I agree that it makes sense to stop pestering the child and take the attitude "if they're really hungry, they'll eat." But, I end up with is a toddler with low blood sugar and behavior problems -I really belive he loses control of himself.
My 3 y.o. old isn't necessarily a picky eater - he will try new things when in the mood. But he will be uninterested in food long enough that he gets low blood sugar, then he requests cookies. My approach is: you can have a cookie after some "brain food" (produce or protein) = an hour+ temper tantrum. today he went close to 6 hours without anything because he wouldn't eat lunch, and I wouldn't give him a cookie until he had protein. He also won't eat breakfast except dry cereal and 1 hot chocolate (with milk). He used to eat eggs /bacon, peanut butter /jelly, oatmeal with milk.
I've tried giving him one cookie, then asking him to eat "brain food" if he wants more; it just moves the tantrum from "I want a cookie" to "I want another cookie." I could leave him alone and give him a plate of 5 cookies and nutritious food, and let him choose what he wants, but he would just eat all of the cookies, feel full, and then have another blood sugar drop in an hour, putting us right back where we started! I feel bullied into parenting in a way that just seems wrong to me, and it doesn't even save me any hassle!
I have already put a total kabosh on candy, and have tried to on cookies as well. But even if we don't have cookies, we still have the same temper tantrum - "I want a cookie!" and no other eating happens. Once in a while he will eat really well at dinner.
What is your advice in regards to the failure of the "they will eat when they are hungry" theory? I have tried engaging him in preparing snacks or meals, but he is usually so focused on getting his cookie that he has no interest in anything else.
You do have your hands full and it is not good for him to go 6 hours without eating. Suggest giving him only cookies that are made with oats, raisins, peanut butter, or soy. He will have his cookies but they will be of nutritional value with protein and nutrients.
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