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When young children dont eat their dinner- how do you deal?

My 4yr old is soooo damn fussy- wont even eat 'nice' food like cheese, potato, chicken- let alone vegies! Every single night its a shit fight to get her to eat... how do you make them eat decent food? My ideas so far which were used by my mum:
1. Make her sit there while i baby feed her until most is gone?
2. Send her straight to bed and leave her screaming until she falls asleep?
3. Offer another food- like a sandwich (which she wont eat anyway)

Ive tried putting her to bed (screaming) and leaving her like 10mins then offering her to get back up and either eat or stay in bed- she usually chooses to get up but then we just go round in circles. I feel really bad listening to her cry and yell 'mummy' but i just dont know what to do. Breaks my heart but she needs to eat more!!!
Ps. Meals arent oversized- she just wants crap like chips or wants milk...

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Answers (14)

I disagree with most of this advice, my daughter was a terrible eater, all she ever wanted was mcdonalds, chips, cheese pizza and for the same reason as yours, because my ex would have her half the week and feed her ONLY junk food! It killed me, every evening was a battle and I used to give in and let her have something else after we would both end up frustrated and upset, Take it from me.. that just makes it a longer and bumpier road. Fast forward 4 years and she's now 8 and still struggling badly with food, although it is absolutely getting better with persistence, I have about 12 very healthy dinner options I know she will eat when we started it was 0. Now I don't take any crap at all, dinner is what is served and it's what we will be eating - she has 2 choices, she can eat it or not eat it but there will not be a second meal & any complaining at the dinner table qualifies for no TV after dinner. Like you have said, your mum was strict with it and you are just fine I'm sure! Structure and persistence is all that will work, I've tried it all - It's hard but brush aside the guilts because in the end you are doing your job as a mum, I wish I had of listened to advice like this 4 years ago and I truly think my daughter would be eating normally by now.

 Well done, you are doing a great job!
helpful (0) 

My almost four year old is very fussy. I used to give in and let him eat cereal for dinner so he ate something but I've stopped that now and if he doesn't eat dinner he doesn't eat. Sometimes if it's a meal I know he wouldn't attempt (this kid won't eat potato, not even chips) I'll give him the option of an apple or banana after we've all eaten. They won't starve themselves and it won't hurt them to go to bed hungry. I know how frustrating it is.

 I could have written this myself 😊
helpful (0) 

My son is the same. Our doctor and several others have said offer 1 meal. If they don't eat it then don't give anything else. Offer it the next day and continue. They have said it really is a battle of will and will take about 2 weeks to see a change.

Could you imagine going to bed hungry? The stomach pains you get, even nausea caused by hunger? Well that's how you poor child feels when they are sent to bed without a meal.
Offer the child something else.

OP Yep sure can- i have never sent her to bed without anything in her tummy- i always offer her to get back up and continue with dinner or usually offer something else... do you think the bad tummy pains and nausea feeling would teach her to eat whats offered? Like be cruel to be kind type thing? I need her to eat better for her own health- what she eats doesnt effect me- im fine. Shes the one with low immune system, sleep issues and bahviour problems- not to mention her teeth are off colour (thanks dad for dollar frozen cokes) i can only do so much- i would like her to be healthy for at least half a week!
helpful (1) 
 Yes, that's kind of the point of being sent to bed for not eating your dinner. You'll only have to do it once or twice.
helpful (3) 
 You cannot justify your cruelty to me. I don't care what your excuses are, it's plain cruel to treat a child this way and let them feel those feelings of hunger.
helpful (0) 
 If a doctor gives the advice to send them to bed hungry, I'm pretty sure it's not cruelty. One or two nights of hunger will not hurt her, but it will teach her that she won't be given an alternative so if hungry, she'd better eat dinner. What about cooking you main meal for lunch- if she doesn't eat it she can have fruit for afternoon tea, then offer her the same meal at dinner time that wasn't eaten.
helpful (1) 
 My children feel lonely when they're sent to time out, They feel embarrassed when they have misbehaved and called out on it, they feel worried about the consequences when they do the wrong thing on purpose and yes, they feel hungry when they don't eat what I've served for dinner. Cruel?.. lol Our job as mothers is just 3 things, to love, protect and teach! I'm raising adults.. good luck with your 30 year old brats who will walk all over you.👍
helpful (2) 
 You are not being cruel OP. You are offering healthy dinner thats you need to teach your daighter to eat. Youre doing a good job
helpful (0) 

I have 4 kids who are all pretty good eaters. But they are all completely different. My eldest hates breakfast, especially cereal. So he gets a bowl of vegies or leftovers on a school day, on weekends its his choice to eat breaky or not. My second is incredibly slow. My third is easily distracted from food, so no tv or interesting conversation or he's too busy to eat dinner. And my youngest does all of his eating by lunchtime then hardly touches dinner. I have found that no snacks after 2pm means they are hungrier for dinner, but that's hard on a school day as they are ravenous when they get home. I do not pander to whims, they eat what I give them. There have been a few battles of wills from time to time. Then dinner gets put into the fridge and served again for breakfast. If she eats well for your parents then it's definitely a battle of wills. You can do it!

