16/11/2009 08:28 GMT | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

Ask Joanne - Child Afraid Of Food

Kids driving you mad? Help is at hand! Send your question about life with children to our life coach Joanne Mallon. Email your dilemma to this address and say if you'd like your name changed.

Lisa wrote in with a question about her son:

My six year old son is afraid of food, he won't eat solids and will not try new food. I have been advised to starve him, but I will not do that as this is not his fault..

Any ideas or tips would be great.

Here's life coach Joanne's advice:

Dear Lisa

As another mother of an ultra-fussy, six-year-old boy I really do sympathise. This is a stressful situation, which unfortunately is all too common, especially with boys. It's quite unusual for a six year old not to eat solids - so what is he eating?

Here are some of the things that have worked with my son:

  • Take him shopping when you go to the supermarket. Talk about the food, let him handle it and help you by choosing produce. This is less stressful for a child who's nervous around new food, as they are safe in the knowledge that they won't be expected to eat it. But getting comfortable with handling food is the first step on the path to eating it.
  • Ensure that the things he does eat are the best quality that you can get. So if he only likes yoghurt (for example), get the good stuff.
  • Get him involved in cooking. Again, it may be a while before he will actually eat it, but this will start him on the path to finding food less scary. Let him take the lead by choosing a recipe, and make a big deal of you being his assistant. Don't worry if all he wants to make are cakes and biscuits at first - he's unlikely to leap in with a spinach lasagne, so don't force it.
  • Never leave him to eat alone. Invite friends round, sit down as a family. Help him see that mealtimes are a fun social experience and not just all about the food.
  • Don't cajole him or turn meals into a performance. This is what made the biggest difference with my son. I stopped getting cross or trying to persuade him to eat. Now, if he refuses something, I simply shrug, take the plate away and say "OK, all the more for the rest of us then" It's amazing how often he wants the plate back, as it turns out he is hungry after all.
  • Continue to introduce new foods, but along side things he's comfortable with. Stay calm, and be prepared for a lot of waste. Start by encouraging him to lick new foods before moving on to bites.

I know that there is a school of thought that says we should starve children so that they will be forced to eat, but this doesn't work with every child and is quite grim to have to do. But one thing you could do is cut back slightly on his drinks and increase his activity levels - both together will naturally raise his appetite. Obviously don't let him go thirsty, but if he is currently having 3 glasses of milk at a time you could easily pour out a smaller amount, or limit him to two.

You say you've been advised, so I take it you are already speaking to your GP or health visitor. If your son is a reasonable size for his age, is sleeping well and is generally active, then he is probably getting the nutrition he needs. He may be getting it from the fresh air, but it's going in, so try not to worry too much. He won't be like this as an adult. Slowly, he will turn a corner. Be patient, and you'll get there.

best wishes


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