Letting Your Kids Choose Not to Eat the Meal

Updated on August 24, 2011
J.X. asks from San Clemente, CA
23 answers

This is a continuation question for me. Yesterday I asked who else battles food in their house . I really loved the response that many moms gave that they served the meal, the kid could choose not to eat it, but then there was nothing to eat or drink until the next snack or meal. I have tried this, but find she tend to make up for those lost calories in gold fish. As far as waiting until the next meal, she turns into a monster (must get it from her dad, low blood sugar does the same thing to him). So for you moms who take this approach, how do you then deal with your low blood sugar children? (my daughter is 3.5) thx

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So What Happened?

The more I try to get to the bottom of the issue, the more contradictory information I get!!! AHHHHH. My 12 month old eats more variety, more quantity, and with her own hands than my three year old! I've tired just letting her choose not to eat, reserving the uneaten meal until she is hungry, the healthy snack option. The truth is, she just out maneuvers me no matter what I do. Today is a play date. She had not eaten her oatmeal. Undoubtedly, when she crashes, one of the moms will have gold fish, or gummy fruits, or something that gets offered to my unfed, unruly, low blood sugar child. Today I can't win. Maybe tomorrow.

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answers from Omaha on

I save the meal and when my kids decide they are hungry it is warmed up and then they can eat it. They don't get to choose another meal/snack option. Hope that helps!

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

I would probably just change the snack into something with a little more nutritional value. As far as I am concerned my kids can eat all the veggies they want. So instead of goldfish, maybe carrot sticks, celery or broccoli. Fruit may be another alternative. My OB once told me that Mangoes have the same nutritional value as broccoli.

4 moms found this helpful

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answers from Seattle on

We have the same approach, my daughter can choose to eat any part of her meal or none of it. I require that she at least tastes everything on her plate once.

We don't serve Goldfish or other junkfood for snack, so there is no danger of her waiting to fill up on those (we do have them at home, but they are reserved for treats). If she skips the vegetable at a meal, she'll get a vegetable (baby carrots,cucumber slices, tomato...whatever your kid likes) for snack. Other snack items include fresh fruit, cheese, yoghurt. That way you don't have to worry about them skipping a lunch or dinner every now and then.

If she gets hungry before snack time I will allow her a glass of milk to tide her over, that should help with the low blood sugar and is relatively filling.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

Limit the snack options you present to her. Portion out a reasonable amount!

We have the "you eat what mommy cooks" rule in our house. There were nights, Jane, when it was a WW II style battle at the table... who was going to "break" first. On those nights, he had a time out until he was ready to come eat at the table like a member of the family. Some nights? No dinner- just a glass of milk, crackers and fruit before bed. That phase didn't last too long, but it felt like years.

What do we do when he refuses a meal? About an hour later, when he's hungry and less ornery, he sits at the table and gets a high protein snack (yogurt, cheese and crackers, 1/2 PBJ on wheat). Something that will not be seen as a "treat", but will keep his little body going. No "snacky" foods with minimal nutritional value.

He gets "snacky" foods like goldfish, graham crackers, etc if he ate his lunch or dinner only!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

You know what - don't let her go on her play date until she's eaten what she's supposed to eat or has eaten a viable alternative. Time to get tough.

She can eat the food you make for her or not, but she can't expect to do her regular activities if she hasn't eaten! Period.the.end.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Honolulu on

My Daughter is like that.
I am too.
You cannot.... 'starve' a child, or person, that is prone to low-blood sugar or Hypoglycemia.
It is imperative... that the body's blood-sugar levels are kept... even keeled.
Or you will sabotage their body and then their moods. Or they can get dizzy and have headaches too, and other physical problems.

A person who is prone to low-blood sugar, NEEDS TO, GRAZE... throughout the day.
My Daughter does. And needs to.
I do too.

I would, NEVER withhold food from my daughter... just to make her wait... until the next meal.
That would not be good for her... for her body. At all.

When a person's blood sugar level drops... YES.. .they get unruly and moody and irrational and irritable.
Why do that, to your child, when you KNOW... lack of food, does this to her?
I get like that too. And I am an Adult.
It is about health... not battling about food.

