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DD won't eat...tired of dinnertime hell

post #1 of 35
Thread Starter 

Yes, another "my kid won't eat" thread. Hoping for a miracle solution, but not holding my breath. Venting will at least help me feel better for now. As I type my dd is sitting at the table, with an almost full plate of food in front of her. She spent an honest to goodness 30 minutes chewing the same bite of meat. She has been sitting there for well over an hour...maybe close to two hours. I told her she can get down, but then I throw away her chart and she has to start earning her prize all over again, so she doesn't want to get up.


She's 5. She won't eat dinner. Unless it's one of a handful of things. I've tried everything. We've tried bribing with dessert and toys, we've tried punishment, we've tried the whole "if you don't eat this tonight you will have to eat it tomorrow" bit. We've tried just letting her not eat. 


WTH. I dread dinnertime. I dread the struggle and stress and tension. I dread the comments... the "ewww... I don't like this."


We eat normal. It's not like I am making monkey brains and cow tongues for dinner. 


Just let her not eat? I mean, she is healthy and I know she won't starve. But we tried just letting it go and it didn't sit right with me or DH. Wasting food is not acceptable (a whole plate full, that is). I don't like her controlling the situation- and she is being a bad example to her little brother. He has always been a great eater, and recently he has been pulling the same crap.


I am all about gentle parenting, but I do not believe a 5 year should be allowed to just choose to skip dinner 3 or 4 nights a week just because she doesn't want to eat. At the same time, I can't imagine going on for the next year or two or goodness-knows-how-long dealing with this stress. And I am certainly not going to limit our dinners to just the things she eats.


Bah. I am so fed up with this! 

post #2 of 35

I feel for you! Meal wars suck and make for a hellish time.  


My kids in general have to eat dinner, whatever it is.  But when I make something new or something I know they don't care for, I serve very small portions so that finishing up their plates is not a big deal -- just a several bites of whatever they don't care for and they are done.  When I know I am making something they enjoy eating, I give them regular servings.  This seems to work because they are consistently finishing what is on their plate (my rule -- I hate wasting food too!) but it is not always the same serving size.  We also eat dinner early, 5ish.  So, after dinner, there are plenty of opportunities to eat some snack stuff.  They generally have sliced apple and/or cheese, bread (with peanut butter OR toasted open face with cheese), bananas, peaches and top that off with a small glass of milk. Sometimes they end up eating substantial amount after dinner.  Sometimes, not so much.  I never do typical snack foods (packed stuff...) after dinner (or anytime really), this way I avoid the junk food seeking after having not eating a good meal.  This has been working for me so far.


Good luck mama! I hope it gets better soon.

post #3 of 35

How about having her help come up with ideas for the weekly mealtimes? Would she help make dinner? Having her help you out may make her more willing to actually try the meal. I personally don't think food is a issue that I'm willing to fight over. So, we usually fill the house with pretty healthy options at all times and everyone just eats whatever whenever. Now I will say I only make 1 meal at a time, I will not cater to everyone's specific taste buds, and if someone chooses not to eat that meal it's no big issue because they just go search out a suitable alternative. Unless the meal is a total wash we adhere to the "waste not want not" philosophy, so leftovers are saved for possible lunch, alternative dinners, or picnic food.

post #4 of 35

I made a somewhat similar thread recently and received some good ideas:




We ended up offering a replacement to dinner after DS has tried at least a bite of stuff on his plate. For him this is a peanut butter sandwich. He gets up and makes it himself. We had also tried everything else, including a sticker chart like you, but nothing worked and dinnertime was getting too stressful to be enjoyable.

post #5 of 35

We go with the if you do not want it, you do not have to eat it, but you will not get anything else.  You also have to stay at the table while everyone is eating.  I know not many people espouse this option, but I remember being forced to eat things I did not like and that meal times were horrible as a child.


