Ask a Behaviour Consultant

Q. I have a child in my program who refuses to eat most food that is offered. This child loves to eat bread, crackers, yogurt and fruit. My expectation is for every child to try at least one bite before they get more of the food they like.

A. Mealtimes can be stressful because we want children to eat well and to try a variety of foods. Educators have personal beliefs about food based on their own experiences that are important to be aware of. The environment needs to be calm and stress free. Mealtimes should be a positive experience for everyone. You can create a more positive environment by trying some of the following suggestions.

Due to Covid protocols all programs are having to serve children their food.  While children are waiting for their plate, this is a good opportunity to give them a glass of water or milk. They may be thirsty from playing outdoors.

Begin with exposure, touch, smell, having it on their plate. Reinforce the child for any interaction. When filling the plate, offer choices if the child is receptive. Would you like lots of carrots or a little bit of carrot? For less preferred foods, put only a small size portion on the plate. Once everyone has their plate, be a model and take some food as well. Talk about what you are eating, describe the colour and texture of the food. Comment on how it tastes. Acknowledge that you prefer some foods over other foods, but you do like to try new things. When the child tries something, reinforce it by saying, “You tried a small bite of peas.” When they ask for more of what they like, give it to them. Mealtime is not about teaching what children should or should not eat. Mealtime is about connection and being empathetic. It is another way to build a trusting relationship.

Take pressure off the child by avoiding the following:

  • Making demands such as: “take one bite.”
  • Statements such as: “see, your friends are eating.”
  • Shaming statements such as: “If you don’t eat this then you can’t have the fruit/dessert.”

Take the pressure off eating by talking about their interests and making meal time fun. 


  • CHEO Occupational Therapist Video
  • CHEO Website
  • CHEO Tip Sheet
  • Books from our library:
    • Eating Isn’t Always Easy – CBE 823
    • Food Chaining: The Proven 6-Step Plan to Stop Picky Eating, Solve Feeding Problems, and Expand Your Child’s Diet – RBE 749
    • Broccoli Boot Camp – RBE 848
    • Helping Your Child with Extreme Picky Eating: A Step-By-Step Guide for Overcoming Selective Eating, Food Aversion and Feeding Disorders – RBE 236
    • Just Take a Bite: Easy, Effective Answers to Food Aversions and Eating Challenges! RBE 8

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