What should I do if my child refuses to eat what I cooked for dinner?

This is bound to happen sooner or later. We each have individual tastes, and it's a good idea to make easy and nutritious alternatives available to everyone in the family in case they don't like what is being served. There's no need for you to COOK more than one dish -- kids can prepare a simple Plan B themselves.

It's fair for parents to request a "good sport bite" -- just one teensy bite to see how it tastes, so kids don't miss out on something yummy just because it looks funny. If they don't like the taste, then a good ol' pbj sandwich will suffice for backup. Don't make a big deal about it. Eating is not an area where you want to engage in power struggles!

Simply excuse your child from the table so he can make a sandwich and bring it right back to eat with the family. Even at age three kids can assemble a pbj sandwich with a plastic knife while you stay at the table and enjoy your meal.

You may want to discuss this ahead of time, and teach your child the language you'd like to hear. Mommy, I took a good sport bite of the okra, and I don't like how it tastes. May I please make myself a sandwich instead?

You'll also want to teach your children how to handle this situation appropriately for times when they are a guest in someone else's home. Remember to tell them to take very small portions of any questionable foods that they want to try -- they can take a second helping later if they like it.

Teach them how to compliment the chef on the foods they do like, and how to graciously deflect questions about the ones they don't. Kids don't just naturally know the language for these situations, and they need your guidance and example to learn good manners. And "good manners" rarely, if ever, require us to eat something that we find revolting!


Unknown said...

The pbj rule is fine and all, but I have a smart child. She really likes pbj. She will basically say she doesn't like anything if she knows that one of her favorite foods is the stand-by.
Right now, we are working on the "no-thank-you- bites" and just letting her go hungry to her next meal. If we stick with your plan, she really would only eat pbj.
This is frustrating AND I'm that dietitian they tell you to talk to when you don't know what to do! Life is crazy

karen alonge said...

hi Suzie -

thanks for your comment. you are so right that no one piece of advice works for every situation!

Plan B has to be something you as a parent are comfortable with, so pbj clearly isn't a good choice for your family.

As a dietician, you may be more relaxed about letting kids skip a meal than some parents are, since you have access to the research which demonstrates that kids balance their diets quite well if we look at a period larger than just one day.

Good luck with your experiment, and remember to keep playing with it until you find a solution that works!


rileydog said...

I am curious for ideas as well. This is every night at dinner time with an 8 and 10 year old nephews who stay with me while my sister works at night.

Generally they want ice cream after dinner so been trying the you have to eat a decent bite of everything first and putting a time limit of 30 min for dinner. It kinda works. But lots of complaining, whining and refusals and then eventually they eat it. usually.
Would you suggest ice cream is ok if picking a PB&J instead of the "regular" dinner? Up until now they have essentially eaten poor quality foods most of the day (mcdonalds, ice cream, chips, candy, soda) and I would really like to change this as would my sister. I struggle with the need to have something sweet every night. Is that typical to always have desert?

karen alonge said...

hi rileydog-

good for you for helping your sister and her kids, and for trying to make sure they receive as much nourishment as possible.

here are a few ideas for you to experiment with. there's no one right way, so hopefully one of these will resonate with you and feel like a good fit for your situation.

one option is to take ice cream off the menu as dessert and replace it with something lower in sugar and higher in nutrients, like fruit displayed in interesting ways (ie half a pear turned into a face with raisins for eyes and an apple peel for a smile).

that way you can feel good about serving something sweet to them as part of the meal, and there are no contingencies to negotiate -- they are always welcome to have fruit regardless of how much they ate of the main dish.

Plus, if you get the kids involved in creating the fruit presentation, they are more likely to enjoy eating it. There are lots of fun kid friendly recipes on the internet.

they could still have ice cream, it would just become a snack not related to a meal rather than a reward.

as you saw in the comment above, pbj won't feel like a good alternative for all families. so come up with something that you feel great about them eating and that they usually like for your Plan B - carrot sticks and almond butter dip, banana sliced dipped in sunflower seeds, hummus and pita crackers, etc. Just be sure to choose something the kids can prepare without your help.

another option is to make fruit smoothies - toss a frozen banana, some frozen berries, a handful of salad greens, and juice or yogurt in the blender - maybe when they are not watching cuz they might not like the ideas of greens being in there, but will never notice them in the final product. You might even be able to toss a little protein powder in there. If you keep a pitcher of this on hand in the fridge, they can always help themselves to that - it can even be frozen in popsicle molds for a 'dessert' that they don't have to know is super nutritious!

hope this gives you a good start - let us know how it goes!

- karen