kids eats · parenting

Coping with Children #4: Family meal times and fussy eaters

Enjoying a roasted duck drumstick. Because, who doesn't love a good Cantonese style siew ngap?  (She's trying to do a V-sign here
Enjoying a roasted duck drumstick. Because, who doesn’t love a good Cantonese style siew ngap?
(She’s trying to do a V-sign here, I so did not teach her that!)

I have 2 fantastic eaters, and 1 fussy eater. This is a common scene at mealtimes in my home: my 20-month old will make a beeline for the table because she is SO ready for lunch or dinner. My 6 year-old, well, let’s just say I’m watching his diet and soon I think I have to start him on going running. As for my middle child, well, I guess there must always be something or someone to keep you busy, isn’t it? He requires feeding most of the time, and it’s a rare occasion that he will feed himself an entire meal. In fact, I’d be happy that he feeds himself at all!

I’m sure many of you can identify with either “types”. The funny thing is that I have both, despite them all being brought up the same way! The only difference was perhaps that Abacus was exposed to less solids between 6-12 months because he had a few rounds of stomach flu, so I didn’t want to risk allergies, etc. But more than that, I’ve noticed that eaters and non-eaters are just wired SO SO differently. The eaters are game to try almost anything, even if they may spit it out later or declare they don’t like it. Yes, even at 12 months. Some of them may slurp at the thought of food very loudly and embarassingly, and sometimes need to be stopped from eating too much (Mittens). The other day Scout excitedly pointed to all the hanging chickens, ducks, roasted pork meat, hanging in the stalls of the hawker centres, because she knew that was going to be lunch – that was epic! If it’s snack time and she’s being served fruits she will diligently sit at the table and sometimes ask for more of whatever it is.

Non-eaters, can practically live on air. They always declare they don’t like something even if they haven’t tried it, and they’re very seldom hungry. I think my (or rather, his!) main problem is the interest. He just doesn’t have the interest in food. He can finish his meal if he’s fed, or really famished, or it’s something that he really likes, but at other times it is such a pain and a chore to be sitting there waiting to feed him and for him to chew. Perhaps he is part of the Slow Food movement but just doesn’t know it yet -.-

I used to subscribe to the ideology that we should try to have our meals at the dinner table together, no TV, no chasing them around the house, and goodness no feeding at the playground. With eaters anything is an easy task, but with a fussy eater and a baby, and with most meals on my own since the hubby usually gets home no earlier than 8pm, it created some pretty stressful meal times for everyone.

At the end of my wits, I came to an ephiphany of sorts when I read about how family dinner time and dinner conversation is really quite over-rated.

“It turns out there’s only 10 minutes of productive conversation in any family dinner. The rest is taken up with take your elbows off the table and pass the ketchup. And what researchers have found is you can take that 10 minutes and put it in any time of the day and get the benefit. So, if you can’t have family dinner, have family breakfast! Even one meal a week, on a weekend, has the same benefit.”

– Bruce Feiler’s The Secrets of Happy Families

Did I really need research results to realise what I’d known all along?? I decided that I’d forget about having the picture perfect family dinner. For now. On a typical day at home I now concentrate on getting Abacus enough food (since he is exactly HALF the size of Mittens!!), and making sure everyone is fed and watered, and usually to achieve this I will eat after they’re done. I try to have their mealtimes without any TV, although on some days I just give up and give in. Sometimes it’s easier to hide all the veggies and other bits of food when the fussy eater isn’t paying attention! 😀

It is of course much easier if the ratio is 2 adults or more to 3 children, but usually hubby and I can manage the brood even in restaurants, but let’s not dream about having any decent dinner conversation with the kids yet. I’m just happy if no one has broken any tableware or toppled an entire drink or dish on the floor. These days I’m usually armed with a small collection of colour pencils and note and activity books from goodie bags to keep them entertained if just for a bit. Hopefully when the kids are a little older, we can have a decent dinner together without me having to remind someone to chew their food or even to eat their dinner.

I do have ONE rule though, and that is that he has to have ONE mouthful of whatever we are serving up. And usually that one mouthful, although difficult to get him to open his mouth, will gain his acceptance for a few more mouthfuls that sometimes unbeknownst to him leads to him finishing up his portion.

Perhaps fancy bentos and McD’s would help fussy eaters, but seeing just how very different the two types of eaters are, at this stage I highly doubt that my fussy eater is going to turn into a good eater anytime soon. On some days, I spend more time feeding my almost 4YO fussy eater than my 20 month old baby! So I think it’s ok to do what you think it takes to get them to eat, and if that includes bringing the meals to the playground, well that’s your prerogative although I haven’t and probably won’t ever go there.

And if, like me, you’re wondering when your fussy eater is going to outgrow this stage, well, you might still be shoving food into their mouths at 8 years old (oh, yes, I have seen this!), begging/bribing/threatening them to eat, they might still be gagging at having food in their mouths, wanting to spit out, etc., but eventually, or so I hear, they will outgrow it. Like so many things in childhood, the phase will soon pass, although it might seem like torture in the meantime!




