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

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#1 of 54 Old 07-03-2013, 10:03 AM - Thread Starter
 
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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?
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#2 of 54 Old 07-03-2013, 10:07 AM
 
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Save a plate of dinner. When she says she's hungry, offer that to her.

Michelle, wife to DH, and momma to DD16, DS15, DS12, DS10, DD9, DD7, DS5, and baby girl born Christmas Eve 2013!
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#3 of 54 Old 07-03-2013, 10:09 AM - Thread Starter
 
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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!
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#4 of 54 Old 07-03-2013, 10:45 AM
 
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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.

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#5 of 54 Old 07-03-2013, 11:00 AM
 
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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.

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#6 of 54 Old 07-03-2013, 11:16 AM
 
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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.
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#7 of 54 Old 07-03-2013, 11:33 AM
 
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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.

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#8 of 54 Old 07-03-2013, 12:01 PM
 
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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.


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#9 of 54 Old 07-03-2013, 01:41 PM
 
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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.)

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#10 of 54 Old 07-03-2013, 02:51 PM
 
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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.

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#11 of 54 Old 07-03-2013, 03:57 PM
 
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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.  


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#12 of 54 Old 07-03-2013, 03:58 PM
 
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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?
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#13 of 54 Old 07-03-2013, 04:09 PM
 
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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.

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#14 of 54 Old 07-03-2013, 04:22 PM
 
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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.


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#15 of 54 Old 07-03-2013, 04:24 PM
 
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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.
 

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#16 of 54 Old 07-03-2013, 04:50 PM
 
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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.
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#17 of 54 Old 07-03-2013, 04:53 PM
 
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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.
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#18 of 54 Old 07-03-2013, 04:56 PM
 
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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.


no longer  or  or ... dd is going on 12 (!) how was I to know there was a homeschool going on?
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#19 of 54 Old 07-03-2013, 05:28 PM
 
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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.
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#20 of 54 Old 07-03-2013, 05:33 PM
 
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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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#21 of 54 Old 07-03-2013, 05:51 PM
 
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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.

 

There are actually a lot of soups and stews that improve with a little age (like, 1-3 days), and are tastier on reheating then they were in the first place.  And I know that some vitamin content is lost when you cook vegetables, regardless of cooking method.  But if, say, we make a big batch of chicken tikka masala on Sunday, and sling some into the microwave on Wednesday, I don't think there's a nutritional difference between that serving, and the serving eaten straight from the cooking pot on Sunday, and I don't think there would be a nutritional difference between putting that serving into a pot on the stove and putting that serving into a bowl in the microwave.

 

I tend to be pretty minimal on cooking vegetables, and some of those do suffer a lot from reheating (limp broccoli, yeuch), but I'll hand that over cold.

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#22 of 54 Old 07-03-2013, 06:51 PM
 
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It's not??  I'm super curious about this.

 

 

Here is just a quick reference about food nutrition loss from cooking off the internet:

http://nutritiondata.self.com/topics/processing#cooking

 

Not my favorite source but it conveys the point: the more heat a food is subjected to the more nutrients it tends to lose.  That site is not very reliable tho... One exception is a nutrient found in tomatoes and a few others.    So, yeah the fresher and more local the food the better.

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#23 of 54 Old 07-03-2013, 06:57 PM
 
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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.

 

I was going to say the link below explains why microwaving isn't great, but then I actually ready the article. LOL  The last time I read about any of this was  few years ago.

 

http://www.health.harvard.edu/fhg/updates/Microwave-cooking-and-nutrition.shtml

 

Either way, I still microwave veggies often because I am too busy to prepare them on the stove. That and we just eat raw when possible. If it weren't for nukers we'd have far fewer veggies on the table.

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#24 of 54 Old 07-03-2013, 07:39 PM
 
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In our home, we have decided that eating is simply not a big deal. I think this all started with nursing my children on demand. Whenever they were hungry, even if it felt off to me (too much, too little), I obliged! When they started eating solids, it just made sense to us to keep that same attitude. I think the real question should be why is your snack food not considered worthy of a meal?

