Children and Eating: Common Misconceptions

Like many adults, children have an internal list of foods they refuse to eat. This can be challenging as many parents struggle with their children's eating habits. Parents worry if their children are eating enough and/or are concerned they don't want to eat at all. However, did you know that there are sometimes underlying factors as to why your child might not want to eat?

Various difficulties with muscle coordination, learning, and motor skills can make eating difficult. These issues extend beyond pickiness and can be detrimental to your child aside from a hungry tummy. But, the good news is that there are solutions through therapy for families in these situations.

Let's take a look at 8 common eating habit myths for children, and how you can approach them differently:

Misconception 1 - Eating is the body’s #1 priority

Actually, eating is only body priority number 3. Breathing and postural stability are body priority numbers 1 and 2. This is because if breathing and postural stability are compromised, eating may be resisted. Of course, that doesn’t mean eating isn’t important! You just need to find ways to make mealtime comfortable, keep your child’s spirits up, and keep them confident in their abilities if they are refusing food.

Misconception 2 - Children will starve themselves

In most cases, kids might not want to eat chili for dinner, but they're still going to try and seek out other food. However, with kids whose eating hurts or is highly difficult, they simply cannot avoid starving themselves without intervention. Sometimes it will take a professional intervention to ensure your child can get the nutrition they need.

Misconception 3 - Children should not play with their food

Kids are exploratory by nature - as Carl Sagan said, children are natural scientists. It might not seem overly scientific when they're stirring mashed potatoes into their beets, but they're in the process of learning. Since most food is a novelty to kids, every bit of it needs to be experienced. Is it chunky? Does it feel weird on their skin? How does it taste when it's mixed with everything else on the plate, and how would it react when dropped from a large height?

It might seem frustrating, but for a child to get familiar with food and appreciate it, sometimes a little play is necessary.

Misconception 4 - Eating is easy

Eating is the most complex task that a human being can engage in, and is the only human task that requires every one of your organ systems to work correctly. Given that it is a complex dance between choosing food that you want to eat, chewing it well enough to swallow, and passing it past your airway into your stomach. There are so many places where something incorrect could happen and cause a problem in that process. For a child with difficulty keeping their head up, for instance, the activity of eating is full of difficulty. Additionally, some toddler eating problems are the result of slow-developing motor skills or a physical problem that causes pain or obstruction.

Thus, for children who have motor difficulties or other similar troubles, eating can be hard.

Misconception 5 - Eating is instinctual

Babies have a rooting reflex that makes them want to eat, but this starts to extinguish by around 6 months of life. After that, kids might be hungry, but they often cannot articulate it and until they're older, they certainly cannot feed themselves their normal meals. As much as it seems counterintuitive, eating is essentially a behavior that needs to be taught.

Misconceptions 6 - Children only need to eat 3x per day

For a child to meet their daily caloric needs, they would have to eat adult-sized meals to only eat three times a day. Given their small stomachs and attention spans most children would need to eat 5-6 meals a day to get enough calories for proper growth and development.

Misconception 7 - Only certain foods can be eaten at certain times of the day

Food is food! While some foods do have more nutritional value than others, labeling foods as “good,” “bad,” or “only to be eaten at X meal”, is not helpful in teaching children to have a healthy relationship with food. If a child wants to eat chicken and peas at breakfast, that is okay. Also, the so-called “junk” food plays a huge role as stepping stones in teaching children with feeding difficulties to learn to eat a wide variety of foods as these “junk” foods are easier to manage from an oral-motor standpoint. 

Misconception 8 - Manners must be minded at mealtime

During mealtime, eating should come first and manners should come second. The skills of eating need to be learned first, before children can have good manners. If a child has not learned to eat well yet, mealtimes are a teaching opportunity and the parents are the teachers. Children also eat much better when the food is engaging, interesting, and attractive. So go ahead, and be noisy, messy, and play with your food!

Food Anxiety

Some kids may also have a fear of eating, and it can be overwhelmingly complex to them. It may also hurt because of a physical obstruction or weak muscles in the neck, jaw, or throat. Parents should seek out therapeutic intervention if they feel like their children are having a significantly difficult time with eating. If you still notice food anxiety in child eating habits and you need help, Infinite Therapy Solutions is here for you. 

Key Takeaways:

  • A child’s refusal to eat can go beyond the extent of pickiness. It could be painful or difficult.

  • Be wary of the common misconceptions with eating habits in your child, and seek out help if you believe intervention is needed. 

Reach out to Infinite Therapy Solutions Today!

Food anxiety in children can be the result of pain, discomfort, difficulty understanding or using motor skills needed to eat on their own, and a combination of speech, occupational, and physical therapy can sometimes be needed to help resolve these issues. Give us a call or email us - we can help your children develop healthy eating habits that serve them their entire lives.