Once again, I’m blown away by how creative, thoughtful, and downright genius you guys are when it comes to helping me solve life’s biggest problems. When I posed the question a couple weeks ago, “What do you do when your kids refuse to eat dinner?” I figured a few of y’all would weigh in, but I was unprepared for not only how many of you have struggled with the same challenge, but also by the incredibly varied solutions you’ve discovered.
The diversity of ideas is testament to the fact that (a) different strategies work for different kids, and (b) there’s no one “right” way to parent. Having a curious mindset and a desire to learn what’s best for your own unique family is the only rule that applies across the board.
Since combing through all the comments took me awhile, I pulled out 20 of the best nuggets of advice and consolidated them here for quick reference. I know I’ll be bookmarking this list so I can return to it time and again, since (as everyone who’s ever had a toddler knows) what works today, may not work tomorrow.
Scroll on, and feel free to add to this list in the comments below if you missed the first convo!
Dig deeper. “My personal experience with my two kids: oftentimes when something like (food) became a problem, it had much more to do with how stressed I was, and the kids were reacting to my behavior.” – Franziska
Give them the choice. “Let him plan two meals a week…he gets to choose and you work together on the sides…” – Judith
Two-course dinner. “Our evening routine is two course dinner. First course is dinner – whatever we make that evening. Second course is served right after or right before bed, and is healthier things I know they will reliably eat so their stomach is full at bedtime.” – Jenny
Hunger is the best seasoning. “If we refused dinner, [my mom] would simply wrap our plate with saran wrap, stick it in the fridge, and let us go play. Of course, we came back a few hours later, STARVING. She would reheat our plate in the microwave, and 99% of the time, we would devour it.” – Amy
3 simple reminders. “My biggest takeaways were being careful with snacking, offering vegetables first, and just not freaking out if they’re not hungry/refuse to eat.” – Tara Rasmus
DIY dinner. “Dinner is often a struggle so I try to make things that they can sort of put together on their own – like a taco bar, noodle bar, or make your own pizza. This gives them a bit more control over what they are eating but I still control the ingredients, so I can make sure there are some healthy proteins and veggies included.” – Stephanie
“No Thank You” policy. “We have a “No Thank You” bite rule. Take one bite (with no fuss) and if you say “no thank you”, you don’t have to finish it.” – Diana
Find their motivation. “I think the more we can teach kids the importance about nourishing their bodies for growth, development and activity. The better! My son idolizes Tom Brady so I use his healthy diet as a model to emulate sometimes…”I bet you Tom eats his fish taco – I know you want to be able to thrive on the field like he does.” My daughter is hoping for long hair like Rapunzel, so we talk about how eggs are a good catalyst for hair growth and now the gobbles eggs up almost every morning!” – Courtney Zieky
Make it a delicious experience. “My dad’s trick was to tell us that we just thought we didn’t like it because we didn’t know how to eat it the right way – then he would invent a method, “First of all, make sure the squash has the right amount of butter/salt/pepper on it. Next put it on your fork then place it, not shove it in, but place it gently on your tongue. Don’t chew! Instead, squash it up against the roof of your mouth, let the butter spread across all of it, then, only then, swallow. Isn’t that amazing?” Yeah. It was. I still love squash.” – RL Maiden
One food that’s a hit. “You could try to make sure there is always one thing on their dinner plate that you know will be a hit. So if you are having salmon (which you know they don’t like) offer a grain or vegetable or fruit option that they typically enjoy, though I know that can be a moving target.” – Meredith
Seasoned salt for the win. “Try a little Lawry’s seasoned salt? My son hates red sauce and even butter/parmesan on pasta…but butter and just a little sprinkle of Lawrys? He gobbles up a huge bowl of it.” – Andrea
Stay at the dinner table. “We also had a rule that you had to stay at the dinner table until everyone was done eating to enjoy each other’s company. Sometimes, my kids would quietly pick at something they had said they didn’t care for.” – Meredith
Roasted, airfryed, and puréed veggies. “I have them choose (from what we have) a vegetable I’ll cook the way they like – roasted “French Fries”, air fried mushrooms or brussels sprouts, etc. I’ll also mix up purées into sauces because I am not above doing what I can. I’ll add pumpkin or carrot purée to tomato sauce for noodles, cauliflower purée to dal or kichadi, etc.” – Asha
If all else fails – PB&J. “I always put something in or on the dish I know she loves. Or, like you, make a kid friendlier version of my meal – “deconstructed grain bowl”. If she REALLY refuses, SHE can go make herself a PBnJ. I don’t do the short order cooking and I don’t want food to be a problem in our home…” – Dianna
Just one bite. “About a year ago I came across an article a child psychologist wrote about fussy eating in children and the suggestion was, when the kid(s) say “I don’t like that!” (Without even trying it yet) to say something along the lines of “Well, you only have to have one bite. If you don’t have one bite you will go straight to bed. Do you really want to ruin your whole evening because you won’t have one bite?” So I tried it the next day at suppertime and lo and behold, it worked!” – Caleigh
Their favorite + something new. “I also noticed that when, for example, I would make an old fashioned roast in the crock pot that they would barely touch it. I started serving that alongside their beloved Mac for several nights in a row and I think the exposure really helped them to grow accustomed to the flavor/texture and every night I would notice them eating a little bit more. When I started to rely more on those classic meals we ate growing up that they really responded well! For us, I think the most important thing is the eating together at the table.” – Kristina
Let them be your sous chef. “When [my niece] stays with us, however, her parents are shocked at what we’ve gotten her to eat. I have her put on an apron and get out a step stool, and she helps me make dinner. She likes to stir, measure ingredients, sprinkle spices, and set the timer. She likes to taste while we’re cooking and declare, “Needs more spices!” When we sit down at the dinner table, we tell her what a great cook she is, and how everything tastes amazing! She might only eat half of her vegetables, but nothing is looked at in disgust, or untouched.” – Lauren
Teach them a few recipes. “Time to teach him how to make a few sandwiches, nut butter, turkey, hummus with veggies etc. And let him know he’s free to make his own dinner if yours isn’t his cup of tea.” – Jan
Early dinner. “Instead of an after school snack, do an early dinner (4pm) and then light snack before bed. It’s shocking the difference this makes in the quality calories to empty calories food ratio.” – Christian
Dinner + games. “Family games at the table! Try to distract kids from the pressure of how much they are/aren’t eating by playing fun games. Take turns going around the table telling “Two truths and a lie”…or “name one person you were kind to today and who you can be kind to tomorrow…” – Christian