 

Most of the time, we eat very healthy foods and we give our son a lot of opportunities to express his wants and preferences. For example, breakfast here is generally one of 4 options: oatmeal, eggs in various forms, fruit and yogourt parfaits, or a smoothie. Sometimes we have organic cereal but we don't often have milk in the fridge, so that is very limited as well. Every morning my 3 yr old choses what he wants to eat and the quantity he eats varies greatly. Some days, he'll have 2 eggs and 2 toasts (no kidding!). Others, he won't even finish 1 egg and leaves his toast. We think of it as encouraging him to be in tune with his body, and to eat as much or as little as he feels he needs. If I  think he hasn't eaten quite enough and I have the time, I offer him an all-fruit smoothie to take to daycare with him. He never turns down a smoothie LOL!

 

It's the same for dinner really. Some days I'll make a full sit-down dinner (like shepherd's pie with salad), some days we all snack for dinner (a plate of strawberries, cucumbers, cheese, boiled eggs, hummus, etc) when the kids are playing outside and no one wants to go in or stop to eat. 

 

If he doesn't want to eat what we're eating, we respect that and always try to encourage him to have a taste. He never wants to at first but often comes around and has a bite, which he doesn't like. We praise him for trying and move on. 

 

If he doesn't want to eat when we're eating, we allow him to eat later in the evening when he is hungry. At that point, we offer any of the fresh, whole food we have in the house - never junk food, rarely processed food like crackers or bread. Most of the time, he wants a piece of fruit, which I will never refuse, and try to give him a few nuts to eat along side it to regulate his blood sugar before bedtime. Besides, don't experts claim that eating smaller meals consisting of fresh, whole foods more frequently during the day is the healthiest was to eat? 

 

I've struggled my whole life with food and food-related issues, and frankly, one of my biggest pet peeves is how much importance our society places on food. Food as a celebration, food as a reward, food as comfort, food as an activity... the list goes on and on! The dinner table doesn't have to be the end all, be all of family life! 

 

Point is, I wouldn't worry about it. Just make sure you only offer fresh, whole foods and it will not matter when or how your child eats it!

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#25 of 54 Old 07-03-2013, 08:50 PM
 
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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.

 

I do this, exactly. The reason I give for having to try a bite is that their tongues are growing and one day they will like foods that they didn't before. My daughter who is 9 was super, super selective about what she would and wouldn't eat for a while, but this strategy got her through it and she even takes some pride in being brave enough to try new foods.

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#26 of 54 Old 07-03-2013, 09:00 PM
 
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One of my kids has sensory issues that include food issues, and my other kid has some food sensitivities that have caused her to be a picky eater. When they were 4ish, we always had simple things on hand, like yogurt and fruit, that they could have instead of dinner.

Parts of my parenting are based on doing the opposite of my patents. They had major control issues with food, and my sister and I both have issues with food. So I just decided to keep all the options in our house healthy and not get worked up over what they eat. I later added the caveat that I will not be a short order cook!

but everything has pros and cons  shrug.gif

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#27 of 54 Old 07-04-2013, 07:48 AM
 
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I'm a green smoothie fanatic so that is the only alternative for me, H, and most likely LO when/if she starts being a fussy eater. We have a good blender so it takes like 2 minutes. It has veggies (whatever leafy green on hand), fruit, and protein (milk and maybe PB). Pretty balanced in my book and not a huge issue to make if dinner doesn't turn out/isn't palatable to someone. 

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#28 of 54 Old 07-04-2013, 09:21 AM
 
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We used to reward our 5 year old with a small dessert if he ate a good dinner, but this turned into a power struggle.  We started to have a "How many more bites do I need to eat" negotiation, which drove us nuts.  So we discontinued all treats, except on Friday.  If he claims he is not hungry at dinner, we don't force him to eat, but we don't prepare him anything different (as long as it was something we expect him to enjoy).  We save the dinner until he wants it.  If we make something he doesn't like (if it's accidentally too spicy or something) we have peanut butter and jelly for him, which he always likes.  No power struggle.  Your child won't go hungry by his/her own will.  They figure it out soon enough.