Even for Adults, their appetites and cravings... varies each day.
My kids eat until they are full. I don't make them eat everything on their plate. They are each, different. And I don't expect them to eat like me or my Husband, either. They are individuals.
And I KNOW my daughter is prone to low blood sugar. THUS, I approach her eating, per HER needs. I would not want her to get dizzy and headach-y and moody. Just in the name of an uneaten meal. Or her wanting something else.
If she wants something else, fine.
We have healthy food in the house. ANYTHING she eats, is healthy and fine.
And if out and at other people's homes, she can eat what they have. So what. Its not like she is at other people's homes everyday. It is a treat. It is not going to ruin her, to try different foods at other peoples homes.

I do NOT wait, until my Daughter "crashes"... per an empty stomach, to then decide if/when to feed her a meal or snack. I KNOW her cues, and I taught her about it too... per low blood sugar, and then she eats.

We do not have food battles at our house.
Any food we have is healthy.
I cook.
My family likes what I cook.
My kids eat. My Husband eats. We all eat.


2 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

Choose healthy options instead of gold fish. Put apple slices with peanut butter out or a bowl of grapes. I used to put out a bowl of grapes, or some carrot sticks, or some celery, or even apple slices, and a bowl of peanut butter for dipping. Once in a while, I'd offer cheese or yogurt. All snacks were offered at 3 pm or right after nap. As they got older and went to school, their snack would be on the table when they got home. They would eat their snack and start their homework.

I put dinner on the table between 5 and 6 pm. After dinner there were no snacks or dessert if you didn't eat the meal. I figured they could cranky themselves right up to bed and off to sleep... If they didn't eat much dinner, I could count on them eating a terrific breakfast.

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answers from Los Angeles on

How do you deal with the low blood sugar situation? You give them the food they wouldn't eat at the table. Don't reward misbehavior. If you do, you'll get more of what you reward.

My kids ate what we served them. Some of my DIL feed their kids only what they want. Now they make one meal for the mom and dad and one meal for each of the kids. 5 kids = 5 meals and one for mom and dad. Do you want to run a restaurant?

Good luck to you and yours.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from St. Louis on

I am a stickler for eating healthy. We have wild caught salmon, fresh chickens, fresh organic eggs, organic milk, and organic veggies regularly.

We also order pizza and drink soda sometimes. (well, the kiddos don't get soda).

We balance.

Instead of goldfish - set out strawberries, celery and peanut butter, trail mix, etc.

I guess the thing for you to do, Jane, is to really figure out why the battle is taking place. Is it because she doesn't want to sit right then? Is it because she doesn't like what is being served? Can you sit out healthy snacks and let her graze on days she is not into sitting and eating?

I am not a short order cook, but at the same time, I am realistic. If my kids eat well for the most part, and one day I make something they don't really want to eat or aren't hungry, I don't make a huge fuss. Now, alternatively, if they ate poorly and put up a fight on a regular basis, that would be different. I don't know what goes on in your home.

I notice my kids will eat less when they are antsy to get up and finish a game or play wii or something along those lines. Is her mealtime during a time she'd rather be elsewhere? Is it at a consistent time each day?

Keep up the good work. And try not to stress too much. Get some healthy foods in her daily and have fun!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Tallahassee on

I can really relate to you and your daughter. My daughter just turned 5 but we also have trouble getting her to eat sometimes and she also turns into a complete monster when she’s hungry. When she's really hungry it's impossible to reason with her and she has major tantrums. She can't concentrate, she won't cooperate and she just can't comprehend what you tell her. There is absolutely no reasoning with her when she is hungry. Also, when she's really hungry it's difficult to get her to sit down to eat something because she's too busy throwing a tantrum. After she eats she is like a completely different person.

I never force my daughter to eat. I remember, as a child, I was forced to sit at the table, sometimes for hours, until I ate something and I refuse to do that to my daughter. Also, with my daughter, the more you push her on something the more she digs her heels in and refuses. There are some things that I don't let her have a choice on (especially where safety is concerned) but whether or not she eats is not one of those things. I don't battle her over food. That doesn't mean that I give in if she refuses to eat dinner and is insisting on ice cream instead. It just means that she can either eat what I've put in front of her or not. Her choice. She's been a picky eater since she was about 18 months old. Up until she was 18 months she would eat pretty much anything. Right around 18 months she started refusing almost everything.