Arguing with her will only make it worse, it will become a power struggle. I would suggest making her sit at the table while everyone else eats if she doesn't want to eat but don't mention eating dinner. Either give her a piece of fruit or put her to bed hungry. I give my four yr old a piece of fruit for now but will let her go hungry when she gets older.

 This is a great idea.
helpful (0) 

Let her graze throughout the day on healthy options, leave snack boxes for her so she can eat when she wants and take note of what she is actually eating. Don't make meal times a big deal and a fight because you both end up dreading it and stressed. When my kids wouldn't eat dinner, I let it go. They weren't hungry. it seemed to go in patterns of days where they eat everything , then nothing. I rolled with the flow and it settled down eventually and they are now great eaters. Good luck

I have given up on fighting over food. I have 4 year old twins. I serve up small amounts. Usually with rice or pasta because i know they will eat that bit if hungry. Most veges are served raw. I offer different kinds of protein. If they don't eat it, they don't eat it. My kids don't starve themselves. I never use treats as a bribe.

I now put on music & dance sitting standing i don't care. It means dinner takes forever (we start eating by 5.30 though) but i would rather listen to the milkshake song 10 times than have a shit fight. They eat more when we do this, often having seconds. I eat with them so they follow example. It infuriates my sister eating with us because my kids jump up & do the twist with a stick of raw zucchini in hand munching away & my neice follows. Drinks spill often so they don't get much at a time. No one has choked dancing while eating yet ;-)
Sometimes when they are being difficult i do silly things like line their dinner up on the table like a snake. A mouthful at a time and tell them to shush up & eat their snakes. Serve a cup of milk in a measuring cup. They forget to be cranky if i am being a bit silly.

 ^^..........well this is weird.

If you are eating out in public (restaurant/cafe), do you dance there too?

helpful (0) 

This is my life my 3yo is a fussy eater her father will fight constanly over it which causes major drama ive noticed when dads not around and she dosent eat i just leave her she is not starvin if she was starvin she would eat her dinner never xomplains of bein hungry usually the next day she will have a hige breakfast and lunch and will attempt her dinner the next night once everything is kept calm and the pressure is off

My 3 yo is like this sometimes. We have started saying 'thats whats for dinner so you need to eat that if you are hungry or there will be no other food later' if he doesnt eat it, it stays at the table and if he says hes hungry later (almost always does) i tell him his dinner is there. He always goes and eats it. If he finishes it and says hes still hungry he can some something like a piece of fruit, yoghurt, sandwich etc.
Before doing this we were sending him to bed which meant lots of screaming and crying then eventually he would eat his dinner. Our new method works much better. No tears or screaming and dinner gets eaten in the end. The refusal to eat dinner is happening less now as well

Answered by OP

Thanks for the ideas. And yeah arguing with her isnt working because she like tries to gag on her food- and also takes like 5mins to chew each mouthful. I dont want to throw all the 'chips and biccies etc' away as my eldest two eat perfect (would eat salad and vegies anytime) so i honestly dont mind if they want a bowl of chips occassionally. Its just so annoying! I spend hours making nice food- i mean she wont even eat spag bol (just wants the cooked pasta)- she does however eat for my mum and sister when she stays over there so i know she is fully capable of eating lol! They live over 20mins away or id drop her there for dinner every night lol!!! I like to think its her idiot fathers fault as he always takes her to maccas n shit when he has her- which by the way i cant stop 😠 bloody men!!! Thanks again though- ill try being more causal about dinner :)

 Maybe you don't have to argue- just make the expectation that she eats her dinner, and sits at the table until everyone is finished because that's good manners. That's just how it is.
helpful (0) 
 You should invite your mum and sister over for dinner for a few nights. They can get stuck into her for you 😉
helpful (1) 
 You could set a time limit, and have a fun activity organised for after dinner for everyone who finished their dinner. The other two kids will polish theirs off and she will have the choice to eat it or not.
helpful (0) 

My kids are all fussy, but my eldest now nearly 9 is becoming a great eater. Mine go to bed hungry ..... hungry isnt the right words I swear they are still content from the amount of food tney eat during the day ..... But it doesnt make them want to be better eaters because of missing out on food... If that makes sense?! The only time I offer an alternative is if i try a new recipe and I know its risky, then its a ham sandwhich or similar. They generally eat a decent breakfast the next day and all is fine in their world. I was fussy until I was 25... Believe me, nothing is going to make you eat when you dont want it. My advice is dont stress yourself about it, no pressure at dinner - eat it or not, you decide type of thing. No harping on, or arguing... If ours say no i dont like it, i gently encourage tho... Youve had this before/you use to love this etc but even if they still dont want it, they need to sit at the table until everyone finished, then may leave the table. Good luck x

I don't give anything else. If I'm offering a new food I know she won't like I'll let her have a price of fruit before bed and put full milk in her bottle (normally it's mainly water )

 Oh and I no longer give afternoon tea .. Dinners at 430/500
helpful (0) 

Consider the time in between meals. My 3yr old won't eat dinner unless he hasn't had a snack or meal for 3 or 4r hrs before dinner, otherwise he just isn't hungry at that point. He would still get hungry by bedtime though if he refused to eat. Try pushing dinner slightly later or his meal/snack before dinner earlier.