What Do You Do When Your Child Refuses to Eat What You Offer?

Updated on March 06, 2012
M.T. asks from Saint Paul, MN
26 answers

My son is two years old and seems to be getting pickier and pickier in what he eats. He used to love pizza but today, he competely refused to eat it. Instead, he just kept banging his fork on the table. When I stopped him and took the fork away, he got very upset, but would not eat. So I ended up taking him out of the chair and be all done with feeling him.

I feel bad doing that though. I want him to eat good dinner, but what do you do when he doesn't eat what you offer? We used to try offering him different foods, then he came to DEMAND "pizza" or "crackers" or "banana" or whatever he wants to eat. We don't want him to think he'll get what he wants (or at least different food) if he refuses to eat what he is offered, so we stopped offering him food other than what we served him - that means that when he doesn't eat what he is offered, he doesn't eat.

Is this what other moms do too? Any suggestions on how to handle this situation would be appreciated. Maybe offering him two kinds of foods and letting him pick? But making two different dishes would be a pain :(


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answers from St. Louis on

if the offered food isn't eaten, then I wrap & save the plate. When/if the child becomes hungry & requests other food, I again offer the plate.

No drinks, no snacks, nothing! A few rounds of this & the picky eating is over! Good Luck!

9 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I say "Ok, guess you will be hungry then."
And I ignore it.
She doesn't get dessert and if she is hungry before bed, she can have some of the leftover dinner, or she can wait until breakfast.
And I move on.

Nothing else you can do, eventually they will be hungry enough to eat, they wont starve themselves.

I also, if I REALLY want her to eat, I will make a big deal talking about the yummy ice cream or whatever that daddy and I are having with out her later.
That gets her to eat.
Sometimes I will make deals with a certain number of bites she has to take to go play...

Just depends on how the day has gone and how much I think she REALLY needs the food.

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

I make one thing for dinner, and if they don't want to eat it, it's their choice. There have been many many times my son won't eat dinner- and sometimes it's one of his favorite things. Sometimes he eats a bigger breakfast, sometimes not. My kids are 2 and 4....

5 moms found this helpful

More Answers


answers from Chicago on

He eats what I'm serving, or nothing at all.
I don't play short order cook!

The way that my ped explained it, is that if you can get 1 good meal a week out of them, you're doing great. Don't bother to fight the battles otherwise.

So, I don't!
If they miss a meal, they miss a meal.

In between, if they get hungry, they can have all the fresh fruit and veggies that their little hearts desire. And so far, despite many missed meals, my littles ones are heathly and growing. :)

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

If he does not eat, he may not be hungry. Period.
I make all meals so there is something my DD can eat - the only time I ever make her a sandwich or something else than what we're having is when I know I am making something she does not like. So I may make some "extras", but she can only choose from what is offered for the meal, I do not make anything else to order.
When we have pizza, we always make a salad with it. Some nights she will only eat the cucumbers, tomatoes and cheese from the salad, other times only the pizza - either is fine by me. I offer and she can decide how much and what she will eat.
My DD is a big snacker, because of our schedule we often don't eat until 7pm, but she is starving at 5 pm - so I make her a healthy snack and if she wants to skip dinner it if fine too.
There are a lot of factors at play, but I always felt the most important thing was to not turn it into a battle, while at the same time not turning my kitchen into a restaurant.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Austin on

As parents we feel like we are not doing a good job if our children will not eat. But children are just like adults, sometimes, they just want a choice or do not feel as hungry at that moment.

In our house we never had food battles. I always made a meal and kept in mind to offer something our child would eat. If she did not eat.. that was fine. She could drink her milk and there was no drama.

I knew she liked "plain food".. Like pain pasta, with the sauce on the side.

She would eat raw vegetables.. But some children like ranch dressing.

She liked different meats, but lightly seasoned no sauces..

I also kept in mind, that just like me or my husband, there were nights, she was just not hungry or did not want was served..

