Frustrated because your child refuses to eat dinner? Here’s a simple solution to ease your stress–it worked for us!
Got a kid who won’t eat dinner?
I did. When my younger son was a toddler, he went on a dinner strike that just about did me in.
Though the situation eventually improved, dinner was still not his thing for awhile. Often, he would take only a few bites.
Some nights, he wouldn’t take any bites at all.
Then (you know what’s coming, right?) he’d declare he was hungry about 30 minutes later. Which would drive us bonkers.
Why dinner is hard for little kids
I hear from so many parents that their little ones really struggle at dinner (read: 5 Reasons Why Your Toddler Won’t Eat Dinner). Here are some reasons why your young kid won’t eat dinner:
- They’re wiped out
- If they attend preschool or daycare, they’ve spent all day keeping it together
- They may have snacked too close to dinner so they’re truly not hungry
- They may have had too much juice or milk which made them feel full
This was our simple solution
I wanted to be understanding about my son’s energy level, state of mind, and appetite at family dinner time. But I also wanted him to eat a nourishing meal.
The way I see it, little kids may not have enough focus or appetite for family dinnertime. But that doesn’t mean they should miss out on dinner.
So first, I made sure he knew the rules still applied:
- You have to join the family at the dinner table
- You eat what the family eats (here’s why that’s so important: The Dinnertime Rule That Will Change Your Life)
- You use good manners
- You ask to be excused
- No snacks in the hour before dinner except veggies (read more: My Pre-Dinner Snack Strategy).
Then on the nights when he barely touched his plate, this tactic eased my frustrations: We simply saved his plate of food.
How to make it work
Explain what you’re doing. If your child doesn’t want dinner, calmly say “Looks like you’re not very hungry right now. We will save your dinner and you can have it if you get hungry.”
Offer it later. If your child comes back to the kitchen and says she’s hungry, tell her “Okay, here’s your dinner that we saved for you. Would you like me to warm it up for you?”
Do all of this in a matter-of-fact way. It’s not a punishment. You’re respecting your child’s appetite.
Want to keep your child’s plate fresh but not use plastic wrap? I use these nifty reusable bowl covers (shown in the photo above) for leftovers, as well as for rising bread dough, potluck dishes, and lots more.
What if your child doesn’t want the saved dinner?
There were nights when our son wasn’t pleased with the saved plate offering (and some nights we simply forgot and his meal got tossed…or eaten by my husband).
But other nights, after taking only a few bites at dinnertime, he ate his entire plate of reheated dinner–then asked for a second helping.
At first, it may be an unpleasant surprise to your kids, especially if they’re used to getting a favorite snack after dinner. But hang in there, and it will hopefully become routine and expected.
If the saved-plate strategy totally crashes and burns, take a page from “food sociologist” Dina Rose, author of It’s Not About the Broccoli, who advocates for having a “Backup”, which is a relatively boring but nutritious food that your child likes but doesn’t love. Rose says this could be something like:
- A cup of cottage cheese (that’s what Rose used for her daughter)
- A cup of milk
- Plain yogurt (not flavored)
Remember: This is a season of life
When you’re in the thick of frustrating phases like this, it can be hard to remember that this is merely a season of life, and it’s not permanent.
Your child refusing to eat dinner is the season of life you’re navigating through right now. Your child WILL eventually eat dinner again. At the regular time.
And then you’ll be on to another season with its own struggles–and joys!
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