I also limit the snacking in the afternoon.  I have found that my DS gets off the bus hunger at 4:15 pm (we eat dinner at 7).  If he has to many snacks, he will not eat dinner, so I limit the snacks (i.e. apple slices and cheese) and no snacks within an hour of dinner other than a salad or veggies (then he does not have to eat veggies at dinner).

post #6 of 35

We have our kids try at least one bite of everything that is served.  After that, it's up to them how much they want to eat.  We only have dessert once a week, and getting dessert is not contingent on eating their main course.  We don't allow "eewww ..." type comments at the table.  My husband works hard to make us great dinners from scratch every night and we teach the kids to respect his effort even if they don't love the results.  If DD starts to complain she is told that it is disrespectful to DH and that she should keep her thoughts to herself as they are hurtful.


We also ask for input from DD during meal planning time for the week.  She gets to put in requests for meals that she wants to have on the menu.


We eat pretty late, so magically recovering one's appetite an hour after dinner was finished is generally not a problem.  On the rare occasion this does come up DD can either have dinner leftovers or plain fruit / vegetables.  (Sliced apple, sliced carrots and the like).  


If you know your DD is unlikely to eat much, serve her extremely small portions so that you don't feel like food is being wasted.  If she finishes what is in front of her she can ask for more.


I honestly think you should let go of this issue.  My youngest eats more during the day and is a very light eater at supper time.  Who am I to tell him when he is hungry?  I don't see it as being difficult or disobedient for him to follow his appetite.

post #7 of 35

I agree to super small portions or allow her to portion it herself.  I was a tiny kid, and it's not that I didn't like food, I just never had the desire to stuff myself silly with food.  I was, and still am, a grazer.  So dinners are not necessarily a time where I would pack it all in for the night.  DH was raised differently and he does eat far too much in a sitting, and it shows in the extra 30+ lbs he's carrying!  DD is 10mos, and she too eats like me, well maybe slightly more portion wise, but even at 10mos I never force her to eat any set amount - how do I know she's that hungry?  I don't.  And I want to raise her to listen to her body and know what she needs and when.  I can't teach her that buy putting her in her seat and force feeding her a set amount.  She really prefers finger foods, so I will toss a mix of what we're eating on her tray and she decides what to eat.  If she wants more she lets us know.  Once she starts to pawn it off on the dogs, I know she's had enough.  We've also been working on a 'sign' for all done....she more or less laughs at me doing it rather than mimic but I think she gets the point.  I do like the idea of sitting at the table with the family regardless of not eating at that moment.  DH wasn't raised on 'family dinners' - it was a free for all.  So sometimes it's hard for me to convey to him that it's rude to make himself a plate while I change the baby and by the time we sit down, he's done and over to the couch to watch tv.  Definitely not how I want my kid to remember dinner time.  But I also don't want a battle.  The more frustrated and worked up you are, the more your DD senses it and long before dinner begins, everyone is starting to anticipate that.  Just relax.  She won't starve.  If you make it a battle, she's going to resent dinner time and will try to get out of it not to spite you, but to avoid the unpleasent atmosphere.

post #8 of 35

Much like pp we don't insist on plate clearing or a lot of dinnertime rules. We make a meal, we serve it & then we put it away. If ds doesn't eat he knows there will be nothing else until breakfast. There are minimal snacks in our day. He is honestly the best eater of any of our irl friends. It could be just luck - we'll see how it works with dd.


Honestly, dh & I both struggle with portion control & eating past being hungry - we both grew up in houses where you must eat everything served to you. It didn't work for us - I'm trying hard to allow my children control over how much & how often they eat.

post #9 of 35
I make a dinner every night. There are a very few other healthy options available that don't require preparation and they can get them for themselves so long as there is vegetable matter involved. But we have nuts, carrot sticks, yogurt, peanut butter, apples, and that's often it. No bread - my kids would live on bread, crackers, and pretzels if I kept much of that in the house. They like apple slices in peanut butter though so that's how they usually have PB these days. There might be one other thing. I don't get it for them though. They eat what I make or they get their own food. Even the 3-year-old. I won't force kids to eat something, because I think it's futile and I worry about creating food issues, but I won't have fun stuff available as an alternative, and I won't cook more than one meal or let them get something together that will create a mess. I don't fight over food either. If they think apples and peanut butter with carrot sticks is getting to be a boring dinner, they're welcome to have what I've made. They do usually choose what I've made, but there are a few things they don't like.

As for waste, I don't even serve my kids a plate if they won't eat it. If we have leftovers, they are my husband's lunch the next day - and leftovers are his favorite lunch so this is not a sacrifice on his part.