What are your family meal times like, and do you do to get your fussy eater to eat?


You might like to view my other posts in this series:

Coping with children #1: Somebody needs you

Coping with children #2: Support in the home

Coping with children #3: Support in society


11 thoughts on “Coping with Children #4: Family meal times and fussy eaters

  1. My fussy eater is a little different from yours. My boy is picky about what he eats, as in he don’t take vegetables and is not adventurous in trying out new food. You just got to coax him to try the first mouth, and if he likes it, he can pretty much finish them. So he is picky about his food, but can still eat pretty well.

    My girl while on the other hand is more adventurous in eating, you give her anything she generally will eat the first mouth without much thought. However, she generally will stop eating after 4 to 5 mouth. We notice she is just not patient enough to finish her food at the table. If you put a TV or screen in front of her, she can finish her food. But we are not doing this as we do not want to start a wrong habit. So we will try to force feed whatever we can and if she really doesn’t want to eat, we will leave it as it is. We believe that they are old enough to tell us that they are hungry. So we are trying to cut down on the girl’s snacks to prevent her from snacking instead of eating.

    So that is our two fussy eater, which differs from yours.


  2. Ah… The same scenario at my house too! I have 2 fussy eaters and of course the 19 mth is a good eater although he pushes out whatever is soft texture. I can’t have a decent conversation too at the dining table. My boy will sit at the edge of the chair or one leg up or leave the table. I do hope they’ll be outgrowing fussy eating and hyperactive dining habits real soon so that we can enjoy a picture perfect dinner. I am always curious about books that suggest the kids to eat whatever portion they want and avoid force feed. Does this really help? I am not sure and find it risky to try. As for now, I am insisting no feeding the elder ones.


    1. I think all these ploys can only work to a certain extent because the eaters and non eaters are just so different that I think it has to be much more than the presentation of food or the psychology (no forcing, etc.)?


  3. I can’t even classify my kids as fussy or fantastic eaters because it all depends on the food I serve them. So are they all fussy? If it’s Chinese food at home it usually gets a lot of resistance unless there’s a few fried stuff in there but u know, when they are out at Canton or Din Tai Fung, all the noodles are slurped and Xiao long baos finished. I have better luck with pasta but one likes cream, the other likes aglio olio and it is always just difficult to order to share. Tell me now, I think I have lots of first world problems here, yes?

    I have to feed the middle child a lot too and I also suspect that if I do feed the eldest, he might eat more. He eats really little but when he is hungry enough he can feed himself. The littlest? Well, let’s just say he is an ill disciplined eater. Because their age gaps are so close I never had the chance to properly train him because when it’s time to do so, Number Two was in her Terrible Twos. So now after three mouthfuls at the table, he runs around, hops like a frog and bounce like a kangaroo. And I am always exasperated at breakfast, lunch and dinner.

    Thanks for sharing the quote. It makes me feel better. I am waning in strength holding on to the no tv, no iPad, all must be at table rule. I suspect I might use this quote to make me feel better on some days and just turn on the tv. Hahaha.


    1. You forgot the part about how you are sometimes so busy feeding the kids the food is completely gone when it’s your time to have dinner!

      I have another quote you might like, I certainly do! :

      “If you can’t then it off… least limit your child’s exposure to TV. We live in the real world, after all, and an irritated, overextended parent can be just as harmful to a child’s development as an annoying purple dinosaur.” – John Medina, Brain Rules for Baby.


  4. Thanks for this post. This is my first time coming across your blog and I enjoyed reading it. I’ve always wondered if it is my fault that my almost 4yo twins are fussy eaters. My boy is ok with eating food that he likes and can finish his meal relatively fast but my girl is the world’s pickiest and slowest eater. Mealtimes last 45 min to an one hour and she must be fed. I am still sticking to no tv/I pad and try to get them seated at the table but reality is they would get up and play with their toys on the floor and need to be called back to dining table to eat. They are both picky with new food and totally not adventurous. Plus they dislike most fruits and veggies.

    Because both my kids are like that I always wondered if I should have done anything different when they were younger. Especially since their 2 cousins are excellent eaters (think munching away at raw carrots, cucumbers and celery sticks and steak-lovers) – they are 3 and 5yo btw. I always think what did their mom do that made her so successful in raising her kids like that but I’m not able to? Your article has shown that kids are really wired differently and even with the same upbringing they can end up different esp when it comes to eating. I had a suspicion that picky eating is a trait some are born with… This somehow proves it? 🙂


    1. Hi Deb! Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment! I think it’s anyone’s guess whether it’s nature or nurture, but hopefully if there are any picky habits they will grow out of it eventually! Cross fingers and good luck to the both of us! 😀


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