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Snack or starve - what do you do when your kids won't eat dinner?

post #1 of 54
Thread Starter 
I've got a 4-year-old doing this lately. She claims she isn't hungry, and then as soon as I've cleaned up after dinner, she claims she's starving and needs something to eat. It's driving me crazy. I don't want her to suffer, but I don't want her to replace healthy meals with (reasonably healthy, but not as healthy) snack food.

What would you do or have you done?
post #2 of 54
Save a plate of dinner. When she says she's hungry, offer that to her.
post #3 of 54
Thread Starter 
I did that with my 11-year-old at this age, but it becomes a huge battle of wills. I'd love to find something to do that doesn't devolve into a power struggle, but I realize that my dream might not exist. Sigh!
post #4 of 54

It really depends on the age and the food offerred. We don't force eating but she would need us at the table. And the food would stay out for awhile. Snacks per se would be offerred but we do whole milk yogurt before bed usually so I know whe wouldn't be starving in her sleep. We ususally leave the leftovers out for awhile and sometimes the kids return to dinner right before they go to bed at 7., We also allow other, fairly boring options before bed and someone claims to be hugry like toast with butter or string cheese.

post #5 of 54

I know reheated food isn't as nutritious but as part of the later meal you could insist on veggies and proteins like hard-boiled eggs.  That alone might get some t 4-year-olds to stop being so wishy washy.  Whatever the consequence is, it needs to be consistent.


I don't like to start enforcing rules unless I'm sure I can be consistent which would never happen when it comes to food anyways because whenever my son is sick he just gets really finnicky.  But he is two.


If I had a whole gang of kids, I would probably go ahead and enforce rules for the sake of sanity/ability to keep everything running.  Right now I have the luxury of giving in to my mommy instincts pretty much whenever I feel like it.


There is no one right answer.

post #6 of 54
I would also save a plate of dinner and not engage in a conversation. When my DD was six we had a significant drop in income and the leftover dinner was literally all we had most of the time. Working in preschool where there are not choices I have found that kids eat best when they are slightly hungry, all the food goes on their plate, everyone sits for fifteen minutes before seconds are served, and teachers stay completely uninvolved in the children's decision to eat or not. Truly and completely uninvolved is hard for some people but it really works wonders.
post #7 of 54

Mealtimes are important to us, and they can't snack right before and they have to eat some of everything served. If they don't "finish" (don't need to clean the plate, but need to have a bit of everything) then they don't get to eat the next meal til they do. So they'll have dinner for breakfast. It's a gratitude issue.

post #8 of 54

I offer the reward of desert as an incentive to eat their food.  If they don't eat all their food and are hungry later, they only get crackers to eat.


But if they eat all their food and are still hungry later on they can get whatever they want to eat.  I also try to serve age appropriate portions so they're not overwhelmed.

post #9 of 54
Originally Posted by demeter888 View Post

I know reheated food isn't as nutritious


It's not??  I'm super curious about this.


Mamazee, if a kid isn't hungry at dinner, but is hungry right after, I'll offer dinner.  Maybe I'll offer one alternative (which would also have come up when she turned down dinner in the first place).  I sometimes get decent mileage out of asking for proposals - "What would you like to eat, keeping in mind that you can't have treats until you've had dinner?" - and I can often arrange to tack a vegetable on to something the kid says she's willing to consume.  (Yes, you may have microwave tacquitos for dinner, if you also have three greenbeans.  You may not have chocolate milk until dessert.)

post #10 of 54
Our 3yo does this often as well. We use the It's Not About Nutrition blog approach. If she doesn't want her dinner she may have plain yoghurt (the blog author uses cottage cheese). She often chooses this option.

If the dinner is something I know she usually enjoys then I keep it for the next day. If it was something new or something she's equivocal about then I don't keep it.
post #11 of 54

I've never heard that reheated food is less nutritious.  Granted anything coming from a microwave is going to be less nutritious, but not if you reheat in the oven or on the stove.  


We offer 3 square meals a day and no snacks...usually.  Due to tooth decay issues, I can no longer allow grazing.  So when it's time to eat, they are usually hungry enough to eat whatever is put in front of them.  However, if one of my kids (I have 4) don't want it, then it can be saved for later, or breakfast, whatever.  Now if I were to make something that they just didnt' like, then I wouldn't force it.  I don't make food they don't like, so that's not the issue.   


