Carlos Gonzalez: What to do if your child won't eat

Got a fussy eater on your hands? Outspoken paediatrician and author, Carlos Gonzalez tells us exactly what we shouldn't be doing when it comes to feeding our children...

Child in highchair

Ever coached your child into 'one more mouthful'? Well, you might be in for a talking to. Known as the doctor who tells parents to break the rules, Spanish paediatrician Carlos Gonzalez is famous for his best-selling no-nonsense books on child rearing and breastfeeding. Here, he answers our questions in no uncertain terms...

Carlos Gonazalos © Agustin AmateDo new parents have certain preconceptions about raising children? 

Well, some of them have, and maybe more in our times than in centuries past. We have fewer siblings, and so fewer nephews/nieces, and so less experience of seeing real babies before we have our own. And babies in films and books frequently never cry, never wake in the night, and children are beautiful and obedient and play by themselves.
 
How have attitudes to bringing up children changed over recent generations?

Many things have changed, on average, some for good, some for bad:

  • Now, we have a clear conscience that you cannot spank a child. Never. In many countries it's even forbidden by law.
  • We generally think that children's feelings and wellbeing are important.
  • Children start attending school much earlier and are separated from their parents for many hours at an early age.
  • We are less tolerant with normal childhood behaviours. We no longer say "boys will be boys", but bring our children to a psychologist.
  • Instinctive parenting has been abandoned in favour of books, methods and experts.

Are there any common patterns behind fussy eating in children? 

I'm not speaking about real eating problems, about very sick children, but about normal, healthy children that are playing happily, but for which mealtimes are an inferno. And the cause in these cases is clear: the parents tried to force-feed the child, maybe misled by some professionals who recommend exaggerated amounts of food. Never try to force a child to eat. Neither by force nor by persuasion, coaching, bribing, distraction or any other method.
 
If parents don't force their children, usually children have, in the end, similar preferences.  If parents try to force-feed their children, usually children in the end hate that food. And since parents usually insist on more"healthy" foods, teenagers and young adults many times prefer the most unhealthy.

But doesn't it matter if your children eat vegetables?

You should eat vegetables, leave your children alone and, in the end, they'll probably eat vegetables also. But there are changes in food preferences in a lifetime. Between one and 16 years, most children would prefer macaroni to vegetables. They will change again, unless you make them really hate vegetables.

So how should a parent deal with a seriously fussy eater?

Leave the child alone. Fussy eating is not a child problem, it's a parent problem.  The parent is the one who has an abnormal behaviour. Because telling someone "finish your veggies" or "a little bit for Dad, a little bit for Granny" or "Brrrr Brrr look at the 'plane!" are not normal behaviours. Stop it now!
 
What's the best way of alleviating stress from the dinner table?

The child cannot change. He cannot say "I have decided to eat twice as much from now on, so you, Mum and Dad, will be happy". He cannot say that, because anyone who starts eating TWICE as much as before everyday will be obese in a few months. Your child is already eating well, it's you who have to change.
 
How do you feel about premade food for babies and children?

It's much more expensive and usually not as healthy as your home food. (And if your food at home is not healthy, you should change it now. Eating healthy baby food for a year and unhealthy family food for 30 years will not do). You don't need to prepare special food for your child. He can be offered normal family food from the start.
 
What's your top tip for raising healthy, adventurous eaters?

Adventurous eaters? I had never thought of that as an objective when raising my children. Usually children don't like new, unknown food. It's normal.

Sound common sense or just not practical? We'd love to hear what you think about Carlos Gonzalez' advice. Get involved in the debate below...

My Child Won't EatCarlos Gonzalez is the author of My Child Won't Eat, Kiss Me! and Breastfeeding Made Easy. For more information visit pinterandmartin.com.

