What To Do When Your Kids Won’t Eat Dinner

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What to do when your kids won't eat dinner


Oh, Why Can’t Everyone Be A Foodie

I’m a total foodie, I love Mexican, Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese, Italian, you name it.   I love Seafood and Landfood and everything in between.  Yep, I LIKE to cook, but I LOVE to eat.  My kids on the other hand?  Not so much.  If I wanted to continue to eat the foods that I love, I had to find a way to get my kids to eat what I make.  I needed a solution for that age old problem.  What to do when your kids won’t eat dinner?

Have you ever noticed that your kids would rather play than eat?  Unless they are absolutely starving they aren’t going to leave their train set to sit down at a table to eat. It’s even worse if they don’t like what you have prepared.

The Foodie Blues

There are about five things that I cook that all six of my kids will eat.   As a foodie, there is no way that I’m going to limit myself to a five meal rotation.  Everything else I make brings with it at least one dissenter.  So, what do you do when one of your kid sits down at the table and scowls at their plate like you just served them Klingon Blood Worms? First, lets talk about what didn’t work, and why.

No actual Klingon Bloodworms were harmed in the making of this article.


These Things Didn’t Work For Us

  • Eat what’s on your plate or starve – we rejected this method because Carrie is still traumatized over having to eat her mother’s Steak Casserole.
  • Fridge Surfing – We tried allowing the kids to surf the fridge if they didn’t like what was for dinner.  Unfortunately, when I allowed this to happen, kids who liked but didn’t love the meal would abandon their plate for something in the fridge that looked better.  Often they would spot something that I had set aside for another meal and eat it, thus tossing a monkey wrench into my future leftover or lunch plans.
  • Cereal – This seems like a good idea, but my kids eat cereal all day long. I hate it. In fact I would like to remove all cereal from our house, but right now I’m too lazy to do it. It saves me time by not having to cook a hot meal for breakfast.  My kids are old enough to deal with their own hunger which is great, but when they eat three servings of “candy in a bowl” during the day, the last thing I want them eating for dinner is a fourth.  Mark my words though, I will soon be removing all of the cereal from my house, and then I will write a blog about my kid’s withdrawals.
  • Just Don’t Eat Dinner And Double Up On Dessert – We have one child who we call The Air Fern, do you remember these?  He’s the one who is never hungry at dinner, eats two bites and says he’s full.  At 7:00 PM, he comes to you starving and begging for dessert.  Unfortunately for him, we don’t always have dessert.  And, unfortunately for us, this is usually when he flips his lid.  So we are working on this behavior presently.

What To Do When Your Kids Won’t Eat Dinner?

The goal here is twofold.  First, I require my kids to at least taste the food that has been prepared for them in the hope that they will eventually come to like it. Second, make sure that if my kids won’t eat what I cook, they will at last eat something remotely nutritional.

First: The Courtesy Bite

I wish I could take credit for this one, but it comes from our family doctor. She once told me that she requires her kids to take a courtesy bite of everything placed in front of them.  I liked the idea so much that we incorporated it into our mealtime.  The hope is that if we introduce the food to our kids enough times, they will begin to like it. So, it’s mandatory. This has actually worked.  Kat now loves red spaghetti sauce and beef stroganoff.  As of a couple of weeks ago, Grace likes enchilada sauce.  As you know, kids all too often judge a food by  the way it looks, and if it’s isn’t blue. pink, or some other artificial color, they will reject it without even giving it a taste.  By requiring my kids to take a courtesy bite, we accomplish two things:

  • First, you will not traumatize them by making them eat all 27 bites of something they really do hate.
  • Second, by requiring my kids to eat a bite of everything on their plate, we get past the visual security guard, and the food actually gets a fair chance of being liked because it actually tastes good.
Second: The PB&J Solution

Dinner at our house is never a secret.  My kids know in advance what we are having.  If it doesn’t appeal to them they have two choices.  They can eat what’s served or they can make themselves a PB&J.  All of my kids are independent and skilled enough to make themselves a PB&J sandwich for dinner.  It has more nutrition than cereal or junk food and, fortunately, they all like PB&J sandwiches.  I also like two of the side effects that come with this practice.

First, it takes enough effort to make  PB&J that my dissenter just might give in and eat what’s been prepared rather than go through the trouble of making one. Second, if we happen to have back to back meals that the dissenter doesn’t like, perhaps the prospect of having to make and eat PB&J sandwiches two nights in a row will push them towards eating the dinner that I have prepared.

Hopefully, my kids will decide to eat what has been served for dinner tonight, but if they don’t, well, they can always eat that PB&J. I want to hear from you.  What do you do when your kids don’t like what’s for dinner?

A chef in the making!


Dad, how many times have I asked you not to take my picture when my mouth is full!!!



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5 years ago

I love this! We do the “be polite, eat one bite” rule, too, and are working on the sandwich alternative. Dinners are tough!

Terri Brantz
Terri Brantz
5 years ago

The Brantz kids had to eat ‘no thank you’ bites. If you were 2, you ate 2 NTY bites. If you’re 4, you eat 4, and so on. I didn’t want my kids to go to someone else’s house and be ungrateful heathens…! By the time you’re 9 and eat 9 NTY bites, you’re basically done anyway. It worked like a charm at our house. Also, each kid had a night that they were in charge of dinner. They picked it out, helped cook, etc. It had to include all of the food groups and had to have different colors.… Read more »

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