When Children Won't Eat

Feeding young children can be a real challenge. We know children need a nutrient dense diet (lots of nutrients for the amount of energy in the food) to grow and develop properly; but what can we do to get children to eat enough of the right kinds of foods?

  • Create a pleasant eating environment. Mealtime should be a happy, unhurried time.
  • Serve familiar foods with new foods.
  • Introduce new foods one at a time to gain greater acceptance.
  • Serve age-appropriate servings. Large servings make children feel overwhelmed.
  • Scheduled meal time after a quiet activity such as story time so children are rested and ready to eat.
  • Allow children to participate in meal time preparation. Setting the table or helping to stir the vegetable dip may be all that is needed to encourage better eating.
  • Serve interesting foods that will appeal to children. Bite-sized pieces, interesting shapes, small muffins, and funny sounding names are just a few ideas for you to try.
  • Remember that children can balance their diets over several days, not one meal or one day. Make a variety of foods available to them each week.
  • Serve attractive, good tasting foods. Food should taste and look good as well as be good for the child.

Spicing up the Flavor

Young children generally enjoy the natural flavor of foods. Sometimes it is appropriate to use seasonings that will add interest to the foods served to children, especially if the amounts of salt, fat, and sugar are moderate. Spices and herbs can add to the enjoyment of eating. Keep in mind that children taste food differently than adults. You will want to adjust seasoning to your children's taste. If you want to introduce new and interesting natural flavors to the meals you prepare, here are a few simple rules to follow:

  • Begin to use spices and herbs in small amounts. Start with one fourth teaspoon for four cups of a food. You can always add more if needed.
  • Taste foods to see if the amount is right for the children. (Remember to use a clean spoon each time you taste.)
  • Introduce one spice or herb at a time, just as you would a new food.
  • Add new spices and herbs as they are accepted by the children.
  • Learn which spices and herbs work best with which foods, i.e., cinnamon helps foods taste sweeter without adding sugar.
  • Tie whole spices, seeds, and leaves in cheesecloth so that they an be removed easily from soups and stews.
  • Grow herbs in the child care center or day care home and let the children tend the plants and harvest the leaves for use in the meals they are served.
  • Add ground spices with other dry ingredients for easier blending.
  • Avoid hot peppers and other strong flavored seasoning that might be objectionable to some children.
  • Store dried spices, herbs and seeds in a cool, dry place to keep them fresh.
  • Store fresh herbs in a glass of water covered with a plastic bag in the refrigerator.

Start an Indoor Herb Garden

Children can learn that herbs and spices help food smell good and taste good. Herbs are easy to grow indoors or out. Here are some easy steps in starting an indoor herb garden in your center. Let each child have a small pot if possible. If the group is large, then be sure each child has a part in the activity.

Materials you will need

Small empty pots, Pebbles or small gravel, Saucers or trays for under pots, Potting soil (1/3 soil, 1/3 sand, 1/3 peat moss), Packages of herb seeds (basil, chives, dill, mint, parsley), Popsicle sticks, Mint seedling.

What to do

  1. Put ½ inch base of pebbles or gravel in saucer or tray.
  2. Fill pots with potting soil.
  3. Plant seeds following package directions.
  4. Put popsicle stick through empty seed packages to identify what is growing, and insert in dirt.
  5. Water when needed. To test if water is needed, pull out the popsicle stick and see if soil clings to it. If it does, there is enough water. If not, it is too dry.

Source: Mississippi Department of Education Net Program. "More than Mud Pies" (1982)

Taken from What's Cooking? A fact sheet for the Child and Adult Care Food Program, Volume 1, Number 4, National Food Service Management Institute, The University of Mississippi.