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My 4 Year Old Won't Eat Dinner!

post #1 of 11
Thread Starter 

First let my say that my 4 year old DD is a strong-willed, often challenging little girl.  I love her very much but that is just the truth.  She has never been the best eater but recently it has been getting worse.  Some of it may be because my husband and I have been going to a nutritionist and therefore have been eating more whole foods and veggies.  We never ate horribly - mostly a lot of chicken & fish - now we are expanding. 


Today, before she even saw the food on the table she said she didn't like it and wouldn't eat.  We believe in one dinner.  I am not a short order cook.  It takes a lot of time to make dinner and I am not making her chicken nuggets or Macaroni & Cheese.  All she did was whine and cry.  I tried hard to keep my cool but I was about to loose it!   My son is 20 months and is a good eater - except of course now he sees her behavior and started crying and would not eat! 


I refused to make her something else and she went to bed early & hungry. 


Now of course I have no idea if I did the right thing and feel horrible! 


What would you have done??  HELP!!My 4

post #2 of 11

Here is a resource I really liked when helping my kids develop a healthy relationship with food.




When I was a child my mom was very controlling about food and I grew up with lots of food issues.  I was determined to help my kids have a healthy relationship with food.  I found Ellyn Satter to be a voice of reason.

post #3 of 11

I have a picky eater and it's really hard.  The more we push him to eat, the less he's willing to eat.  He's my first and I really didn't know much about nutrition when he was small and he had a lot of crappy food often until he was around 4.  A lot of macaroni, pizza, hamburgers and pasta.  We used to keep sodas in the house as well and juice, chocolate milk, etc.  We had to train him to actually be able to taste stuff when we made the switch over to a healthy diet.  Stopping all drinks except water helped a lot.  Also, eating all meals at home helped.  We made a "20 minute" rule where he had to sit with us for 20 minutes (eating or not) and then he could get up regardless of whether he ate.  I tried to add one high protien thing that I knew he'd eat (boiled egg, steak, cheese) but for a long time, we cut most flour-y and sweet things out of our diets. 


He's still picky, but more willing to try new stuff. 

post #4 of 11

I don't think you should feel horrible. You DD won't die, she will maybe just eat a big breakfast tomorrow morning! My kids are pretty good eaters, but occasionally they eat little to no dinner. That's their choice. I make dinner, they can chose to eat it or not. Pushing always backfires in my house. 


My tips:

Always put a small amount of everything you are eating on her plate. She doesn't have to eat it, but just let it be there. My kids might see a new item 3 or 4 times before they are willing to try it. And I don't press. If I say "don't you want to try xyz" or "try a bite" or "it's really good" then it takes 10 times, not 3 or 4, and they already have the attitude ahead of time that they will not like it.


Have her help you make dinner. Tonight I made a new recipe - pork chops in a pumpkin seed and bread crumb crust with a wild berry sour cream sauce. No way my kids would normally eat this 1st time. But DD did a lot of the recipe, all the measuring, stiring, mixing... so she was psyched to try it. Which meant DS was also willing to try it, because she said to, not me or DH. 


I also am not a short order, but if something is easy to put aside, I do. For example my kids like raw veggies a lot more than cooked. (Actually I usually like raw a lot better as well). And they do not like their veggies mixed together. So if I am making a salad for DH and myself, it takes no time to put a few lettuce leaves and a loose tomato on their plate, with no dressing. If I am making super spicy indian cabbage, then it takes no time to put a thin slice of raw cabbage on their plates before I cook the rest for DH and myself. 

post #5 of 11

No, she won't really die.  But, what was on the table/plate that you know she usually will eat?  I think if you are only going to have what's on the table to eat, you need to make sure there are things that she is likely to want to eat.

post #6 of 11

Another idea: have you tried having an earlier dinner time?  I find my kids get more contrary and ornery the later it gets (closer to bedtime = more tired = less amenable).  Our most pleasant dinners happen when we eat quite early... more like 5pm or 5:30, even though, for me, it feels more "normal" (for lack of a better word) to eat closer to 7pm.  When we eat that early I also offer a healthy snack close to bedtime (so something like dinner at 5pm, snack at 7pm, bed at 8pm).  That way, even if there were issues with eating dinner, then at least they have a little something in their tummies before going to sleep.  We manage to do dinner that early about half the time (because of course life gets in the way!) and I do notice a big difference in dinner time manners/eating without complaining on the days we eat at 5 compared to the days we eat at 6:30.

post #7 of 11

My dd was very picky when she was younger and I found a few things that really helped.  I made sure to have a good balance of things she liked to eat and things that were new.  I always put all of what I was serving on her plate so she at least saw it but I never made rules about trying it.  I had her help me choose a lot of the foods in the store and that sometimes helped and sometimes didn't.  I made sure she was hungry at dinner time by spacing snacks out at least three hours from meal time, she became a lot less picky once I figured this one out.  I only serves dinner food during dinner time but I also did allow her to choose to have a night time snack of something that was easy to give her like a fruit, veggie, cheese, a slice of bread with butter, or yogurt.  I know a lot of people choose to believe that this issue is black and white, either healthy food or chicken nuggets and easy mac or being a short order cook versus having a family meal, but I think there is a lot of gray area and there are ways to enjoy the family dinner without getting into an eat or starve battle. 

post #8 of 11

I would make sure first that what you made is kid friendly. Then if she choses not to eat anyway, then her loss....no snacks later. I would not force a meal a child would not like anyway.

post #9 of 11

I would have done the same thing.  We cook one meal.  I include at least one thing I know DS will like (he's not super picky, so this can just be steamed broccoli or something).  He doesn't have to eat it, but that's all we're having that night. His choice.  There's always breakfast...

post #10 of 11
Thread Starter 

Thank you all for your responses.  It has been helpful to hear what other moms are doing out there in the a similar situation. 


I have been trying to have her help make more of dinner.  Yesterday we made an awesome Almond Butter Drizzle that went over Quinoa. I had it has a dip for my tuna and even used it as the dressing for my salad it was that good!  She LOVES Almond Butter as she would eat Almond butter and Jelly everyday if I let her for lunch.  I thought for sure the combination of what the food was plus having her help me was a shoe in.  Nope.  She didn't even try it.  Refused.  I was shocked!  She did eat the Tuna plain though.  


As for trying to have something on her plate that I KNOW she likes - I can not do that.  That would be bread, or Macaroni and Cheese, or just cheese.  She would ONLY eat that and nothing else.  


I have been reading a lot and I am going with that she just has to keep seeing things .  I do make things I think she would like - if she would only try them!!!  


And yes, she has been having some VERY BIG breakfasts!  Hehe!  


I do like the idea of an earlier dinner time.  I might try that out.  


She does get a snack at 4:30 when she gets home from school but is not allowed to eat anything after 5pm and we usually eat at 6pm.  I know she gets a snack at school also at 3pm - but we are in the habit of a snack at home too.  Maybe I will have to face the anger she will have and say no snack at home.  I have tried but she PROMISED me she would eat dinner so I gave in - and then of course she did not.  I should have known but was so wanting to believe!!


Thank you all again!

Wish me luck!!! 

post #11 of 11

If you could have dinner as early as 5 (I'm thinkin' this would involve being pretty organized in pre-prep but might be v. worth it), then (though she would likely be cranky) I bet she could go without the afternoon snack.  Or you could try making the "snack" be something really not too filling - like cucumber slices or even just a drink of milk or something - so that it wouldn't be likely to have any impact on her appetite for dinner.

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