Second helping time…

IMG_4529I love it when readers get in touch with their questions about picky eating. It’s funny how the same things come up again and again… It might feel like you are alone, but believe me, you’re not.  Despite unique situations and cultural differences, parents thousands of miles apart are going through the same things. When I got the following email from Sheila and Lisa about their two sons (aged 8 and 10)  and then a client asked me the same question the very next day, I felt it deserved a blog post. Here’s  part of what Sheila and Lisa wrote *

Hello, Ms. Cormack,

My partner and I read your book and loved it. TONIGHT we implemented the new system and we were thrilled with how well it worked. Our two boys, ages 8 and 10, certainly grumbled, and the youngest really pushed hard because he didn’t want to eat the corn on his plate. We held firm ……………….

……..As it turned out, he finally ate his corn and enjoyed some snicker noodle cookies for dessert. My partner and I are at an impasse on how to handle second helpings. She thinks we should let them have second helpings of their favorite items if they have at least tasted the item that they don’t want, say, maybe, three bites. I say no. We didn’t remember this being addressed in your book. Could you weigh in?
Lisa and Sheila

Second helpings are a thorny topic. On the one hand, you want your child to be able to have more of the food he enjoys. On the other hand, he will quickly learn that he can leave food he is unsure of  and then fill up on second helpings.

Here’s what I advised Lisa and Sheila:

1) Serve small portions. If you are practicing EAF, you will be serving everybody the same thing. If you start off with a small portion and your child has sat down to his meal with a good appetite, he is much more likely to eat several parts of his meal rather than just the ‘non – threatening’ bits.

2) Introduce the concept of ‘second helping time’. I explained to Lisa and Sheila that making second helpings conditional on eating or trying a disliked food will make picky eating worse.  See this post about holding the pudding hostage – the same principle applies.

Second helping time is a way of explaining to children that they cannot have second helpings if they haven’t eaten what’s on their plates, but without pressuring them or making one food conditional on another.  This is how it works:

‘Second helping time’

Tell your child  that it will be their second helping time when they have eaten all the food that they were served (remember the small portions…). BUT the reason you need them to do that before offering seconds is not that you want them to eat their meal. It is that throwing food away then serving up a seconds is wasteful.

This way, you are not putting any pressure on them to eat (it’s still entirely their choice) but you are dramatically increasing  the chances that your child will begin to eat a wider variety of food. This is a concept that will be easy for Lisa and Sheila’s sons to absorb but with younger children, you may have to wait until they are old enough to understand the notion of waste

Modelling is so important. To reinforce the idea that second helping time is a family rule,  follow it yourself. You can say ” It’s my second helping time – I think I’ll have some more potato”.   You get the idea…


Be careful not to set up second helping time as something to be aspired to- if you tell your child “well done -it’s your second helping time” you are both confusing eating and approval (of which I have written extensively elsewhere) and you are putting pressure on them to eat. Keep it objective. They want more chicken but have all their peas left? Tell them ” it’s not your second helping time -you’ve chosen to leave your peas and it would be wasteful to throw those away then get you more chicken”.  This is not criticism, just  a neutral statement of the situation at hand. It’s really important that your child understands that it’s absolutely fine not to get to  second helping time and that you have no preference either way. I have more on this here.

This is all about re-framing.  Once children no longer see eating as a behaviour you require from them, they will make their own choices and almost always, these choices will be good ones.

*This (edited) email is reproduced with permission

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