(Edited to add small correction: I do operate the apple slicer as that thing is darn sharp, so that part of the prep is not their responsibility.)
post #10 of 35

There are already lots of good suggestions here, but I wanted to throw a book recommendation in the mix, in case you are like me and like to read up on different parenting struggles.... I have been using the Division of Responsibility with my kids, and it really takes the stress out of things!  This is further explained in Ellyn Satter's book Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and good sense. 


this is from her website...  best of luck to you!



Ellyn Satter's Division of Responsibility in Feeding

Parents provide structure, support and opportunities. Children choose how much and whether to eat from what the parents provide.

The Division of Responsibility for Infants:

  • The parent is responsible for what
  • The child is responsible for how much (and everything else)

The parent helps the infant to be calm and organized and feeds smoothly, paying attention to information coming from the baby about timing, tempo, frequency and amounts

The Division of Responsibility For Toddlers through Adolescents:

  • The parent is responsible for what, when, where
  • The child is responsible for how much and whether

Parents' Feeding Jobs:

  • Choose and prepare the food
  • Provide regular meals and snacks
  • Make eating times pleasant
  • Show children what they have to learn about food and mealtime behavior
  • Not let children graze for food or beverages between meal and snack times
  • Let children grow up to get bodies that are right for them

Fundamental to parents' jobs is trusting children to decide how much and whether to eat. If parents do their jobs with feeding, children will do their jobs with eating:

  • Children will eat
  • They will eat the amount they need
  • They will learn to eat the food their parents eat
  • They will grow predictably
  • They will learn to behave well at the table

Copyright © 2012 by Ellyn Satter. Published at www.EllynSatter.com.

post #11 of 35

Not liking Satter's advice.  My son is on ADHD meds (which inhibit his hunger -so if he could opt out of eating, he WOULD start losing weight.)  He has sensory issues as well.  I always rolled my eyes at the professionals who would say things like "Kids won't starve, they'll eat eventually."  I guess it's the one size fits all approach she touts that I don't like (at least based on what I've read of her excepts, blurbs here, etc.)  For our family, we're focusing on meal time as pleasant family time. Pressuring (even the one bite rule) sends my already anxious son off in tears.  (My DD younger, without the same issues, will try anything and just isn't picky.)  Meal time for us is also a chance for practicing social skills with DS (starting conversations, getting other's input and listening, eye contact, etc.) 


Sorry to go OT, I've just heard her cited as the next coming around MDC lately in various threads and it has to frustrate other parents facing similar issues.  That being said, we keep DS's "safe foods" on hand (loves Annie's Organics Spinach Pizza, Ian's organic chicken nuggets, california rolls - weird stuff, but the list is short.)  I won't make elaborate meals for him solo, but I want him at the table with us...that's a bigger deal to me than what he eats.


(random 2 cents over - not a rant, at all - at anyone on this thread just a different perpective :)

post #12 of 35

I love Ellyn Satter because her advice is based on a lot of research and experience in working with children. Documents distributed to parents by the Health Department here in Canada on how to feed toddlers and preschoolers cite her work multiple times. You should read her books before you criticize her. She is a proponent of what you describe in your post: encouraging kids to join us at the table, preparing food that they like without catering to them, not pushing food on them etc. And yes, kids won't starve, they'll eat eventually. Picky eating is a first world issue.

post #13 of 35

And yes, kids won't starve, they'll eat eventually. Picky eating is a first world issue.



Excuse me? To say, "Picky eating is a first world issue." is so patronizing.  It's not a very convincing way to encourage people to see another/your perspective experience, it belittles and alienates people and shuts what could be a productive dialogue quickly. 


The point I was making, which I believe you missed, was that in some situations (not referring to the OP, but perhaps to other parents who read on MDC and perhaps might be facing their own unique difficulties) it's OK to take the emphasis on food away at the family table and look it as a coming together and a way for a family to share time and talk.  You may have all of her books, fabulous, but until we've shared the same experiences and challenges in parenting (and I wouldn't presume to assume to know yours and tell you how "first world" your issues may be) ease up on the snark.

post #14 of 35
Not liking Satter's advice.  My son is on ADHD meds (which inhibit his hunger -so if he could opt out of eating, he WOULD start losing weight.)  He has sensory issues as well.  I always rolled my eyes at the professionals who would say things like "Kids won't starve, they'll eat eventually."


