Dinnertime always turns into a battle with my kids, who refuse to eat any of the healthy parts of their dinner. How can I make it less of a fight?
Ugh – we have been there, more times than we care to admit. So we feel like we’re the last ones who should be talking about how to end dinnertime battles. Or wait – maybe that means we’re the experts! So yes, we know about dinnertime battles. Let’s break it down by looking at three different kinds of battles, why them come up, and how to end them:
You’ve made them a special dinner that they requested and now they won’t eat it: Yeah, this one can be infuriating. Most experts would say not to make them a special dinner from now on. But while you’re in the thick of things, you have to keep your cool. Somehow, without blowing your top, you need to remind them calmly them that 1) this is food they like and 2) this is food you made because they asked for it. If they’ve had at least a bite and have stayed seated with the family for the duration of the meal, let them get up but keep the food there. If they claim hunger or a need for dessert, point them back to their dinner. If they never go back to it, let them go to bed without eating (they’ll survive). There’s a small chance that their sudden loss of appetite could stem from an oncoming sickness, and if you force them to eat, you’ll regret it the next day. Next time, however, they lose the right to request a special meal – they need to eat what everyone else is eating.
You’ve asked them to try just a bite of a new food, but they won’t taste even a morsel: How often have you heard yourself saying “How do you know you don’t like it if you won’t even try it?” Maybe when the whole family is staring them down, waiting to gauge their reaction, they already know it must be bad. You should continue to offer them a little taste of new foods with each meal – and praise them heartily when they try it – but if they won’t try it, let it go. They will become more adventurous over time (really) if they have pressure-free opportunities to try new things.
They refuse to eat any [vegetables, meat, fill in the blank]: Of course you’re going to be worried about malnutrition if they regularly won’t eat from a given food group. But again, since you can’t physically force food down their throats, you’re going to have to let things get better over time. Keep introducing foods slowly and without comment or nagging. In the meantime, if you’re truly worried about nutrition, you can do a little subterfuge and start hiding vegetables or meats in foods. Sure, they won’t learn anything, but can’t hurt and it may help ease your conscience.
Beyond these three battles (and we’re sure there are more), try to make dinner a relaxing time. Have everyone sit at the table and stay off the phone. Pick a conversation topic (“What was your favorite part of the day?”) and let everyone take a turn answering it. Serve the meal family-style and let the kids dole out their own portions (within reason). Or make things even more interesting by letting the kids dole out portions for their parents. When you grab their interest, they start having fun, and dinnertime becomes less of a pressure-cooker environment, which is good for everyone.