Getting Kids to Eat What the Family Eats…without Battles and Tantrums

Getting kids to eat what the family eats – without battles and tantrums is a popular issue with parents. Positive Parenting Solutions offers these 3 strategies to avoid mealtime battles:

image of 2 boys eating lunch

Your kids probably believe you hold the power in your family…you call all the shots and make all the decisions. However, the three areas where parents have absolutely no control and children have the all the power are eating, sleeping and peeing/pooping! Try as we might, we can’t MAKE them eat, sleep or potty.

Kids hold the control in these areas and as a result they represent prime opportunities for toddler power struggles. Battles over eating, sleeping or pottying are a child’s way of saying, “Hey, you’re not the boss of me! You can’t MAKE me eat/sleep/potty!”

And he’s right! A parent can’t MAKE a child eat but the parent continues to try! And…the power struggle ensues. After repeated coaxing, reminding, and begging – the child understands that this is a very effective way to exert power over his parents.

The 3 best strategies to end the power struggles over eating are…

1. Get your toddler involved!

    Allow your child to have input in planning the family menu for the week – encourage him to select the vegetable or fruit. For each meal, give your child a meaningful role in meal preparation. For young toddlers, it can be as simple as removing grapes from the stem or washing veggies. Older toddlers can contribute to more complex aspects of meal preparation – measuring, stirring, etc. The more your child is involved in the planning and preparation, the more invested he will be in the meal.

2. Make “eating” the CHILD’s problem not YOURS! When toddlers refuse to eat the family meal or have a tantrum about what is served, it usually invokes a response from the parent – either “coaxing” to get the child to “just try it” or a display of frustration or anger. This attention gives the child a huge “power payoff.” Instead, put the child on notice that “you are no longer going to badger him about what he eats.” Let him know that “he is ‘growing up’ and can choose to eat what is served or not – either way, you are fine with it. But – you won’t be serving any other food until the next normally scheduled snack or meal.” This becomes the logical consequence – the child will eat at dinner/lunch – or he will be hungry.

3. STOP any discussion about what he eats, or how much he eats. What he eats – is his problem, not yours. Plan a healthy meal and include at least one healthy item you know he will eat. Don’t ask him to try one bite, don’t encourage him to eat more. If he eats – that’s great. If not – he’ll be hungry. That’s fine too. (Children will not starve by missing one meal – I promise!) Let him know that dinner ends at 6:30 (or whatever time) and remove the plates from the table. (Otherwise, he will try to outlast you hoping that you will provide food that is more to his liking). If he played with his food and didn’t eat – he’ll have an opportunity to try again at the next meal.

If he has a tantrum because “he’s staaaarving” – be totally unconcerned and go about your business. Remember that he gets a “payoff” when you REACT to his tantrum. Remove the payoff by ignoring the tantrum. Remind him that humans can survive for days without food but be sure to drink water because he does need to hydrate! Don’t reward the tantrum with a snack or the behavior will continue the next day and beyond!

Comment below with what has worked well – or not so well – in your family.

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About the Author

Amy McCready
Nationally recognized parenting expert Amy McCready is the Founder of Positive Parenting Solutions and the best selling author of The “Me, Me, Me” Epidemic - A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World and If I Have to Tell You One More Time…The Revolutionary Program That Gets Your Kids to Listen Without Nagging, Reminding or Yelling. As a “recovering yeller” and a Certified Positive Discipline Instructor, Amy is a champion of positive parenting techniques for happier families and well-behaved kids. Amy is a TODAY Show contributor and has been featured on CBS This Morning, CNN, Fox & Friends, MSNBC, Rachael Ray, Steve Harvey & others. In her most important role, she is the proud mom of two amazing young men.