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What options do you offer when kids refuse main meal you cook?

post #1 of 148
Thread Starter 

What do you allow your kids to eat if they are refusing the dinner you cooked?  And how old are your kids?  Will you get up and reheat leftovers (allowing  your own dinner to get cold)?  Or is it strictly something that they can grab themselves?

 

My kids are 3 & 5, and I really don't want this battle.  I know they won't starve.  But I do finding myself saying that they have to eat dinner (3-5 more bites, or whatever) if they want to have the dessert that FIL brought over.

 

My DD would eat yogurt every meal for days on end, my DS would just eat apples for each meal.  I know  there are worse things in the world, but it does get old buying tons of apples and yogurt.  At least DD is getting protein.  My son loves the carbs, and would be fine just eating crackers and apples all the time.  The straight carbs thing bugs me, especially since I like to have white crackers in the house.  So I don't let white carbs be the alternate food.

 

Some days they eat great, and some days they don't.  Even though I cook dinner with them in mind, some days they just don't feel like eating something they loved last month.

 

What are your acceptable meal alternatives?

post #2 of 148

I know lots of families say cereal or a sandwich or whatever the kid could get themselves, but we got burnt out on even that idea going on at our house, when my kids were similar in age to yours.  We had a series of conversations about food, food as fuel and food as fun, and talked about how you *don't* have to like everything you eat...for instance, my DH does not like rice (which baffles me, but whatever :lol:), but when I make a dish with rice in it, he eats it.  Or, he makes chili totally different than I do and I like mine a lot better, but when he makes it, I eat it.  We have plenty of opportunities to have foods we love throughout the week, so that when foods we're not crazy about come along, we just eat them anyway because they are good for us in a well rounded diet.   The kids each get to choose their breakfast and lunch, and each kid gets to plan one dinner a week.  The other 5 dinners are DH and my choice (keeping in mind everyone's preferences), and it's eat what's there, eat what's there as a snack before bed, or wait until morning (because not eating dinner then having a yogurt before bedtime is a pretty good trick, dontcha think? ;) ).   My kids have no sensory issues, and will not starve themselves or make themselves sick, so this is a pretty straightforward thing for us - I understand other people have issues to contend with, but for us it was just pickiness, basically created by us over a long period of time.  There is always at least one item they like on the table, even if it's just the salad; but that's the only option, there is no getting up from the table to get something else.  The only time now we make the kids separate items is when it's something they find truly objectionable (they both nearly gag when they see casserole/stew/soup consistency foods and it's a texture/flavor blend thing I totally get, so those we don't push - we'll give them maybe one or two bites of it and then something else they do enjoy, so we're slowly working them into it).

 

I think, *for kids that don't have actual medical/sensory reasons to reject things*, it's kind of an entitlement kind of thing to get to make yourself a separate meal from everyone else just because you don't want what's being served....it's a real privilege to be able to do that, and it makes me feel kind of squicky.  I understand everyone has things they truly, truly do not like and that's fine, and we meal plan around that (for instance, DH and I cannot stand seafood so we don't have it in the house - we keep trying it a couple times a year, but none of us like it at all) - but largely, not being "in the mood" or "not liking" something isn't enough of a reason to not eat it, to me.  Having a few things you really can't stand eating is one thing; wanting a sandwich 4 nights a week because you "don't like" dinner is completely another IMO.

 

I imagine if I put out the "if you don't want this, you can make yourself something else" my kids would live on the same 4 or 5 foods, and then wouldn't have started liking all the wonderful things they truly do like now.  Sometimes, giving a gentle but firm nudge past comfort zones really does work out well. 

 

 

*** When we started this "this is what's for dinner, take it or leave it" thing after a few days of conversations/prep, I started slow and easy - like, 2 bites of the things they weren't used to on their plates and plenty of stuff they did like.  Then I just worked the "new" stuff up and brought the old reliables back so that the portion sizes of each were reasonable.  For us it was mostly veggies that were the problem, and we slowly worked from 2-4-6-8 bites to normal serving sizes for both of them.  We don't usually have a problem with meats or starches in this house (though DS isn't crazy about mashed potatoes, likely a consistency thing, he still eats a small portion of them usually together with whatever meat we're having).  I had to teach the kids basically to pick around whatever it is they didn't like, a skill I developed apparently on my own as a kid - I could leave a pile of diced sauteed onions on my plate after a meal that would amaze my mom, they were all rooted out and I'd eat everything except those onions in a neat little pile to the side.  whistling.gif

post #3 of 148

My son is now 9 and he is welcome to grab something out of the fridge if he doesn't like/want what is being served.  The only "rules" are he must be polite and if he cooks he need to clean up. We don't bribe, beg, cajole, one-more-bite, etc. 

