How to raise a happy eater — the experts’ guide

It’s proven that about quarter of kids have troubles with food, but parents still can fix the situation.


Nearly every night a 2-year old daughter of Melanie Potock ate nothing but a bowl of Cheerios with milk as supper. This lasted for about a year, and maybe will sound like a falimial situation for some parents.

About 25% of children from 18-month to 2-years old have troubled eating, as their appetite starts decreasing. It’s a natural process, according to Potock, who became a children feeding specialist and had some professional training because of the every-day food quarrels with her daughter. By the way, the “child” is now 26 years old, and she enjoys food just like everyone else.

Potock says that many of those children suffer from mild sensory disorder, so it becomes really difficult for them to agree to try some new food. The situation becomes worse when parents get trapped in a circle. A child doesn’t eat, so they take the simplest food home like bananas and chips, and soon after the child eats only those things.

Potock, who is based in Colorado, teamed up with the paediatrician Nimali Fernando to write the book Raising a Healthy, Happy Eater.

One in five American children eats pizza every day, while new figures show that a quarter of secondary school pupils in the UK eat less than one portion of vegetables a day. “But I say to my patients, parent bravely; stand firm on junk foods and cook family meals,” says Fernando.

Here are their rules for bringing up an adventurous eater:

Never order from the kids’ menu
“If they always expect chicken nuggets when they go out, you end up with children who think there is ‘kids’ food’ and ‘other food’,” says Potock. “Then every time they are out they will say, ‘But where’s the kids’ food on this menu?’ Instead go to restaurants that offer food for everyone to share — Asian restaurants are good for this — or best of all where children can order a half portion from the adults’ menu.”

Always give pudding
Every meal should come with a small pudding — a yoghurt, scoop of ice cream, small biscuit or piece of fruit. You can even — gulp — put it on the same plate as the main course and the child can eat it first. “You want to get across the idea that dessert is not a big deal, it’s just part of the meal, but it comes in a small portion,” says Potock. “Once you start saying, ‘If you eat your broccoli, you can have pudding’, you are implying that the other food is just something to be got through before the good stuff.”

Say no to sippy cups
“Today’s parents think a sippy cup is part of the developmental process, but it has nothing to do with learning to drink and everything to do with keeping your carpets clean,” says Potock. Children can begin practising drinking from a cup from nine months, but use an open cup from the start (make sure it’s small) or teach them to use a straw. Prolonged use of a sippy cup has been shown to lead to incorrect tongue posture and may affect the formation of the palette.

Get them to feed themselves
As soon as a baby starts weaning, offer soft finger foods such as cooked carrot or lightly toasted bread, and don’t leap in if they’re struggling to hold it. Let them try using a spoon from nine months (they won’t master it until 15 months) while having one spoon yourself, and do lots of dipping food into hummus/guacamole to encourage pincer grip development.

One family, one meal
Fernando believes that parents should cook one meal for everyone, including babies. “My philosophy has always been one meal for one family. You need to teach them right from the start to eat like you, otherwise you become a short-order cook preparing different meals for different children who won’t eat this or that.”

Throwing away food isn’t always a waste
Plates have got two inches bigger since the 1960s and we tend to pile on too much food, which is off-putting to all but the keenest eaters. From the age of two let them serve themselves from a bowl in the centre of the table. “Young children know when they are full and it’s our insistence on finishing everything on their plate that extinguishes their natural ability,” says Fernando.

Insist everyone tries a very small sample of any new food (a teaspoon for pre-schoolers, maybe two for older ones) and keep offering that food at future meals; you may get 15 yucks before a like. “Food ending up in the bin is not a waste; its purpose was for the child to see, smell, touch, squish and perhaps even taste it — all tiny steps to liking something new,” says Potock.
Raising a Healthy, Happy Eater is published by The Experiment, £11.99