The thing to keep in mind is that the advice is geared towards typical children. Someone who's on medication that decreases appetite would need to be handled differently.

post #15 of 35

I didn't mean to sound patronizing. Again, I agree with you. My perspective is not different.


it's OK to take the emphasis on food away at the family table and look it as a coming together and a way for a family to share time and talk.


But I still believe that kids will eat when they are hungry. I don't know anything about medical issues though.


Just wanted to add some examples: dd doesn't eat raspberries. Never has. But I keep offering them because ds loves them and I don't want to take away from her the opportunity to learn to enjoy new foods. Yesterday dd had a big breakfast and I offered raspberries for snack, figuring that if she refuses to eat, she won't starve until lunch. But she surprised me and ate all her snack, because she was hungry.


A couple of days ago we had chicken and rice for dinner. Ds is not very fond of this dish, so he just had lots of bread, pickles and milk shrug.gif. I didn't pressure him to eat x number of bites of anything and I didn't make him a special meal and also I refuse to stop cooking rice, because everyone else in the family likes it.

Ds had enough as not to be hungry that evening and had a big breakfast next morning.


Ds is what you would call a picky eater. He eats small amounts of food, has food preferences (like spaghetti and French fries) and is as thin as a stick. But he's full of energy, plays hockey, does well in school, his doc says his healthy, so who am I to dictate how much he *should* eat. Plus his dad was exactly like him and MIL forced food on him with no results whatsoever.


My point is, if you trust kids with eating and give them the opportunity to learn, they can surprise you. I am amazed by my kids all the time if I keep my food hang-ups for myself, keep offering good food that I enjoy and don't pressure them in any way to eat.


Again, my comments are based on my own experience as a parent and as a kid. I don't know anything about medical issues.

Edited by transylvania_mom - 10/12/12 at 6:53am
post #16 of 35
Originally Posted by BlueStateMama View Post

And yes, kids won't starve, they'll eat eventually. Picky eating is a first world issue.



Excuse me? To say, "Picky eating is a first world issue." is so patronizing.  It's not a very convincing way to encourage people to see another/your perspective experience, it belittles and alienates people and shuts what could be a productive dialogue quickly. 



Wait. If I said, "There are a lot of black people in Africa" would you also find that snarky or patronizing? I find it simplistic and true. Picky eating is a first world issue. That is a simple fact.


We live in the first world so we have to deal with it. Not all first world problems are things that can be hand-wavingly ignored. But they are still first world problems. 


I was a picky eating kid. It was a control issue. I did willingly starve myself for long periods. The harder people tried to force me to eat or cajole or bribe or scream at me the less likely I was to eat. 


My kids enact their control issues in other parts of life so I don't have food issues with them. I can see how they would be frustrating.

post #17 of 35

My DC is/was a picky eater but she's 11 now and is starting to come out of it. She has an eating pattern similar to mine as far as I can remember. I catered to her but it was easy for us because we were just a family of 3 for 10 years. I'm sure I would have felt compelled to do things differently if we had more children - out of necessity and out of the worry that catering to one picky eater may encourage pickyness in my other children. 


Over the years I've read a lot about how to deal with this issue and have seen and heard lots of advice from other parents. Part of what I think goes on is that some advice offered as a solution is from parents with kids who just aren't as picky as my DC was. I remember being frustrated by some of the advice because "of course I've heard that and tried that - if it worked for your kid then your kid is not as picky as mine!"  At least, that's how I would feel in the moment, yk?  I liken it to GD - some things work for certain kids. 


What I did was find ways to make meals easy to cater to DC. For a while she only liked plain pasta - so she had plain, we had sauce. I paid attention to how to accomplish this with as little extra dishes and work for me or DP. Then she liked red sauce so we had red sauce and meat sauce on top. It's just been like that. Eventually, with most of our family meals, DC decided to try the other stuff.  But this was over the course of YEARS. This was not "just offer it 12 times" (or whatever magic number is supposed to be). 


Other things we thought about...


There are some articles and studies on picky eaters that you will probably migrate to to easy your worries. They're out there. 