 

At 3 and 5 it might have been a bowl of cereal, a yogurt, peanut butter crackers, fruit or cut up veggies. I don't short order cook so it had to be something they could do by themselves. These days it might be scrambled eggs, some soup, leftovers. At 9 he much more involved in the meal planning so it is pretty rare that he doesn't eat what is served.

 

 

Quote:

Some days they eat great, and some days they don't.  Even though I cook dinner with them in mind, some days they just don't feel like eating something they loved last month.

 

That is pretty normal.  Most nutritionists say to judge based on a week not a meal. Most kids eat a pretty balanced diet when you look at it over a period of time. And think about it-doesnt you desire for certain foods change? I *love* spinach/onion pizza but I don't really want to eat it every month. 

 

I highly recommend the books by Ellen Satter.  Here is her website:

http://www.ellynsatter.com/

post #4 of 148

I've never really made other options available.  Dessert is fruit 99% of the time (we don't eat dessert except on rare, special occasions) and dd has always been welcome to eat as much fresh fruit as she likes after meals if she doesn't feel like filling up on the main course.  She is 8 now and has never been a picky eater.  We've lived and traveled a lot around the world and we've often been in situations where an alternative just didn't exist.  She's learned to adapt.  Even if she's not particularly in the mood for a food, she'll eat enough to no longer be hungry and wait for the next meal.  She does help prepare meals and has done so since she was about 4 yo. so she usually has some say in what is being put on the table.  We've never had major power struggles over food.

post #5 of 148

eat what I made or go hungry.

 

I always make at least 1 thing that I know they'll like.  If they refuse that well too bad, they can eat at the next meal.  none of them have gone hungry since they were 3-4.

 

We've never made them eat everything that I served or everything off their plates. 

 

If they want dessert they have to eat something but we rarely have dessert(2-3 times a year).

 

If it is something new they need to try a bite, if they don't like it they don't have to eat anymore of it.

 

I agree with looking at what they eat over a week, not a day. 

post #6 of 148

Want to know some thing even worse? It's my DH who won't eat our dinner- almost, oh, I'd say 4 nights a week. When the kids don't like dinner they are out of luck. Dh has been super picky since childhood and his parents enabled him. Anyway, The4OfUs, I am copying your response to this thread and sending it to him in an email because you worded it in a way that I've not been able to. The gist of it being the entitlement part. I'm dumb struck by his behavior. I've pretty much ignored it, and made him fend for himself, which means he lives on cheeseburgers, but meh....

I'm sick of the extra expensive.

Oh and also, the part about food being fuel, I don't think he's ever heard that before. He wants every meal to be this golden experience. (I could GO ON and ON..............disappointed.gif)

Anyway, he's getting an earful from me today.

Thanks.love.gif

 

 

 

 

(Mutters to self in disgust.)

post #7 of 148

My boys are 8 & 5.  I am the pickiest eater of the family.  My worst memories are of my father forcing me to sit at the table until I ate things I despised.  To this day I cannot smell cooked corn or I gag.  Because of this I have made an effort to keep food interesting and not a battleground.  I would never say "eat this or go hungry".  

 

I try and make sure some of the the meal is liked by all.  I also have them help with food selection, ask them what veggies they want etc.  If I make a new item they have to try a real bite.  I have always made sure they have seen me do this as well and when they were little made a real show out of it.  If they do not like it they can have something else within reason.  They can always have an egg for example.  But honestly I cannot even think of the last time one of them asked for something else.  Sometimes I do make a meal for me and DH and another meal for the kids because I know the kids hate our meal.  I just make their meal less involved.  My kids eat a lot of veggies and love salads and have a very good diet.  

post #8 of 148
Quote:
Originally Posted by *clementine* View Post

Want to know some thing even worse? It's my DH who won't eat our dinner- almost, oh, I'd say 4 nights a week. When the kids don't like dinner they are out of luck. Dh has been super picky since childhood and his parents enabled him. Anyway, The4OfUs, I am copying your response to this thread and sending it to him in an email because you worded it in a way that I've not been able to. The gist of it being the entitlement part. I'm dumb struck by his behavior. I've pretty much ignored it, and made him fend for himself, which means he lives on cheeseburgers, but meh....

I'm sick of the extra expensive.

Oh and also, the part about food being fuel, I don't think he's ever heard that before. He wants every meal to be this golden experience. (I could GO ON and ON..............disappointed.gif)

Anyway, he's getting an earful from me today.

