pleasant. Give your children their food and, after enough time has gone by, clear the table. Don’t pressure your kids or start a conflict to get them to eat. But, at the same time, don’t give in by making them something they like better.
  • Keep your children’s opinions in mind. Let your kids decide what vegetables they like best. Also, allow them to choose a specific food that they don’t have to eat.


Reasonable time

Meals should last between 20 and 40 minutes. If mealtime ends sooner, this may mean your child is eating too fast. Encourage your child to slow down to avoid uncomfortable indigestion.

At the same time, if meals last longer than 40 minutes, it will disrupt your children’s day. What’s more, it’s likely to cause arguments as you and your partner grow tired of waiting.

Once 40 minutes have gone by, clear the table. Whether or not your children have finished eating, they’ll have to wait until the next meal to eat again. Avoid giving into demands for snacks and junk food. Doing so will only instill a habit of eating at the wrong time (and not eating at the right time!).

Family meals

Mealtime should be a calm and pleasant family experience. Don’t criticize the way your children eat. Talk casually as a family as you enjoy your food. This is the best option.

Psychological Tips for Helping Your Children Eat Well

It’s also important to offer the entire family the same food, rather than catering to each member’s preferences. This allows children the opportunity to observe the expressions of others regarding the food… and to share their own observations.
Attitudes towards food will be more positive when children perceive mealtime as a shared moment. Just the opposite occurs when children feel that their parents are only there to force them to eat.

How to offer new foods so your children eat well

  1. Choose the right time of day. Find a time when your child is calm, happy and hungry. He or she will be more open to trying new things.
  2. Offer just a small portion of the new food, and accompany it with foods your child already knows and enjoys.
  3. Give your children the autonomy to explore new foods with their own hands. Let them decide how much to put in their mouths. Older children can try new foods with their own fork and at their own pace. This will increase the chances of them accepting new foods willingly.

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.

  • Moreno Villares, J. M., Galiano Segovia, M. J., & Dalmau Serra, J. (2013). Alimentación complementaria dirigida por el bebé («baby-led weaning»).¿ Es una aproximación válida a la introducción de nuevos alimentos en el lactante?. Acta Pediátrica Española71(4).
  • Brizuela, D. N., Márquez, J. C., Cavada, I. C., & Santiago, R. (2013). Alimentación complementaria en niños sanos de 6 a 24 meses. Archivos venezolanos de puericultura y pediatría76(3), 128-135.

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