Consider shifting focus from dinner. DC's best meal was breakfast. I rested easy knowing she had a full, healthy breakfast everyday. 

If it fits your values, consider stocking the fridge and pantry with healthy alternatives to dinner that your DC can make (and clean up) herself if she has not filled up from dinner. 


Or, keep plugging away at it. I do think that pickyness is a kid issue that is made better or worse by parents. I KNOW there are things I could have done to help my DC become a better eater, faster. For me, it wasn't worth the effort but it may well be for you. 


Good luck! 

post #18 of 35

Oh, I also wanted to say that now that DC is older we have a new family agreement that's been working well for us. We have a list of foods that we all are willing to eat. This is not always a favorite but it's something we all agree that we can deal with. If we have the ingredients for one of those things and someone is willing to prepare it that is what we all eat. It's simple but for some reason this way of looking at things is working for us. 

post #19 of 35
Originally Posted by BlueStateMama View Post

 I guess it's the one size fits all approach she touts that I don't like (at least based on what I've read of her excepts, blurbs here, etc.) 


Read the book before you judge the approach.  It is an approach that works.  It works because you TRUST your child to learn and grow and become a competent eater.  You don't bribe, pressure, cajole, force, coerce, etc. It may try your patience, but eventually it works.  You make the food available at regular intervals and they choose to eat it or not.  If you do not ever offer your child new and different foods, they will never have the opportunity to try them and like them.  It may take some children a VERY long time to even allow some foods onto their plate, much less put it in their mouth and spit it out, much less put it in their mouth and chew it up and spit it out, much less put it in and actually swallow it.  Really, read the book, if all you've seen are excerpts.  Obviously what I posted here is nothing compared to a 500 page book.  It's a fascinating read, too, by the way.  I also like her newer book, Feeding a Healthy Family, which is more about how to shop, how to cook, how to get that food to the table so that your family can enjoy it together.  Because that's what it's all about, after all. 

post #20 of 35

Thanks Transylvania Mom :)  The only reason I brought up our "journey" with dinner times was I thought that perhaps someone else is dealing with the dinner/Sensory and or other issue/eating triad (not directed at the OP, although I do have some tips that worked with my neurotypical DD ;)  Sometimes you have to eat the elephant one bite at a time (http://www.pickthebrain.com/blog/how-to-eat-an-elephant/)  No pun intended.  lol  For us, we're tackling the dinner table first as family time and keeping the focus off of food.  Azzeps, I hear what you're saying.  I do trust my kids.  I try to recall that I was a "picky" eater, but now I'm an avid foodie.  I love to cook.  I try to involve my children in meal planning, shopping, and preparation/cooking.  DD loves it, not DS's "cup of tea."  I'm not going to force it.  What his therapist told us is that sometimes to need to break even the "no thank you bite " (the rule we started with) into baby steps.  Smelling it.  Maybe picking a bite up with your fork and smelling it (obvious, tres rude in restaurants or at someone else's house!  Hence the reason we're practicing at home)  A lick.  Then a nibble.


Believe me, I swore I'd NEVER have picky kids, used to sneer (silently at those "people")  Sigh, and then my son turned his back on food.  I'm doing my best. As someone with a LOVE of cuisine and cooking, it's hard for me to process, but we're still sitting down together and working on it.  Slowly (do I want to say "Seriously??  I'm reading "Half a Sky" right now...do you KNOW how good you privileged littles have it?  SERIOUSLY???" Buuuuut that won't be productive.)


And, as I mentioned up thread, I can't rely on my son to "eat or starve" because of meds.  PM me if you want to hear our long struggle and agonizing issues and concerns, failures and successes with ADHD med (bottom line, it ultimately became his choice....)  It's not that simple as "eat it or not", it just isn't for us.  I provide him with simple, healthful alternatives and silently bang my head instead of chiding, persading, bribing or forcing.  I know it won't work and will just make dinner time unpleasant instead of the only chance we have each day of the family coming together.


(Laugh - my husband just asked what I was up to...I explained that I was OT, had to define that, but that I was trying to give our experience of tackiling "family dinner table/all come together" and THEN moving on to food)  Summed it up way better than I did in my post (and without rambling!! ;)

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