Heck after planning a meal, shopping for it and preparing, sometimes, I could not face what I had cooked!

And so as she got older, we had a rule, if you did not want was served for dinner. you could make yourself a bowl of non sugar cereal.

The other thing I discovered while studying early child care was that children become overwhelmed by large plates and large servings. They do better with a small plate and tiny portions. (3 peas, 2 tablespoons rice, a tiny bit of meat or tiny meatball). As they eat all of an item, place a tiny bit more on their plate.. no comments, no extra attention.. Use a small saucer or small salad plate for them.

They will then not feel so over whelmed by the heaps of food in front of them.. It looks manageable to them.

Also young children have way better senses than we do.. Everything smells stronger and tastes stronger to them.. Over the years we have lost quite a bit of these. senses.

Tuna, Cabbage, Basil, oregano, onions, garlic, can be quite pungent to them and not in a good way..

Onions and black pepper can actually be too spicy for some children.. It can feel like eating a jalapeno to them.

There probably are going to be times, your child just will not eat. and that is ok.. they will not starve. Do not keep junk in your house and they will always have healthy alternatives to choose from..

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

They get what's on the table or they get nothing. They never ask for anything else, because that isn't an option.

My 4 year old said last week, I don't think I'm going to like this meal mommy, but I know I have to at least try it, just in case I do like it. I was so happy to hear her say that. She loved the meal --I always use their favorite ingredients in any new meals I make.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

My kids did this too. For breakfast and lunch I will let them choose within reason - do you want toast or a bagel? Do you want Cheerios or Golden Grahams? etc. If they start to get too fussy or demanding, I just tell them I'm going to make the meal and they can eat what I give them. But for dinner, when I make a bigger meal, they are expected to eat what I make and if they don't then meal time is over for them. I cater to them within reason, of options of my choosing, but I'm not going to be bringing out something different for everyone from the kitchen.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Appleton on

I was the mean Mom, I made my kids at least taste everything. It took a couple of years but they learned if Mom made it, it's good to eat.

Keep offering a variety of food daily. Fruits and veggies with a sandwich at lunch, veggies with dinner. Make a variety of things. Chicken with mashed/whipped potatoes and a veggie even salad one night -- pork chops/steak another--hamburgers another. Include stuff like tuna noodle casserole and pizza and spaghetti and mac & cheese. The more he will eat now the better off he will be in the long run. Try to get him to eat salads now --let him try different dressings on a piece of lettuce or cucumber. When you find one he likes pour that on the salad.

I refused to make separate meals for my kids -- it's this or nothing. And yes a couple of times I had kids falling asleep at the table but I stuck to my ideas and they learned to eat what was put in front of them.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

My momma always told me, I don't serve a buffet. And in that, we ate what she made (or we made) and that was it.

I give my youngest the same thing we eat UNLESS it's something spicey (Schezwan or Mexican) and that is the ONLY time we give him something else.

That goes for any other kid visiting unless they have a food allergy (on eof his friends is lactose intolerant so we have to have an option when he comes to stay over).

I am a firm believer that when they're hungry enough...they'll eat.

Sending good thoughts your way.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

Good for you! Hang in there.

BTW -- to me, meals are about more than just the food offered. Yes, there are legitimate food-related things ("I don't like this today" or "I'm not hungry") but it can also be about the tone of the family. ("I'm going to get what I want" or "I can make this a big deal"). One ofthe ways my kids learned that they could be secure in knowing their parents were in charge was through dinner. We cooked it; they ate it. We tried to be respectful of true dislikes (my 18yo still hates tomatoes & has been allowed to eat around them) but they knew they needed to be respectful & eat what was served.

Dinner time is one of those pieces that help set up family dynamics, in my opinion. SOmetimes, it's just about food but sometimes it's about manipulation.

