Personally, I don't buy into it. My little monsters, ahem, ANGELS go through, and get over, their food issues in a relatively short amount of time. I put what I make in front of them, and move on with my life. I like my food hot, and I'm not going to waste time with someone who's not even hungry when I am.
That's right, I said, NOT HUNGRY.
But, it's dinner time!!! (or lunch, or breakfast!)
Children don't have a disfunctional relationship with food. They are born with a clean slate. We teach them to be crazy about food. It's the one surefire way a twenty eight pound toddler can best a two hundred pound daddy. We beg, we plead, we cajole, we make giant asses out of ourselves trying to get the little monsters (ahem, angels) to eat whatever we've prepared for them. And they love it. They love the attention, the show, the way the world stops for them.
The next time your child refuses a meal, remember a couple of things.
His or her stomach is the size of his or her little fist. Chances are that stomach has crackers, juice, milk, banana, grapes or cookies in it. If you are that concerned that he/she isn't eating at meals, cut off the all day buffet table.
He or she will be LESS HUNGRY as the day goes on. Grown ups have a strange relationship with food. For some reason, we eat our biggest meal at dinner, when we are winding down for the day. Kids, who haven't been psycologically reset yet, eat when they need to eat.
They only need about 40 calories per inch of height per day. Ok, so lets say that's 1000 calories, which is a good average. So in the morning, the little one eats a half of a bagel, (100 calories) a glass of juice (100 calories) and maybe some cream cheese (50 calories). Then at snack she has a banana and a glass of milk (230 calories). At lunch she eats the better part of a grilled cheese, milk, and some apple slices (approx 400 calories). Then, after nap, you offer her some whole grain cookies, and a glass of water. (100) cals.
By dinner, you're having a panic attack because she won't eat. Guess what? She doesn't need to!
At this point, you can enter a power struggle, and reteach her to keep eating when she's not hungry (obesity epidemic, anyone??) or you can smile, and give her veggies with her breakfast from now on so she'll eat them.
At the risk of sounding Grandma, no kid ever starved themselves to death. They are learning their cues from you, so teach them well!