My 4-year-old daughter is a ridiculously picky eater. Mealtime is not pleasant at our home.

Meal ordeals: They rank in the big three of everyday preschool problems, right up there with bedtime badtimes and temper tempests. Meal ordeals may be the easiest to resolve, though, as nature is on parents’ side. Even the most finicky food refuser eventually will eat because her body tells her to.

One strategy is the “seat-until-you-eat” order, or the “you’ll-sit-there-until-you-eat-or-at-least-take-one-bite” stand. This approach has a few drawbacks. One, it may work with some kids, but generally not with those who, as long as you are so upset over their fasting, are determined not to take a single bite until their wedding dinner. Two, you may be forcing yourself to sit and supervise.

More effective, less prolonged solutions to meal ordeals:

Set a time when the table will be cleared and the meal will officially be over. Whatever is still edible on Candy’s plate is hers to eat when she finally gets hungry. All she needs to do is take it from the fridge, remove the foil and re-heat it.

While you’re occupied with your own food, try to ignore the fact that Grace is not occupied with hers. Resist cajoling (“Mmmm, these carrots taste just like chocolate ice cream”), threats (“Sugar, if you don’t at least try your beans, you’ll never see another popsicle in this house”) or bribes (“If you eat two bites of bread, you can leave the table until next Saturday”).

Absolutely no dessert or snacks (save only highly nutritious ones — broccoli, spinach, tofutti and the like) will be available later in the meal or evening. The temptation is high to allow Honey a vitamin-fortified, fudge-covered, sugar-wafer bar just to get “something” into her but, over time, she may learn to shun your nutritious offerings in anticipation of more tasty treats later. Especially if she knows you get panicky as her hunger strike stretches to five hours.

I think the major difference between grownups and preschoolers involves eating and sleeping. Somewhere between childhood and adulthood we grow to crave both.

Dr. Ray Guarendi

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