Do you have a Picky Eater or a Beige Food Eater (those usually 5-7 year olds who will only eat white food)? Does your kid require 18 warnings before transitioning from one activity to the other, and then have trouble stopping something once they start? They're the Trouble Transitioner.
There is The Spurt Eater; those toddlers or preschoolers who go for days on what seems like air, only to play biological catch up and shovel everything in for a day. Then we have The Grazer. I haven't grown out of this one; it is my favorite way to eat, picky smaller bits throughout the day. This is a big one for toddlers and drives parents nuts when they are trying to go to solid foods into mealtimes.
Lastly, we have The Sugar Demander. The kid (or yourself!) who keeps saying: "I want a cookie, I need a cookie, I want a cookie!" Often comes up as they enter preschool and you lose more and more control over the food they are exposed to.
This is where it gets hairy, right?! This is why I love working with people on food issues. There is always an interesting combination of things going on: food is so central to our beginning understanding of where we begin and end, and how we communicate with others.
So, let me say how important it is to recognize that frequently these are styles and patterns of eating that are often typical, and normal. Particularly the Picky, Spurt, and Grazer. The pediatrician who wrote the forward for my book says that The Beige Food Eater is the most typical style of eater in early childhood and that the only thing you need to worry about is iron; throw some Cream of Wheat into the mix and you are covered.
The Trouble Transitioner and Sugar Demander are the two who end up at risk for eating more than their bodies' need and can land up compulsively eating for reasons other than what their bodies need. The Trouble Transitioner might need help stopping after a portion or two, (distract the young ones to help them learn to wait to trigger the 'DONE' signal) or the Sugar Demander who will eat and fight you if you don't give them some control or make too much of an issue of it. Conversly, they really need you to pick your battles and not wimp out on them, but you need to be somewhat flexible and reasonable within the parameters you set.
Not all kids self-regulate and those do need more help stopping. We are learning more and more about the biology of appetite regulation, (more to come on this from the research field) and how genetics comes into play.
All of this is to say that if you can separate out an eating style that is truly not dangerous or unhealthy (and I say truly, because you've got to have confidence when the doc says yes, your kid is on their own growth curve and is thriving even though they are a very picky eater), from how you might be getting held hostage by food issues and control issues, you will help your kid truly eat for life, by turning things back on them and helping them know their own body better. Let them make some of their own decisions within the rules you set up that you as the parent have the right to do.
Be reasonable. Somewhat flexible. Don't get too picky yourself, and over worry. Figure out first: ""What is the Problem, and whose problem is It?"
Are we having fun yet?!
Parenting is hard. Pick your battles. Figure out when and what the food battles need to be. Don't get held hostage by your fear that you will create an eating disorder, but don't be overly involved. Get your kid to take some responsibility and make some decisions within the choices you determine.
And lastly, don't get held hostage in the kitchen. Figure out what works for you and them. But most importantly, be prepared. Like every issue in parenting, it will change. The moment you master one stage or feel like you are on an equilibrium, you will need to figure out something else, as they throw you more curve balls.
Again, I ask you: Are we having fun yet? You've got to chuckle at yourselves and remember that we can only do so much. Good enough, thank goodness, is good enough. Balance the tension between wanting to control things and having there be no structure or routine. Your kids having all the power, or no power. Come on, you can do it. Use your gut. Your instincts, and have confidence in yourselves.
As much as they will want to fight you, remember: Kids aren't stupid, they know they shouldn't be the boss.
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