3 1/2 Easy Ways to Manage Challenging Mealtime Behaviors…..and Save Your Sanity

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My life is a nightmare of feeding problems with my son. He will only eat potato chips or peanut butter packaged crackers. I’m worried about his health. If I offer something else and tell him he must eat it or he’ll get sick I have to deal with a full fledged tantrum! What can I do to stop this behavior?

Why are some kids so difficult about food and mealtimes? It turns out there as many reasons your child display extremely difficult behaviors at mealtime as there are foods they’ll turn up their noses at. Eating patterns linked to challenging behaviors are affected by everything from personality traits to parental control at mealtime to social influences to maternal eating patterns. Or it could just be your kid being, well, a kid.

One thing we know for sure is that parental anxiety won’t help.

The experts at The Watson Institute suggest that its better to avoid bribing and begging, learn by example and to try new strategies. Experts are available for interview or to prepare a guest article that takes a deeper dive into exerting control, food types, patterns and more…as well as three and 1/2 easy ways to being to regain control of mealtime behaviors (and your sanity).

1. Use a “behavior story”: – written from your child’s perspective – to provide him or her with directions for different situations, like social and behavioral expectations for eating in a restaurant with the family. These are great for children aged 3 and up!

2. Trial & Error: Picky eating isn’t always a matter of behavior alone. Consider strategies toeliminate possible medical issues or allergies. After that, try to schedule meals and snacks rather than snacking – this will make it more likely that your child is hungry at mealtimes. Explore presenting a food your child likes in a fun way, such as cut or served differently.

3. Keep mealtimes short: 15-20 minutes for younger children and 20-30 minutes for older children

3.5 THE BIG BONUS: Never underestimate the importance of eating with your child at the table to model desirable mealtime behavior and turn meals into family time

-The Watson Institute

ABOUT WATSON: Founded in 1917, the Watson Institute helps children with special needs achieve their fullest potential in all aspects of their lives. This mission is achieved through education and support services to more than 1300 children annually from across Western Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Ohio through our continuum of services. Watson strives to provide programs that serve the needs of children with autism spectrum disorders, cerebral palsy, neurological impairments, other developmental delays, and serious emotional disturbances. The Watson Institute honored its centennial anniversary of service in 2017. To learn more about the Watson Institute and about upcoming events, please visit


Photo by Jimmy Dean on Unsplash

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