At one point her doctor suggested that we just put her meal in front of her and if she didn't eat it she didn't get anything else. She told us we should wrap up the food, put it in the fridge and then put it in front of her at the next meal. Her doctor seemed to think that she would eventually get hungry enough and just eat the food. That was not the case. She was definitely hungry but she wouldn't budge. We did this repeatedly for a whole week and we ended up having to toss most of the food because she just would not eat it and it would spoil. She has such a strong will and she just would not give in. She was so grumpy and difficult to be around that whole week because she ate so little and was so hungry. After a week of this we decided that it just wasn't worth it to constantly fight with her about food and have her in a nasty mood all the time because she was hungry. At her annual checkup, a few weeks ago, her doctor asked me why I thought she hadn’t gained any weight since last November. I explained that although we put food in front of her, we can’t make her eat it. Her height is good, 65th percentile this year, compared to 66th percentile last year, but her weight went from the 50th percentile last year down to the 37th percentile this year. Her doctor wasn’t too concerned about it yet but she does want to keep an eye on it. We even had her tested for allergies recently to make sure that that wasn’t the reason why she wasn’t eating much. They did a skin test on her and tested for food allergies as well as environmental allergies and there wasn’t a single thing that she had a reaction to.

She’s pretty sneaky too. A few months ago she thought that she was smarter than us and that she could make us give her exactly what she wanted. We would put her food on the table and she would get up and dump it in the trash and then come to us 15 minutes later complaining that she was still hungry and wanted candy, ice cream, popsicles or cookies. Um, sorry you’re hungry, but too bad. You made a choice to throw your food in the trash and now you don’t have anything to eat until the next meal.

The list of foods that she will eat is pretty limited but I usually try to give her something off the “list” of foods that she likes. Sometimes she will even refuse to eat the food that she likes because it's just not what she wants at the time. If she refuses to eat whatever I've prepared for her then I offer her Cheerios and that's it. I also give her fruit at most meals, which she almost always eats, and she eats a lot of yogurt too. I’ve started buying the Greek yogurt for her because it has a lot more protein in it and fills her up better. I always ask her if she wants to try whatever Daddy and I are having and she almost always refuses.

Wish I had some advice for you but I don’t. Just wanted to let you know you’re not alone.

ETA - She started kindergarten this week and we're having to deal with some big transitions. We're doing school lunch for the time being so she can learn how that works (she has to enter her pin number on a keypad) and eventually I'll let her choose if she wants to take her lunch or have the school lunch. It's hard because I have no idea how much food she is actually eating. She was so tired and hungry when I picked her up from school yesterday that she had a 45 minute tantrum when we got home. I knew that she was hungry and needed to eat but I just couldn't get her to calm down - there is no reasoning with her at that point because she's just not capable of listening or understanding much. Eventually I had to tell her that if she didn't calm down that I was just going to put her in bed for the night. Finally, after 45 minutes, she sat down to eat her dinner and after that she was pretty much back to herself.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Houston on

This happened to me this weekend. My son decided not to eat at lunch time. I told him, no cookies or treats until you have something good to eat, a couple of hours later he starts with, I want cookies... "I told you, you are not getting cookies"... minutes later.... I want candies.... "I told you no candies".... minutes later.... then What can I eat?.... "what about a hot dog"... he ate whenever he was hungry but I gave him what I had in the house that at least had some meat on it and not only sugar.... It was his decision not to eat on time but it was my option not to give in with the cookies and treats.... It worked one time... lets see if it works the next time.... I alway have cheese sticks, sausages, cherry tomatoes, fruit and yogurt..things he enjoys and are healthy for snacks. If he did not have a healthy good lunch he is not allowed to have cookies which ofcourse are mostly his first choice but then he can be happy with any of the options I just mentioned.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

I always had "no cook" healthy options. If the kids didn't like what was being served they could have a bowl of cereal* and milk, string cheese, fruit, peanut butter sandwich,etc, all things they could grab and prepare themselves (I had my kids working in the kitchen early on!) As they got older they would sometimes make their own meal, usually pasta, grilled cheese or scrambled eggs.
You are smart to prepare only one meal at a time, but I don't think there's anything wrong with allowing for healthy alternatives, as long as the kids realize it's up to them to prepare it themselves.
*nutritious cereal, obviously :)

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answers from San Diego on

Don't let her fill up on the fish crackers, give her just enough to wet her whistle, kids won't let themselves starve. I had the same rule with my now grown children, but I didn't give them things that MOST kids don't like, or foods that I would not eat myself. J.



answers from Des Moines on

I think I've posted this a hundred times, so I'm probably getting annoying, but this: The 10 Commandments of Healthy Eating for Parents
http://babyfit.sparkpeople.com/articles.asp?id=549 and what I TRY to live up too.....although I've been failing miserably lately....