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#29 of 54 Old 07-04-2013, 10:47 AM
 
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As a parent, it's my job to see that healthy food is served/available at reasonable times.  This includes breakfast, lunch, and dinner served about 4-5 hours apart.  Depending on age, morning and afternoon snacks are available midway between meals and consist of fruit, whole grains, and/or dairy.  Water is available at all times.  Milk is served for breakfast unless we are having a spicy meal for dinner.  Juice is a rare occasion.  My children's job was to eat what and how much of what I served.  If they insist that they are truly hungry, fruit is offered.  If they turn down fruit in favor of junk food, I figure that they really aren't hunger but just need something that they are interpreting to be hunger.  My attention, a suggestion of what to do next, etc.  If nothing I suggest is accepted, then they are allowed to deal with the problem themselves.
 

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#30 of 54 Old 07-04-2013, 11:46 AM
 
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It might help, or not (each case is different), but this is what we do:

 

We do allow fresh fruit and veggies ANYtime, even 5min. before dinner, even if it "spoils" their appetites.  How do you spoil an appetite with healthy food?  I consider it equivalent to the "salad" that some adults eat at the beginning of dinner.  Fill up on the healthy, have less room for the sugary/salty/starchy --  it is a great deal!  If they get hungry 5min. after dinner -- guess what snacks might just be available?

 

We rely on the power of hunger, and the kids' desire to be self-sufficient.  Baby carrots and "broccoli feet" (the stems) taste delicious when a kid (or myself) is hungry.  I leave acceptable snacks in the fridge or on the kitchen table, such as veggies, nuts, cheese sticks, or sliced fruit, and the kids love to wander in and help themselves.  Note, this became easier after I cleared out the fridge crap -- the chocolate yogurt, the leftover cake, the chocolate milk, the lemonade.  Now, unless they want to dig into the squash casserole, baked beans, or the raw onions, they have to pick snacks I leave for them.  But they have choices.  And they know that, if they don't finish what they started, they need to put it back in the fridge so it doesn't spoil.  

 

(Side note -- I loathed being in the kitchen around the clock, serving kids and cleaning up after their crumble-making butts.  I used to spend my WHOLE day there, either prepping, feeding or cleaning up, then the cycle would start all over again for the next meal.  I do want them to be nourished, but I have no desire to be their waiter for 12 hours out of 24, especially when they didn't get hungry simultaneously.  Snack-wise, they got self-sufficient when the oldest was three or four, and got strong enough to pull the fridge door open.  Now, we have time for counting games and reading books, and if it's not a designated meal time, they take care of their snacking by themselves, then come back to play or read.)

 

Additionally, when I cook something "iffy", I involve them in the cooking process.  Not to say that they clear their plates as a result (I wouldn't want them to feel like they have to anyway), but it increases the chances of them taking a bite from that squash casserole or the baked chicken-and-salsa.  If nothing else, we do the guess-the-spice game (for example, they can smell rosemary when it is fresh, but can they recognize the scent on the baked potatoes?)

 

I guess I want them to be fed, and be adventurous about food.  When they turn their noses up at some new dish, I encourage them to at least SMELL it.  A kids' nose is finer than that of an adult, anyway.  Because much of our appetite is aided by the sense of smell, I consider the sniff test to be the first step, instead of the obligation to take a bite. (As an adult, if something smells repulsive to me, why the hell would I want to take "just one bite, one single bite, dearie?"  Conversely, if it looks ugly but smells like heaven, like some casseroles do, I might be tempted into tasting it.)

 

HTH.  As they say, your mileage may vary.  Good luck to you!

reezley and hyde like this.
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