Thanks.love.gif

 

 

 

 

(Mutters to self in disgust.)


i totally dated someone like that. luckily my dh will eat anything... at least once LOL. but as a kid he did have more than his fair share of going hungry (no money for food) or eating the same food for weeks on end. so food really was just fuel. i think he still views it this way even though he is a chef. i tell him all the time that i want him to teach our kids to be the same way. he also has this amazing ability to make food out of leftovers or just whatever he has on hand. i am a huge food waster, not picky but i do hate meal planning because it never fails that what i planned a week ago i no longer want. bag.gif

post #9 of 148

Food is something DH and I decided to not make a battle over early on. I make sure there is something everyone likes on the table, but for DS who is two I will give extra options and DD is very much allowed to make her own meals. It would be incredibly disrespectful to force another adult to eat something they don't want to eat and we consider it just as disrespectful to make a child do the same. Sure food is fuel, but that is no reason to have to choke down something you think is gross just because it's there. We also believe in listening to what our bodies tell us. Which means if you aren't hungry when dinner is laid out, you don't have to eat and you're allowed to have something a little later when you actually are hungry.

 

Like Lucy, my kids eat plenty of stuff that is good for them and let to their own devices get all of what they need without anyone having to make them eat it. Maybe not on any one day, but over the course of a week definitely.

post #10 of 148

When I make a meal, I keep them and their likes in mind. They are welcome to as much or as little of each item they want. I don't stress eating it all or anything like that. I do ask them to try a bite of new things, but only a bite.

 

I don't offer alternatives and never have. I do let them use toppings if they want. Like some shredded cheese, ketchup, whatever they think sounds good. Personally, I think cheese makes anything better, lol.

 

My kids are good. They eat until they're full, they don't complain (well, not all the time), and they're not picky eaters. And if there is a food they're really not liking, I try and find another way to prepare it. Like me and spinach. My whole childhood, my mom only got canned spinach which was soooooo gross to me. It wasn't until I was an adult and tried fresh spinach that I started liking it.

 

I like the idea of having them help in the kitchen with cooking! Even littles can stir or dump something from a measuring cup to a bowl, etc.

post #11 of 148

My children are generally fine about eating what I fix. I make sure there is one thing on the table that all children will eat. DD1 who will be 8 next year is finally discovering food preferences being dislikes and likes, not just being picky. So I am finding that some nights she isn't all that fond of a food she used to eat. She is capable of making her own sandwich or cereal, but I do not cook another other food. My 4y for that matter can fix those things herself. The bigger issue I have at my house is my children will eat a good dinner and then hungry again 30 minutes later but do not want more dinner. They are offered popcorn, fruit or cheese but it usually still involved me quickly making or cutting up something. 

 

 

I never EVER force a child to eat solely what I cook or go hungry.  I remember for years as a child forcing down meals because that was all we got, and it was eat or be hungry. I am not overly picky but did not like red meat, pork or seafood which was basically all my mother fixed and meat always was the main dish and in almost everything she cooked. A bowl of rice just doesn't quite cut it when you are a growing child. By the time I was a pre-teen I had learned how to survive off of very small portions of food, it was not healthy. It took me years to learn how to eat properly and I truly feel that it stunted my growth, while I never fully starved, I never ate enough either. And while on the subject of not truly disliking something, DH has a hatred of sauces and all things yellow (don't ask me why) once were at dinner at a friend's house, everything was yellow or in a sauce, seriously. He tried one bite and actually puked on the dining room table. Yes, they actually did invite us back! Sometimes it is much more then a simple dislike, I think I would do something similar if I ever tasted meat again. 

 

 

post #12 of 148

 

I offer kid-friendly food and do not force anybody to eat anything. But anybody who is not hungry enough to eat what's on the table can certainly wait until the next meal or snacktime without incurring permanent damage, and anybody who is inclined to complain at the table can find somewhere else to be where they are not ruining dinner for the rest of the family. My kids are 6, 4 and 1.5. 

 

My DH was raised in a family with really terrible food habits (chronic overeating, eating lots of junk, criticizing food, demanding three different entrees instead of agreeing on one), and I was raised by people who gardened, hunted and couldn't financially afford to serve three entrees at one meal, so we've decided that my food culture is the one we want to perpetuate in the next generation. It's much cheaper, easier and healthier. DH works HARD to live up to his acquired food values at the dinner table, and after 10 years of effort he's doing quite well. He still can't control the overeating, so if I make too much of something or buy a bunch of junk I have done him a disservice and I feel bad about it later, but he can model good manners for the kids. His brother still counts the side dishes and comments on the texture of every piece of meat he is served and pouts if there are not multiple dessert courses, so I'm really pretty pleased with how far DH has come. It was a total revelation to him when the older two started talking and he heard the ugliness and ingratitude coming out of their mouths at the table and realized that he had taught them that. Before that, he regarded pickiness and complaining as morally neutral issues.    