Hang in there, Mama. You're doing a good job.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

I'm not a short order cook...neither was my mother. This is a battle we chose to fight in our house, but we did so with thought and a method. I will tell you that there were 3 or 4 nights over a six month period of time that my son didn't have dinner. On those nights, he could have a cereal bar and yogurt before brushing his teeth and going to bed (foods he would eat without argument, but not his favorites).

Using my mom and pediatrician as consultants, we planned meals for several weeks so that there were at least 2 items that he LOVED and 1 new or less "loved" item. He had to "try" the new item, but didn't have to finish it. As the days went on, we went from "one bite" then you can have the noodles to "two bites of ____" then you can have the green beans to "three bites of ______" and you can have your carrots. The kid would have LIVED on veggies and starch if we let him.

There were nights when he would push his plate away and refuse to eat any of it. On those nights, he got two reminders/requests and then time out until he was ready to eat with us. I would say 90% of the time, he came back to the table within 10 minutes ready to eat. 10% of the time, he didn't.

The whole things was stressful on us, but it really lasted a month or so before he got the idea. I will say that we do not have food arguments anymore. He is almost 4 and will eat anything we put in front of him now. Last night it was pork loin, cranberries, green beans and mashed potatoes... gone!

We also got him involved in making dinner. Even at 2, he could help crack eggs, bread chicken, stir, mix, etc. That was HUGE and a suggestion from my mom. If he helped make it, he would at least try it!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Oklahoma City on

I don't do that but I am also not a short order cook. I do not have to be a dictator and have a war over food. There should always be something he can eat instead that is nourishing if he does not want what is offered at the table.

I always have flour tortilla's and colby cheese on hand or peanut butter and bread. If the kids do not want what we have then they can have a cheese tortilla or a PB & J sandwich.

How do we expect our kids to have a voice if they can't tell us, the ones who love them the most in the whole wide world, that they don't like something or don't want to do something.

To me, it's my job to teach them what some good choices are, it's up to them to make some choices, make some huge mistakes while they are at home where they are well protected. They can learn from their mistakes without it being "I said so" or "I am the boss so you will eat what I say you'll eat or you'll go without food".

I know you want to teach him good eating habits and to eat a variety of foods. Of course you want him to sit at the table and enjoy a meal with his family, we all want that. It isn't very often that happens though.

I made a pot roast today in the crock pot. My picky eater was not expected to have anything to do with this meal. I knew going in that she would not touch it. I expected her to ask if she could make a cheese tortilla. I bought the cheese because I thought that is what she would ask for....

Silly me, she cried for a half hour for the stuff that has broccoli in it....I'm thinking "ummm, okay, you don't eat broccoli. What in the world it she talking about". Then she says it has fishy meat in it....OOOOHHHHH, Tuna Helper. Ummm, no, can I say it any plainer? No, that would mean more dishes, stinking up the house, more dishes, no.

She finally went to hubby and asked him to make it for her. He said no also. She was finally filled up by eating a cheese tortilla.

There are some limits to what we do. But making a child go hungry just to prove they have to mind me??? No way.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

I didn't do anything if my son didn't eat what was served. We always serve at least a protein and a vegetable and usually fruit (either as an appetizer or dessert) so there are always at least three things available to eat. So he eats or he doesn't - pretty much he does. He has always 'helped' cook and since he was maybe 2 gotten to help pick out veggies at the supermarket. We have never fed him separate 'child friendly' food so he has never demanded it. We do not keep junk in the house so same thing. Rarely DH will pick up a pizza - DS has never had any problem understanding that when it is gone, it is gone. Missing the occasional meal will not hurt a child. Eventually he will get hungry and eat the food offered. You honestly don't ever hear about picky children in famine affected areas.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

My kids ate what we put in front of them or they went without. One of my kids used food to show he was the boss and no one could tell him what to do. There is no way we were going to cater to the whims and desires of 8 kids. We were a family, not a restaurant.

That resulted in some battles, but I decided early on that I was the adult and he was the child, not visa versa. My wife and I are good cooks and I have entered some cooking contests and have won three first places and one third place. So we both know how to put a meal together.

