Strategies for Dealing With Kids Who Won't Eat Dinner

by Kathryn Walsh
Getting your kids involved in preparing dinner can entice them to eat.

Getting your kids involved in preparing dinner can entice them to eat.

It's frustrating to spend hours preparing a nutritious dinner only to have your child refuse to eat it. A child who doesn’t eat dinner may demand a snack right before bed or sleep poorly because he’s hungry, so it’s important to encourage him to eat at least some of his dinner every night. If he’s refusing to eat other meals as well or seems to be losing weight or low in spirits, contact his pediatrician immediately.

Ask Them to Cook

Getting your kids involved in preparing dinner has many benefits. You can spend quality time with them, they can take some of the load of cooking off your shoulders, and preparing their own food may make them more inclined to eat it. This is especially useful for picky eaters, since you may be able to more easily encourage a child to taste an ingredient or dish while she’s busying stirring something rather than when you’re staring her down across the table. Supervise children at all times, and don't let them use knives or get near the stove. Choose simple tasks for the little ones. For instance, washing and tearing lettuce for a salad can be an appropriate task even for a toddler. Give her responsibilities that make her feel grown up and important, like choosing which dressing to serve it with.

Change the Food

Make some changes to your dinner menus to spark some interest in the food. Try adding more kid-friendly color and flavor to your usual dishes. A plate of grilled chicken and potatoes may look boring to a child, but raw veggies paired with a yummy dip of creamy ranch or blue cheese dressing, or chicken covered in salsa or garden tomato dressing looks more appealing and carries more of the zestier flavors that children enjoy.

Adjust Snacking Schedules

A child who eats a snack at 4:30 p.m. isn’t likely to be hungry for dinner at 6 p.m. Rather than requiring your child to skip snack, ask her to eat a snack as soon as she gets home from school instead of letting her eat whenever she wants. If she goes to an after-school program or to a baby sitter after school, ask her caretaker to serve her a snack at an earlier time. You may also try moving your dinner time back a half hour or so to see if she just gets hungry at a later hour.

Change the Rules

Young children in particular may refuse to eat as a way of getting your attention, even if it’s negative attention. Changing your reactions to his refusal to eat may convince him to stop fighting and start eating. Give him a plate of food, and explain how long he has to eat. Set a kitchen timer for 20 or 30 minutes. If he pushes his food around, stay calm and don’t acknowledge or react to this behavior. When the timer goes off, take his plate away. After a few days, he’ll learn that he’d better eat during the allotted time.

About the Author

Cooking, travel and parenting are three of Kathryn Walsh's passions. She makes chicken nuggets during days nannying, whips up vegetarian feasts at night and road trips on weekends. Her work has appeared to The Syracuse Post-Standard and insider magazine. Walsh received a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.

Photo Credits

  • Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images