 

For as hardline as I am about good food manners, though, we don't talk much about it day-to-day. I know what my kids enjoy, and I make it for them. 

post #13 of 148

I did cook meals with little kids in mind when the kids were small. It's easy enough to keep part of a meal plain and kid friendly. However, once my kids were old enough (more than 6) to get their own cereal or PB&J, they had to eat what was in front of them or get their own. No  *itching, griping or slandering the cook. I love myself too much to be treated badly. You'd be surprised how many meals they tried because they are too lazy to make their own dinner. Another thing that helps? Have them come to the table hungry. Give scant afternoon snackage and take those kids out to play at the park before dinner. Increased appetite also increases the likelihood that they will try something new. I got my kids to eat tacos this way.

post #14 of 148

Well I mostly cook to make everyone as happy as possible.  My kids are very involved in meal planning and food prep.  I think knowing that they have a say in what we eat helps alot.  And every meal has something that everyone likes. 

 

I do sometimes make them a totally separate meal when dh and I want something they can't eat because of food allergies.

post #15 of 148

I try very hard to not have a situation where dd would refuse what is served. If I know I'm making something she isn't likely to eat I'll make something else too that I know she will. I make a point to not even let on that any one item is specifically so she can opt out of another--there are just options for everyone and we all can eat whatever we choose from them. She makes enough choices in her day--she is not going to dictate that too. Her input is welcome in the meal planning stages, but not so much once it's served. If she's being a grump about the meal, I'm not going to force the issue and she can not eat much. But I might "conveniently" have a healthy snack available later when she's probably going to be hungry.

post #16 of 148
Quote:
Originally Posted by lucyem View Post

I am the pickiest eater of the family.  My worst memories are of my father forcing me to sit at the table until I ate things I despised.  To this day I cannot smell cooked corn or I gag.  Because of this I have made an effort to keep food interesting and not a battleground.  I would never say "eat this or go hungry".  


 

this. My son is only 15  mos, and will randomly turn up his nose at a favorite. I can usually find something in the fridge, leftovers, etc. 

post #17 of 148

My dad used to make us eat everything growing up  - I used to have to sit and eat whatever was in front of me whether I liked it or not. And I used to have to eat it all. I was definitely not traumatized or anything. I understood his reasons - he grew up in WWII Germany and was often starving, so he does.not.waste.food. now.

 

With my girls, they eat what I make but I don't make them eat every crumb on the plate. If they don't want to eat it, they don't get any snacks and I often just tell them it will be dinner if they don't eat it now.

post #18 of 148

My son eats what we eat and I am a good "Mom" cook. I make mashed potatoes form scratch, mac-n-cheese, meatloaf, etc. Nice normal meals that most people like. I serve him small portions so as not to overwhelm him and he is free to eat or not. There is never any force or pleading on our parts-he is free to make his own decisions from the choices on the table. And dessert is usually a cookie that we all enjoy and is available regardless of what or how much was eaten.

 

But I am not a short order cook and I do not make an extra meal. I serve bread and butter or pb and crackers at every meal so there is always something he can eat if he decides that on Tuesdays he doesn't like mashed potatoes.

post #19 of 148
Quote:
Originally Posted by Smithie View Post

 But anybody who is not hungry enough to eat what's on the table can certainly wait until the next meal or snacktime without incurring permanent damage,


That depends on how often it happens. If it's a common occurrence I can result in a problem with overeating when someone has access to food they do like and ignoring hunger cues.

post #20 of 148

We believe that it is healthiest to listen to your body and eat what you feel like eating, so there is no pressure in this house to eat something you don't want to eat.  That said, no, I do not fix DD alternative meals, and I haven't pretty much ever, unless I'm cooking something I know she won't like (e.g., something spicy).  Then I will ask her what she wants and fix it if it's not too complex.  She can always grab a carrot or an apple or some crackers and cheese.  She can pour herself milk or water.  We typically have other fresh fruits and veggies that she likes easily available as well (e.g., bananas, oranges, sugar snap peas, mushrooms, celery).  We also usually have nuts available (cashews are a big favorite).  Sometimes she just goes for a few pickles, but whatever.  I'm not worried about it, and generally she does very well for a 4-year-old.  thumb.gif  She probably has a better diet than most adults, actually. 

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