Spoon feeding your children till they are six or seven? Opening the TV to distract your child while feeding? Running after your child to take a bite while they are playing around in the club?

These are all very common behaviors in our Egyptian culture. One of the requirements of being a good Egyptian mother is to feed your child well, till signs of plump cheeks and thigh creases appear. Grandmothers always nag their daughters or daughters in law if the child is not sort of chubby, and if one is blessed with a slim healthy child who is not underweight by medical standards but is malnourished by cultural standards, still people may label this mother as not attending to her child’s nutritional needs.

All of these factors exert a pressure on the mother to continuously feed her child and nag him about food, if he complains about being full.

On the other hand, there is also another group of parents, who were given babies of low birth weight and were traumatically warned by the doctors to feed them in order to reach their normal weight.

All previous pressures produce nearly the same outcome, which is a parent who is overanxious about feeding their child and this results in certain parental behaviors that make the child automatically and almost subconsciously resistant to food. Examples of such behaviors are;

  • Oversized portions on the child’s plate and insisting the child finishes those huge portions.
  • Constantly asking the child if they ate at nursery or school.
  • Refusing to have the child eat by them selves in fear of spilling food or making a mess.
  • Nervously nagging the child to eat.
  • Responding with huge facial gestures or comments, when the child refuses to eat.
  • Over pampering or bribing the child to eat.
  • Threatening to punish the child if he doesn’t eat.


The child learns from the parents’ facial reactions and extra pressuring behaviors, that the food issue is a major area to control the parent and get whatever they need using this area. It is not that the child is a manipulator by nature, but simply we the parents teach them unconsciously that this is the way to get what they need to get.

 So, have you been hiding the vegetables and blending them into cakes and muffins? Have you given up on your child eating salad or meat?

Well, what I am saying is you don’t have to.. There is a way to raise a healthy eater.

I know through witnessing hundreds of children throughout the past 10 years at the preschool age, that some children are more difficult, some are more stubborn, some have sensory issues and some parents are more consistent and patient while others are more inconsistent and malleable.

Before I offer some tips towards healthy eating, let us take a look at how psychologist Erick Erickson’s psycho-social stages, can be applied to children’s eating skills development;


Stage of trust versus mistrust: (Infants)

To ensure the child achieves trust at this age, the parent or caregiver is advised to, feed the baby when hungry without delay and stop feeding when the baby shows they are full. The caregiver should set a comfortable, secure and tender tone while feeding the baby and not just propping the bottles while the baby is in its chair.

If the caregiver feeds the baby on a strict schedule not aligning with the baby’s needs, or the baby is robotically fed without tender embracing, there is a risk that this child will develop a sense of mistrust that will continue to grow with him and affect his behavior and relationships.


Stage of autonomy versus shame and doubt: (Toddlers)

At this stage, the child needs to prove to himself that he is autonomous and can do things on his own. Thus, they are encouraged to feed themselves, however messy it may be. If they refuse food, it is taken lightly but is tried again later. If the caregiver insists on feeding the child, interrupts feeding to wipe and clean the mess, or forces the child to eat all their food, there is a risk of developing a doubtful person who is ashamed of him self and a crack in self confidence will develop.


Stage of initiative versus Guilt: (Early childhood)

This stage is characterized by, the child having a will, to initiate, try and take risks.

The parent should present food to the child so he/she can serve them selves and decide how much they need to eat. To treat spills as normality not a disaster. When the child expresses being full, it should be respected. The opposite of the previous recommendations should be avoided; otherwise the child will develop a strong sense of guilt.


Stage of Industry versus Inferiority: (Middle childhood)

At this age, children need to feel they are capable and can accomplish tasks and achieve missions. It is thus advisable to arrange the environment so that the child can make his own food. Cooking recipes for children are very productive tasks at this age. Children can even make menus and suggest schedules for meal times. This will all deflect the child away from a sense of inferiority, which could occur, if the child at this age is offered pre set meals and forced to eat everything that is served.


So are all picky eaters a result of a parenting behavior?