Comments, questions and tips

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Kathyli1234
7th Jul, 2017
I wanted to share my experience. First of all sorry flr my english, im neither from america nor from england, i live in another country, but i search for solutions in other languages too. My son was already before birth a lightweight, so they checked my weight which was ok, i gained a lot of weight. Then they checked the umbilical cord which was also ok. They took him out 11 days earlier because they thought he would do better outside than inside of me. That didnt help of course, but to this time i trusted in the doctors and believed. He is my first child. As we started with normal family foods he ate anways good without any problems. But for regular controls we had to go to the kids doctor, he was under the 3.percentile and the doctor asked me what he eats and how often and how much, he was really unfriendly and looked really sceptical at me. I had to write down to What times, and what he eats, and how many (i had to weight it exactly before, and then after eating to write down what he eats), and i had to check the calories i added and calculate it down to the amount of his portions. So that was a lot of work and a lot of stress as you can probably all imagine. I was so under pressure, because this man gave me the feeling that i wouldnt give him enough to eat. And it got worse, since the next day after this doc visit we have eating problems. I tried to force feed him because i was so desperate i didnt know what to do anymore. I tried to distract him. I begged him even and said "please eat more or they will maybe contact the childs office because they think you dont get food here" (i know of course that he doesnt understand this, sadly). I cooked for months everyday 7-10 different foods for one mealtime as he stopped eating, till he finally ate something, he got very picky. But at least, he then finally ate something. He still doesnt gain enough weight. I even bought high caloric drinks for him, and he drunk them, one bottle of 200 ml costs 6€. Its so expensive, but i still bought them. And he still doesnt gain enough weight. I mean he gains weight, at least he doesnt loose weight (i know because since 6 months we must go once per week to the children doctor to have it checked) inclusive my list gets checked. When he is soon in a day care center then the educator will have to do this which i pay extra. Slowly, i dont think anymore that it is my fault. I know i have made mistakes as i tried to force feed him after this doctors appointment, but because i was so desperate. Before this, he ate really good we were always so proud of it how great he eats. But even then, he didnt gain much. And i have seen from the other moms their children dont eat so much as mine, but they were way heavier. I havent done this force feeding for long time, i tried it a couple days. Then i was reading a lot of psychical literatur about this topic and i changed my behavior, we had fun by eating again, i did let him do what he wants with the food, i clean up everyday when he throws it on the floor and dont get mad at him dont yell at him ever, dont be stressed, and sometimes he will eat good and sometimes he just wont, then i try it later again and offer him something else. Then it started diarrhoe, which he has since weeks, he got medicamts from doctor but it didnt help. I have tried everything, changed his water, cooked with less fat cause it started around this time, didnt give milk anymore, just things like potatoes, rice, meat with less fat, noodles, fish, vegetables (ya he loves vegetables, funny huh) like everything he likes to eat but which should be ok or make a harder poop, also cheese and eggs, gave no fruit juices anymore or fruits which could make it more liquid, and, it doesnt help at all. I tried to change the doctor which wasnt allowed because we are with him in an all time treatment. So ya, just stress, and the whole thing just started with the doctor appointment, since this day we have those troubles it controls our lifes and he give me the feeling im the worst parent on the planet, and this olthough my son and i have a really sweet together, cept when it comes to eat. And he is really active, more than the other children. He didnt even once make a blood check if he has any problems with gluten oder lactose or maybe a celiac desease. Because, this problems were already before he was born. I gained in my pregnancy 25 kg, so not too less and it was all ok, i think that he has any sickness which he just doesnt want to check because he rather wants me to show up once a week so he can bill the health insurance. In 2 weeks i have an appointment with a private doctor i pay in private and not the insurance because they tell me i need to stay at this doctor till he finished diagnosing. But he doesnt diagnose because all he is doing is weight controls which i do now finally at home already too, and checks my lists. And i can be glad that he still gains weight. If someday this changes and he looses weight, he would probably call the children office. And im glad we arent poor people otherwise we could totally forget such expensive things like special milk or private doctors. For me, this is the hell, because i do everything i can i even cook everyday sometimes 7-10 different meals i really do a lot of effort because i couldnt get pregnant for 8 yrs and then all of a sudden i was olthough it wasnt part of our lifeplan anymore, and we were so happy and he is such a beautiful sweet boy and his laugh is like music in my ears there is nothing i love more than my child. And they dont see this, they look only to their percentile and pressure us and make our day going crazy instead of having a relaxed baby time, i anyways need soon back to work for 10 hours per day and he will be in a day care with other kids (which is good for his social life since we wont get a second child). I hope this gets better, maybe when he see the other kids eat, and i hope it doesnt get worse. And when he is sick it hopefully comes out by the blood test so we can do anything. It really doesnt make sense to me how he can have liquid poop just on potatoes without anything, i tried that for 1 day and really didnt give him anything else not even bread because of gluten, and fresh potatoes should be usually ok. I plant it even myself we have around 40 fruit trees and vegetables and its all organic. I also bought from supermarket but it was the same problem. And when i go out for some minutes he wont eat he will throw it all on the floor. He only eats then when i come back in snd let him play something while i feed him, which is distraction and usually wrong but that goes without problems and if i wouldnt do that he d probably starve infront of full dishes with meals. And i cook and bake really good and no premade food and no spices just a lil bit. If you have any suggestions let me know, im open for everything you can reccomend or what it could be.
Joanneandmax
27th Jun, 2017
We live in Ireland and just recently got help from a paediatric nutritionist in Australia who specialises in feeding therapies. I had read all the fussy eater books and scoured the internet but found this lady a god send, she was recommended by a local GP here. So when this article came up i thought i should mention her. If anyone was like me mealtimes consumed my every thought, caused anxiety and stress that was starting to do long term damage to my family. My son simply stopped eating, he would cry and scream when i was serving food, i was trying to stay calm and passive but nothing was working. He literally lived on Oreos, milk and hot chips and was severely constipated. The 3 week program that this aussie lady put us through was intense, but i could see it was working in the first few days. My son added 28 new foods to his list in the first 2 weeks, most of which are now favourites and we have a regular routine to keep us on track. She works one-on-one and is thoroughly inciteful and inspiring. And because she's in Australia her rates are cheap but we were prepared to pay anything to get my LO to eat. Google Littlefusspot and ask for Beth. Can't recommend enough!
AGift
17th Dec, 2016
I think this is good advice for a normal child, not a sick child (as the author noted in the beginning of the article). The challenge is to know when you are dealing with a sick child. I urge parents to trust your gut when it comes to your children and listen to why they don't want to eat. In our case our daughter was 4 when she was diagnosed with celiac disease (autoimmune response to gluten). Looking back it's easy to see the pattern of her struggles, starting from 18 months with excess gas, and progressively getting worse: bellyaches at age 2, cramping and diarrhea at age 3, and finally vomiting and losing weight and a diagnosis at age 4. Going through these years it was a constant battle about food. She began as a wonderful eater and progressed to only wanting to eat pastas and gluten-heavy foods. While this made her feel terrible, the doctors think they probably tasted good enough for her to want to eat them, while she cut out everything else. I wish we had known sooner as she could've felt so much better sooner.
SallyJ77
18th Nov, 2016
While I agree in principal with his theories, this has not been my experience with my daughter. From birth, she never liked eating. She was under the 1st percentile for weight for months because she did not consume enough calories. Now, at 11 months old, she has managed to climb into the 3rd percentile because we coax her to drink high calorie formula and eat high fat foods, but she would happily subsist on 400 calories per day otherwise.
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AmadeoVampire
10th Oct, 2016
I generally agree. Force feeding seems to put children off of foods, and when that food is the good stuff (i.e. vegs, home cooked meals etc.) I end up seeing them snacking and eating junk. My nephews, unfortunately, eat so much snack food (chocolate, crisps, biscuits and so on) that their mother can't seem to get any regular meals in them.
cjdownes21
9th Oct, 2016
If a child is hungry it will eat
estpyz
5th Apr, 2016
One thing I don't get is if a parent doesn't want their child to eat fries, biscuits and rubbish why did they introduce them to it in the first place?! As regards trying different veg the 10 times method really works. My brother couldn't stand avocado so my mum gave him a small piece and the same time for 10days (mum use to say "medicine time") and then made a meal that evening with avocado in it, he didn't even notice it. Tried it loads of different times and always worked.
Maity101
30th May, 2016
Yeah... every child lives in a little bubble. They never leave their homes. They never see other people. They never go to parties. How on EARTH could a child be introduced to a food the parent doesn't approve of in the first place?!?
jamontalto
29th Mar, 2016
My daughter now 16, drove me mad as a baby and child. My elder son was no trouble - I always made home made baby food and he loved all different types of food. My daughter just vomited everything up and her first solid was at 9 months. For years she only ever ate a very restricted range of food. She is disgusted by most food and disgusted by food prepared out of home. Today, because I often refused to pander to her, she generally just makes her own food unless I am making her same old favourites. It's not as easy as saying that parents make kids neurotic or stressed about food. I treated my kids the same - one was an easy eater, the other wasn't. And it's not the amount either - she would be really, really hungry when she was a kid, and just not want to eat. Then she would spend a day catching up and eating loads.
Gemina24
4th Jan, 2017
This is an old article but I had to sign in and say Jamontalto knows what he/she is talking about!! I have two kids, one is going to send us to an insane asylum with everything..BUT ESPECIALLY his picking eating. The other child, we have no problems. I'm so tired of reading comments and articles saying it should be like this or like that. The adults you meet that are stubborn and do everything on their own terms..guess what they were children once! Some people (babies/kids are people..what?!!) are just wired a different way! I'm dreading the teenage years with this one. He's lucky he's so cute.

