Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Making Kids Eat Their Food

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Now before someone goes all crazy-like on me, I'm writing this in response to a comment that I received from a few of you about getting our kids to eat what is on their plate, after my Dear Son letter. We don't force feed our kids {although there have been some moments where I am more than tempted to do that....}, but we have a few 'methods' that we use in helping our kids actually ingest food that we consider edible by most standards.

Here's the question:
"...what do you do when a child won't eat dinner? Obviously no dessert, but do you keep it for another meal? What age did you start doing this? Are there any exceptions? I.E. help me!!"
I'll be honest and say that some of our kids are easier to feed than others, but we have had periods of time with each one when they either outright REFUSED to eat their food, turned up their noses at something on their plate, or were just plain rude about things.

It's usually been toward the tail end of age two/beginning of age three that we really begin to lay down the law in the food/dinner department. The main criteria - when those little defiant attitudes start setting in and they KNOW what they are doing ~ or refusing to do.

You know....the outright "NO!" and pushing the plate away. Turning up their little noses at something they have eaten before. Just irritating testing you to your absolute limit.

All that said, here's how we handle it:

~ Bring on the condiments. Ketchup, ranch dressing, and cheese can cover a multitude of dislikes. Our kids really like balsamic vinegar, so there are certain veggies that get a nice little dose of it before they get eaten.

~ Outright bribery. I'll be honest and say bribery at times has worked like a charm. A little dish of ice cream, a tiny lollipop, a cookie {especially when everyone else is enjoying them} can do wonders. If that doesn't work, we step it up a notch.

~ It comes back for breakfast. We really want our kids to understand that they need to eat what is put in front of them. I refuse to cook a different meal for each person in our house and there have been several occasions when food that was served for dinner made a re-appearance at the breakfast table. We covered the plate up or put it in a storage container and stuck it inthe fridge until morning. I'll admit it's frustrating and there was crying ~ and at times the kids STILL refused to eat the food for breakfast.

So it came back at snack time. And then lunch....each meal/snack time necessary until the food was eaten. We don't give them any other snacks or foods until the food in question has disappeared off their plate and into their stomach.

Sometimes it seemed ridiculous ~ a few measly green beans, a single piece of broccoli, one piece of ravioli....but it wasn't so much the food as the attitude/behavior behind the refusal to eat. There have been times when I felt horribly mean {or maybe that I was starving my child}, but believe me ~ when they get hungry enough, they'll eat!

One of ours {who shall remain nameless} refused to eat one piece of broccoli and went up until about 10 minutes before the next night's dinner before literally inhaling that thing because I made one of our family favorites for dinner. That child wanted to eat the meal and understood they wouldn't get it until the broccoli was gone. It's amazing how quickly it disappeared then.

There are times though that it isn't an 'attitude' or defiance that is causing the lack of attention to dinner. For example:

~ Appetites decrease and increase. Sometimes our kids just don't each as much as we expect them too. I usually try to start the kids off with small portions and they can always ask for more food if they finish and want something else. But the rule is they have to try everything on their plate and eat a certain amount of food {i.e. two bites of this, etc...}. There have been instances where I've given them too much to eat so we 'portion off' what they need to finish to qualify as 'done' with the meal.

~ Gag reflexes. We have one that has a very sensitive gag reflex when it comes to certain veggies. {YUCK}. Needless to say, I'm very careful with how I present things to him and in what quantities he gets them. That might mean mixing certain foods together so that he doesn't have to eat those things all by themselves and trigger that nasty reflex {i.e. hiding the food in other food, or covering it with something lovely like cheese to make it easy to go down}.

~ Offer an alternative. The main dish is the main dish here, but we have one kiddo that deals with texture issues, which then triggers the gag reflex. Cooked carrots are a HUGE issue, so instead we offer the option of raw carrots. There are times when I might offer an alternative to a veggie, but usually it's just replacing it with a raw veggie.

All that said, this is how OUR family handles it and your child/family might be completely different. It isn't so much the food but the attitude/behavior that rears its lovely little head that we are really trying to take care of. The biggest thing for us is consistency - once we've laid down the law we have to stick to it. We don't threaten, but the kids are reminded of the 'rules' and the consequences if they don't follow them. Our kids aren't perfect {and we most certainly aren't either}, but this is how we're doing things in our house. :)


  1. A friend of mine has the best saying for the one/two bites that must be eaten. They call it the "no thank you bite". I just love that.

  2. We are going through the refusal from Caleb. He's better about at least trying a bite, but he often goes to bed hungry. Great advice.

  3. Thankfully we are through most of this. Our 10 year old still struggles with trying new things, but we ask her to try one bite, and if she doesn't like it she doesn't have to eat it.

    Most of the time, she loves it. Thankfully my kids love veggies and they can't get enough of them.

    Love and Hugs ~ Kat

  4. Thanks for sharing your tips. I just wrote yesterday about my son's extreme pickiness. He's got a major gag reflex too. Kids and food can be such a battle!

  5. Thanks so much for posting this. I have been starting to "fight" over certain things. Sammy is a pretty good eater except for the main dinner dish. I am going to store this away for the future. Tim's family also had the No thank you helping! I love this :-)

  6. My son that's turning 3 next month is in the "I don't like this" stage at dinner. He takes a couple of bites and then says "I don't like this mama." I make him stay at the table as long as the rest of us are eating and he usually does pretty well because he gets bored eventually watching everyone else eat.

    Great post. I've done the dinner becomes breakfast thing. It worked like a charm.


  7. Good for you, Jo! This is great! So much wisdom here...

  8. It's all in the attitude, as my dear son is about to find out. He was led away by Dad after rudely refusing to eat the HUGE pile of mashed potatoes on his plate. You dish it out, you eat it.

  9. Great post and great comments, also. Hmmm... I am a bit different in some ways on this issue. I DO force my kids to take a bite sometimes. I have actually open their mouths and put a bite in as my husband stands watching in horror. When they realize they like it and we are all rolling laughing within moments it is all worth the brief moment of feeling like "a bad mom". Funny story... LAST night I wanted to make a quick meal, except my picky children can make this quite difficult... My main ingredient was hamburger meat (and my kids are not meat lovers). I decided on Meaty Ranch Style Beans and Rice. It is just browned hamburger meat with Ranch Style Beans added to it and cook for a while and then served over rice. My five year old was refusing to eat. Her daddy told her to take bites or punishment of some sort. She was having none of it. I got up and put and went to put a bite in her mouth. "This bad mom" is not found of forcing them to taste, so I suddenly said, "I'll paint your fingernails!" Done deal! Still I was having to bribe her with every bite and I knew it was all about the way it looked.... they like plain things, so beats and bits of meat do not aappeal to them at all... so, I put a blindfold on her and she ate the whole bowl!! LOL!! I had to feed her, but she ate it since she could not SEE it. Craziness!!! That's my world!!

  10. Hilarious! My husband started a new tactic. They don't eat what we make? They eat peanut butter and jelly. For every meal. They recently went 3 days eating nothing by pb&j. Finally, they got sick of it. And in the meantime, at least they had some protein! I'm sure we'll be doing that again when they get defiant again!


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