In my opinion, the answer to this question is No, some children’s aversions towards food is related to an allergy and some conditions may increase the child’s sensitivity to textures, smells or taste, which makes it difficult for the child to tolerate certain foods. So, if you notice your child is refusing a particular group of food, have him/her checked out for allergies.


How to raise a healthy eating child?

Following are some Do’s and Don’ts:

Do start early:  I have noticed that children, who are fed sweet cereals before mashed vegetables, have a higher tendency to refuse the vegetables later. So Don’t sweeten your baby’s food and delay the sweet food even fruits till after you introduce the vegetables.

Do be a good example for your child: when your child grows up seeing you enjoying a big bowl of colorful salad or snacking on cucumbers and carrots dipping them in yoghurt instead of chips or cookies, definitely this child will adopt the same eating habits.

Do keep trying: it is normal for children to refuse trying new food, this is called “neophobia” but this doesn’t mean to give up that food. Keep trying different recipes in creative new ways and please be very patient.

Don’t allow snacking 2 hours at least before meals. If your child drinks a glass of milk for example, this in spite of being very healthy will lead to loss of appetite for the next meal.

Do fill your fridge and pantry with healthy options. The environment is truly a teacher, so if the home is full of healthy options, that’s what the child will grow to love and the healthy habits will be simply inbuilt.

Don’t resort to packs of juices or milkshakes. Most of those containers are just packed with sugars that can plump up a child in a very short period of time. Home made milk shakes, smoothies or juices are a far better option.

Do eat at least one meal as a family. Eating together has many benefits from family bonding to acquiring healthy eating habits.

Don’t’ eat in front of the TV. Some children may over eat while watching the tv, while others may lose their appetites. You also need to provide a food-celebrating environment, where food is taught to be a blessing worth cherishing on its own. If the child is distracted by tv, he may not admire the beauty or the taste of a wonderful healthy meal.

Do enjoy your healthy meals and let it show on your face. A lot of parents are on diets, so all their child sees is a parent complaining that his lunch is only a salad. How can such a child grow to love salad? This will require a big effort from the parent who is suffering the consequences of unhealthy eating but to his/her surprise, if they even begin by pretending to enjoy their salad in front of their child, they might very well really grow into loving it.




Trip to the Farmers Market:

 Put it in your schedule to take your child to healthy farmers market, and have them choose new foods to go back home and try.


Recipe search and cooking:

Help your child search for new healthy recipes and try them together with different blends and tastes.


The tasting game:

Blindfold yourself and ask your child to feed you food samples from little small plates and you guess what the food is. The child will then ask to take a turn including trying new food he never has before just because it’s a fun game. (Put only one new food at a time)


The sorting game:

Display a variety of fruits and vegetables on the kitchen table, prepare two different baskets, then have your child sort them into fruits and vegetables.


Pretend play market or restaurant:

Pretend play your child is the farmer or the supermarket attendant; make it as similar as real life as possible. Arrange for the whole setting to make it visual and aesthetic. The same with pretending to be going to a restaurant and the child is the waiter or vice versa.


The basic idea for all the previous activities is to have a lot of fun with your child around the theme of food or eating. This will surely and indirectly turn your picky eater into a healthy food-cherishing child.


What I am saying here is that even if you as a parent were unintentionally causing your child to be a picky eater, the good news is with some effort, a lot of persistence wrapped in a box of fun, your child can be totally transformed into a healthy eating person who just loves being a healthy eating person.



B.Link, L. (2013, February 10). 10 reasons why your kids are picky eaters. Retrieved from http://www.kevinmd.com/blog/2013/02/10-reasons-kids-picky-eaters.html

Fletcher, J., & Branen, L. (n.d.). Erick Erickson's psychosocial stages, Applications for children's eating skills development.

Is your child a pick eater? or problem feeder? (2012, December 7).

Sampson, S. (2014, January 15). Reforming a picky eater, Step one: Children Don't control the family meal. The New York Times.

S. Park, J. (n.d.). Keeping kids healthy and fit. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/parents/special/article-nutrition-picky.html


By Dr. Mona Youssri


Also watch this animated video.