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extremely conce...
21st Sep, 2016
My daughter started Kindergarten 3 weeks ago. She has never been a lunch eater and she is very fussy. up until she turned almost 3 she ate everything whatever was put in front of her she ate, now she will only eat very specific things. I work all day so she was with my mother all day and she let her just snack and have whatever she wanted now I can't get her to change. I got a call from the school today wondering why she isn't eating I explained she is fussy and she does not eat lunch, she has a big breakfast and she eats a good supper after school (well what she will eat). They say my job is to feed her good foods, my daughter is very stubborn and she does not do what she does not want to do. The school scares the hell out of me, she is at the right weight for age, she is healthy, and if I don't feed her what she likes and she doesn't eat then I will be in trouble for that too, what is a parent suppose to do? I pack her lunch and I started out sending the things she likes(homemade pizza, chicken patties and nuggets) making her a fresh lunch every day and she won't touch it, so I changed to dry cereal and graham crackers and pizza cheese (She loves that and will eat and eat it) and the school is not happy with that and she still won't eat. She has money on her lunch account at school but she just won't eat. What am I suppose to do they are making me feel inadequate as a parent, and scared to death they are going to cause problems. I have tried telling her she needs to at her lunch I have asked her why she does not eat her lunch and she tells me because she is not hungry, they give them a snack at school and she picks at that. Help I am feeling helpless and totally scared to death.
TanziBear
10th May, 2014
My youngest child is now almost 15 and is still a horrendous non food addict. She has not been reared any differently from the previous two. I am, if anything, more tolerant than my younger self when I probably did force the other two to eat. Whilst my youngest has improved in that she will now allow more than one food on a plate her progression of food variants is still terribly limited. What would you advise? I do encourage her to try some of what the rest of us eat by offering her to sample, but never push the issue when she declines to even taste. She has not grown to the same extent as the other two and this bothers her.
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