Just like we have different temperamental traits, genetic endowment with body type, different hair and eye color, we can have different 'food personalties'. Some of us liike to eat small meals all day long, some of us can go for hours without eating. Some of us hate to eat breakfast despite hearing that it is the most important meal of the day, and some can't stop eating past dinnertime.
So, as we find that we all have different food styles, and habits, so do our kids. In my roughly 20 years of experience working with people of all kinds of eating issues and with children, I have loosely grouped food styles of children as such:
The Picky Eater - Those kids who eat maybe 3 - 5 things and won't try anything else
My brother was like this; you can imagine the horror when my mom sent him to live with a family in France with a jars of peanut butter!
The Beige Food Eater - Kids who only like white or beige food. The most common type of childhood eater according to many pediatricians.
The Spurt Eater - Those kids who can eat nothing for a few days; you think they are living on air, only to play biological 'catch up' when their bodies tell them to.
The Grazer - Kids who eat little bits all day long. Tough sometimes to move them into our civilized way of eating, breakfast lunch and dinner, but perfectly normal; especially for toddlers. ( I still prefer to eat like this.)
Therse are avery typical and normal childhood pattern of eating. Eating from their bodies' signals, as opposed to what they are learning they 'should' or 'shouldn't eat like. Particularly with some very picky eaters, this can be sign of some sensory integration and oral motor problems that are worth investigating that can create an avoidance of chewing. Another medical issue can be their bodies telling them to stay away from some foods as their immune system builds up in order to prevent allergies.
The next two types of eaters, can be prone to developing patterns of eating which can lead to weight gain; eating more than their body's are burning for a variety or reasons:
The Trouble Transitioner, and 'Foodie"
These are kids who need those warnings: "10 more minutes till the t.v. is off, 5 more minutes to dinner." They need help changing tracks I call it. Once they are eating, they can also enjoy the stimulation of the tastes and food in their mouth and how great it feels, that they have trouble transitioning out of this past 3 helpings. You can play 'a waiting game with them to train them that the food is always there, they just are going to need longer to get the signal that they are 'done.'
Some foods also have trouble flipping the "Off Swtich" I call it. sugar, salt. you know that deal. Sometimes just physically distracting them to help you clear the table, do an activity, helps flip the swtich. The food is always there tomorrowl.
The Sugar Demander
This kid is often now in preschool and is exposed to more treats. Figure out your rules, give them some choice. If they insist on the dessert before dinner, remind them they can't have it with their sibs or you guys when you are having it. It won't destroy their meal. Set your rules and give them some choice within that and set limits with whiny, tamtruming behavior in a calm matter of fact way. You won't create an eating disorder. Give them some control within limits that are safe for their bodies.
There are lots of things you can do as you learn about your child that will neither create an eating disorder, or too much of a power stuggle. Tricky part is how one kid might need something altgether different than the other. Think of it as a recipe too; a pinch of this, a pinch of that. Nothing is perfect. Practice does not need to make perfect in parenting. We get to stumble along. Our kids will forgive us some inconsistency. So don't sweat it if you find yourself some days just saying "No, because I said so!" We all have our limits.
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