If they don't eat what is put on the table, they go without. When they got old enough they could serve themselves., then they were required to take some of everything we put on the table, except when we had choices on the table (salad or cooked broccoli or baby carrots).

When the kids were babies and first started to eat food, my wife used a hand held babyfood grinder and took food from her plate to feed the baby. That way they were accustomed to eating what we ate.

There is an old english saying, "A wife can throw more out the kitchen window with a tablespoon than the husband can bring in the front door with a wheelbarrow." If you throw food away, you are throwing money away. I never made enough money to have food thrown away.

One child I know of is allowed by his mom to eat what ever he wants. So he drinks sodas, chicken nuggets, and french fries or tater tots and a pizza from a certain fast food restaurant, but it has to be his pizza and no other toppings but what he wants. The mom gets him milk by giving him ice cream. The family only has fights over food if the mom over cooks or under cooks his food or the store was out of the right flavor ice cream.. They throw huge amounts of food away and can't understand why their food bill is so high. But you can't even suggest they change the way they are doing things. Mother knows best . . . and her son is quick to tell her what is best.

I worked with a man that was a very picky eater. When we had business meetings that included dinner it was always hard to find someplace to eat because of him. I know he was passed over for promotion at least once because of his picky eating habits. The bosses figured if he wasn't willing to try new foods, he wouldn't be willing to try new ideas.

Good luck to you and yours.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Detroit on

He is pretty young. My rule is if you dont eat what I offer you, which I always feel is reasonable for kids to eat, then you dont eat.
At the age two, I would probably slip him a banana later. ;)
2 is a tough age, is he napping ok? Because anything will set them off if they are tired.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Salinas on

Make what you want and if he doesn't eat it tough luck. Never give in, period and he will learn to eat what's served. To give him some control over his life let him choose some meals or snacks from only two choices. "Would you like the banana or crackers for a snack?" He'll feel like he's choosing and you can decide what to offer.
Do not, I repeat, do not start making different things to please him or worry that he'll starve. He won't, I promise. Often the food games are more about control and power than eating. The control game is one you must ALWAYS win or you life will be miserable.
Good luck and enjoy your baby they grow up so quickly!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Columbus on

Repeat this mantra:
"It's my job to give my child healthy food choices, and it's my child's job to decide whether or not to eat it."

Yes, it drives me crazy too. I just keep repeating the mantra.

And don't nag or talk about how delicious the food is (both are pressure, just different kinds). And check out Evelyn Satter's website:

It has really helped me, at the very least, get perspective on this issue. :)

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Atlanta on

I haven't read the other answers so I don't know if any other moms pointed this out, but actually, this is a growth milestone. It even has a name (although I can't remember it), and it begins around age 2. Kids will love one food one day and refuse it the next, so congrats, your kid is right on target! I was talking to my pediatrician about this when it happened to my son, and she said some children are mature enough to understand that you eat what is in front of you at this age...and some aren't. I don't want to make the table a battleground just yet, personally.

So at this age, I don't make my kids eat what I put in front of them. I always make sure I serve at least one thing the children like at every meal, and one meal a day (usually lunch) is entirely what my kids like, so that they get a good meal in their tummies. But then at the other meal, I will serve what I serve, and I expect my son to have at least one bite of everything. I like to positively parent when I can, so I will absolutely bribe my kids (with healthy foods). For example, "You can have a strawberry, but only after you eat one bite of spaghetti.

My son is now three, and by this age, I DO expect him to mostly eat what is in front of him, although I try to serve veggies he likes, and he doesn't have to finish anything, he just has to try everything. Requests are not accepted EXCEPT in the form of fruits and veggies. But I think two is a little young to push this issue. Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

I offer DD what she might eat, what she probably will eat, and a wild card. Yesterday she had berries to go with her shells and cheese. For some reason, she didn't eat the pasta, though it's usually a "will eat". I told her that there were no treats later. We give DD a snack before bed and she is limited to things like fruit or toast. It works for us. I also often hold back things like berries that she will eat TONS of til she eats some of her chicken, for example. If DD says, "I want chicken nuggets!" and that's not on the menu, we just say, "No, we are having x for dinner tonight."