But, not eating dinner, then wanting something later would get them their dinner plate back.  

post #12 of 54
I also try to solve this type of problem by having a regular alternative. You could have a standing dinner alternative that meets your definition of a balanced meal and is at-the-ready. You could have a regular pre-bed snacktime that she has to wait for if she doesn't eat supper. Is she complaining that she doesn't like the food, or just claiming not to be hungry?
post #13 of 54

i don't make a big deal about it, but my 3 year old does not get to snack if he hasn't eaten a meal. whatever he didn;t eat gets saved until the next meal, if he's hungry he can have his plate back, but at the next meal we move on. I never make substitute food because i feel like that opns the door to a grilled cheese sandwich at every meal for who knows how long. I make one meal for the whole house, he eats what he wants, i don't fight about it, just don't give treats until the real food is eaten.

post #14 of 54

We have a big snack mid afternoon and dinner later. We make sure that there is something on the table my four year old likes (thank you Ellen Satter). If he eats a reasonable amount, he can have a snack later if he likes. If not we remind him once that this is the food that I made, he can choose to take it or leave it, but there will be nothing else. If I think it will be an issue, I keep the plate on the counter for a bit and he has asked for it to be heated up or eaten it. He has also not and thrown a fit (which is so four).


My rule with kids generally is that you need to say the same thing 10000 times before it starts to sink in and they realize you mean it. It has taken a few months, but now he gets it.


We do this for the rest of the day too. You can eat this now, or not. The next food is at X (lunch, afternoon snack etc). No emotion, no fuss, just this is.

post #15 of 54

To me a power struggle means parent is allowing the child to argue and the parent if arguing back. There is no need for this.  My daughter knows (she is now 6), you eat what is on  your plate, or you don't eat. Its not a power struggle. Its a simple rule. If she were to throw a fit about it, she would go to her room. Once a child sees a rule consistently enforced, its not a struggle. I never force my daughter to eat (although I do make her taste everything). If she chooses not to eat, thats ok, but other options will not be given. If  you explain this to your four year old in a kind and simple manner, then enforce it, she will catch on really fast. Maybe she won't take you seriously the first night, but she will after that.

Also, make sure you aren't giving her any snacks in the couple of hours prior to dinner. Make sure she is hungry when dinner time arrives. Try offering some healthy preferred foods the first few times try out this new plan. Also, allowing your child to help plan the menu as well as helping to prepare the food and table settings may make her want to eat with the family.

post #16 of 54
Originally Posted by Earthylady View Post

I've never heard that reheated food is less nutritious.  Granted anything coming from a microwave is going to be less nutritious

This one is news to me too. Seriously, where's this coming from? We do most of our cooking on weekends, and pack it up to microwave on week nights so that we can feed the kids after work, but before they melt down.
post #17 of 54
Eating is pretty casual in my family, partly because I feel like my upbringing contributed to my later struggles with food and body issues. I offer a couple of choices at mealtimes. Unfinished food is saved, and if someone gets hungry later, that's what is offered. Life is way too short to get into power struggles over eating. I don't bribe with desserts, mostly because the concept of 'put more food in your stomach than you want to, and then you can have some empty calories to put on top of it' makes no sense to me.
post #18 of 54
Originally Posted by MeepyCat View Post

This one is news to me too. Seriously, where's this coming from? We do most of our cooking on weekends, and pack it up to microwave on week nights so that we can feed the kids after work, but before they melt down.

isn't it obvious that it is most nutritious (and yummy) when fresh?  

not that we always eat fresh either, but we know it has lost something over time.

post #19 of 54
My rule is "you may have this, or you may make yourself a sandwich or an apple". Even for my 3 yo.

They have to try 1 bite before they declare they don't like it and won't eat it. My 7 yo usually then discovers that it is delicious and asks for seconds.

If they still won't eat I give them water and off to bed with the promise of a big breakfast.

They will eat it they are hungry. My boys area little overweight so I don't worry one bit about them getting some they like to eat or not.
post #20 of 54

IMO, this is not the real question. If you offer food and the kid is hungry, they won't starve. I can assure you of that.

I don't believe many of us have seen starving kids. I don't think this can compare with kids who ask: oh, I won't eat my broccoli, I want a cookie instead. Or: I don't like sauce on my pasta, I want it on the side.


With my 4 y/o, we don't have the option of dinner or snack. It just never was offered. We also don't have a snack about two hours before dinner, so my kids are hungry (but not famished) when I call them for dinner, and they are happy to come to the table.

With my 8 y/o, I can reason more. I tell him: don't have a snack just before dinner, I don't want you to ruin your appetite. And: please make sure you are not hungry when you leave the table, I'm not setting the table again tonight. So he understands and eats as much or as little as he is hungry for.


I think that they benefit most by having a meal structure, but not strict rules. Not eating whatever, whenever, but also, not being forced to have X number of bites, or no dessert unless you eat your vegetables. I think there is a happy medium between the two.


The parent is responsible for which foods to offer, where and when to eat.

The kid is responsible for what foods to eat, and how much.

It works out pretty well for us.

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