answers from Chicago on

Keep healthy snacks on hand. Veggies and dip, lots of fresh fruit, yogurt, raisins, whole grain snack mix with nuts (if she is not allergic), whole grain bite size cereals. Don't give in and give gold fish..Sodium and not that healthy for you. Believe it or not my kids are extremely picky and frankly if they don't eat their meals..no dessert. They often do get hungry because they haven't eaten. If they are hungry after a meal because they didn't eat I usually give in to something healthy. A string cheese, natural apple sauce, or a fresh piece of fruit i.e. banana. In your case sounds like you need to step it up with the protein and fiber snacks to keep her blood sugar more even. Sor sorry but I know exactly what you're going through :)



answers from New York on

No meal = no gold fish

Try some kind of protein shake. This works for even me when I haven't eaten and am approaching bearishness.

Loved 8kidsdad response.


answers from Los Angeles on

If she is grumpy from not eating, tell her that she had a chance to eat and she passed it up. I did this with three 4-year olds and they got the hint pretty quick. One of them did not eat dinner and I told him he wasn't getting anything else until breakfast. He was complaining an hour later (not starving, just wanting a snack) and he didn't get anything. Neither of them ever miss meals.



answers from Oklahoma City on

I do not make an extra meal to appease them, I do however know that it is my job to make sure the kids have been fed something. I will have dinner but I choose things that I know the kids like. I don't force them to eat foods that most adults don't even like.

They get a well balanced diet of normal foods that most kids love and will eat. If I want them to try something new I put some on their plates, he'll eat it without thinking, she'll make a fuss and probably not try it. I am not going to make an issue of food.

If I make her go without food if she doesn't eat what I serve she will go without food until I serve something she will eat. Kids do not eat what you put in front of them if they get hungry enough. They will go without and start puking from hunger. I don't have to prove I am the boss just to make them eat.

I serve food they like and will eat and we have very happy meal times where everyone sits and visits and enjoys being together. They are exactly at the 50% in height and weight. They have good health generally and are extremely active kids.



answers from Los Angeles on

A bit late, but if my kids don't like what I've fixed for dinner then the alternative is PB&J or cereal. I quit being a short order cook when my third started eating solids cause i was fixing 4 different things for 3 kids, hubby and then figuring out if i wanted something.

Funny thing is... hubby often opts for a bowl of cereal. grrrr... The kids have at least learned to eat what I make, lol.



answers from Denver on

Three is a "fun"age. Time to assert independence and control for them - which is good developmentally, and frustrating for us at times (to put it mildly). I offer a healthy alternative. If you dont' eat the meal, you can have yogurt, apple or banana. NO SNACKs otherwise until the next meal. My friends have an "anytime food" section of the fridge and pantry. Basically all fruits, veggies and ultra healthy stuff. The kids can eat this anytime. Works well for them too.



answers from Philadelphia on

There are certain things that I do not make my son eat like fish or any other seafood. he does not like it. Sometimes, when I make meals I may include a side dish of pasta which he generally likes. I would also give her the alternative of fruit or veggies if she does not like what is being served. Sometimes,when they are that young it is hard to enforce then fine do not eat rule especially, if you know she turns into a monster with lack of food. Good luck



answers from Washington DC on

My child still gets snacks so it's not that long between meals. I give her a limited amount of snack, enough to tide over but not make her not want dinner. If she doesn't want to eat when food is served, she can get down after a while, but when she next says she's hungry, I remind her that she was offered food at x time. If she's really hungry, she can have water or milk and something healthy like cheese or fruit.

If her blood sugar crashes and she gets rude at a playdate, take her aside and give her the option to change her behavior or you leave.

With many things it's not all or nothing/cut and dry. There are days when DD eats little at one meal and shovels it in at the next. She is also 3. We might also give her the stuff she needs to eat (her meat or beans or dairy) and then hold off on things we know she'll eat well (her pasta, her fruit) til she's eaten a bite of the other stuff first. Like courses at dinner.

We, too, have conversations about how you eat treats only after good food and not all the time. DD may sulk, but she knows what she needs to do. It's somewhat of a power struggle and you just hold firm til you win.



answers from Baton Rouge on

If she didn't want what I fixed, she could fix herself a meal, and it had to be real food, not snack food. At 3.5, she was fully capable of spreading peanut butter on bread, grabbing a handful of baby carrots out of the fridge, and washing herself a handful of grapes.

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