Rules: made to be broken?

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If the golden rules are never to force a child to eat something he doesn't want and never to withhold pudding, does that mean we have to cater to every whim? What happens when your 3-year-old refuses his meal for no reason other than he can't be bothered and then returns 15 minutes later complaining he's hungry?

'There's a great deal of difference between asking a child firmly to eat his meal and making him sit in front of a plateful of congealing food for hours,' advises Dr Rudkin. 'If children refuse to eat and you know that there's no underlying reason, explain that they'll be hungry later and there won't be anything else on offer until the next meal.'

Another golden rule is to stay calm and never make an issue out of a refusal to eat. But that's easier said than done when your 2-year-old has thrown her meal on the floor because it wasn't quite to her liking, or your three-year-old won't even come to the table.

Keeping your cool

If you're finding it hard to stay cool, it can help to look at things from your little one's perspective. Remember, children have a different agenda: from their point of view, eating's a waste of their playing time, and if we make mealtimes boring by nagging, it's even worse.

Nor will a child understand that eating at the table is acceptable, but that running around with a sandwich isn't; or that 'greens' are good and too much sugar is bad. We may well explain it to them, but the chances are that our arguments will sound like, 'blah, blah, blah and blah.'

Some studies say we have to try some types of food at least 10 times before we develop a liking for them, so if your child's reluctant to give anything new a go, it's worth gently persisting. If he won't eat peas, put a couple on his plate and encourage, rather than coerce him to try.

Continued below...

Food is art!

Apparently, 40% of mums resort to arranging food into shapes or patterns in an attempt to get their children to eat. If it works and you have the time, go for it. But it can backfire.

The key must be to find a balance. Nourishing, healthy food doesn't have to mean slaving away on some culinary masterpiece. Don't forget there's as much sustenance in a slice of ham, a carrot stick and bowl of pasta as there is in a labour-intensive home-made casserole, and it's much easier to live with a rejected carrot stick than a dish that's taken ages to cook.

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If you are trying to introduce another flavour or texture of food, remember, a tiny taste for the first time, as childrens taste buds are much stronger than ours, so a little goes a long way. If he/she refuses altogether, dont worry, try again, a few weeks later.

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