Handling Dinner Drama With Toddlers
Handling Dinner Drama With Toddlers

boy eating sandwichI thought I had a pretty good handle on the best way to feed my kids and encourage healthy eating in a positive and reasonable way. But even when you’re a dietitian, nothing can prepare you for your child’s dinner strike.

For months, my two year old barely took a bite of his dinner. I knew I needed to keep my cool and stay the course with the Division of Responsibility. I was deciding what and when we were having for dinner, and my son was deciding whether and how much he would eat (answers: no and nothing).

But that’s easier said than done when, night after night, the nutritious meals I spent time planning and cooking and carefully arranging on his special Bob the Builder divided plate were never even touched.

So I consulted a food sociologist , Dr. Dina Rose, who teaches parents how to shape their children’s relationship with food. She was full of ideas and surprising suggestions like these:

*Serve Less Food.

Dr. Rose advised I put just a few bites on my son’s plate. If he asked about it, I should say, “It doesn’t seem like you want much food at dinner, so I’m respecting that. But if you want more, just ask.” Dr. Rose says this instantly changes the dynamic at dinner for many kids (and it worked for us!).

*Allow Honesty.

I don’t permit disrespectful words like “yuck” and “gross” at my dinner table. But Dr. Rose said I should give my son replacement words, such as “I don’t like the way this tastes” and allow honest feedback like “This meatloaf looks like dirt”. Children should be allowed to explain why they don’t want to eat something. It’s empowering for them (and insightful for you).

*Play Games.

Reverse psychology—“Gosh, I sure hope you don’t eat that broccoli!”—works wonders for strong-willed kids like my son. Dr. Rose says children love being silly with their parents (especially at the dinner table, which can be boring for kids). So games like this are okay as long as they’re fun for everyone involved and don’t dominate mealtime.

Sally Kuzemchak is a registered dietitian who blogs about the struggles and triumphs of feeding her two young sons at Real Mom Nutrition. As a freelance writer specializing in nutrition and health, she has been published in numerous consumer magazines such as Parents, Family Circle, and Prevention. She is currently a Contributing Editor for Parents magazine and co-authored The Flat Belly Diet! Family Cookbook, which appeared on the New York Times Bestseller list. She received her Master’s degree in dietetics from The Ohio State University.