I also don't fight many food battles. Last night we had rice - brown for me and DH and white for the girls. It was all minute rice and what did it really matter to make 2 types? DD said she was done with part of her portion of rice in her bowl. She was excused - I don't want her to feel she HAS to clean her plate and she'd done a good job. Take less and waste less is what I'd rather she learn. That sort of thing. We never made SS eat things that he couldn't stand (he has texture aversions). He always had the option of a salad that he fixed on his own. But he couldn't trade peas for lime jello. We'll also do things like put sauce on the side. It's no big matter to have everyone choose the amount they want (lots to none). Things like that can give kids choice without it really being a big deal.

I find that if DD doesn't eat well at one meal, she's likely to do better at another. The true amount that toddlers need to eat is quite small.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

Well, I've got O. of those kids who has always liked everything and actually craves variety....BUT there are times he hasn't "felt like" what I was serving. I have no problem making him a PBJ, bowl of cereal or opening a can of soup if he doesn't feel like he wants what we're having.
I don't make food a battle--ever.
If he skips dinner completely, he can have a sandwich, fruit, veggies & dip before bed.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

As a parent who has older children who won't eat what is served, my advice is to not give up. They either eat what is put before them or they go hungry for the night. They won't starve. It's my one big regret as a parent that I didn't insist on that when they were younger. I wanted to, but had no support from the husband so it was difficult. Today I cook for me and my husband and the kids pretty much fend for themselves with pasta, cereal, soup, etc.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Tulsa on

I am a picky eater and I hated when I was forced to eat something. So I don't force anything on my son. I'll offer him whatever I'm eating, but if it isn't something he likes, I'll make him something else. I don't cook him a completely separate meal, but I will make a sandwich, heat up some soup, stick some chicken nuggets in the oven, etc. He's more apt to try things as he's gotten older, but he's still pretty selective. I would rather not fight about food in my house.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

Oh man, I have a major picky eater myself (age 4) who developed over time. It is so frustrating! And sometimes disheartening when you make something delicious and they won't even try a bite. My 2 year old eats great... but the 4 y/o started out that way too :(

Here's what I am trying to do: Breakfast and lunch they have choices. We make them what they want. Snacks usually just get offered throughout the day. Dinner, that's the one time of day I make a 1 meal for all, and that is last call. If you didn't eat it, well that was it, kitchen closed. We eat dinner late-ish, at 7pm, so I give a healthy/hefty snack 2 hours before in case that ends up being the last thing she eats. And I am cool with her getting up to grab something to supplement her meal like a banana, gogurt, or string cheese. But I am not getting up to make some other thing, nor am I going to do that an hour later when she decides she's hungry.

It's taken a long time to get husband on board with this policy but he is getting there. His initial response was "if my child is hungry, I will feed her"... um, well we are feeding her, all day long, things she likes. Then this one meal we eat as a family, it's offered, it's nutrtious and tasty. If she doesn't want it it's her choice. It really seems to be the only way to avoid the constant dinner table battles ("take TWO more bites and then you can have a dessert" "C'mon just TRY it..." etc etc) I'd rather just eat my meal in peace and talk to my family about my day, not discuss the food the whole time (unlesss of course, it's to tell me how great it is).

I let my hubby try it his way for awhile when the pickiness started to set in (open kitchen, eating a second dinner of PB&J, MacnCheese, Quesadillas or whatever AFTER the first dinner went uneaten) and honestly, I think it made the problem worse and that's why we've made no progress. Why should she have even 1 bite of what I made if daddy's just gonna make her something else later? He is finally getting sick of the dinnertime battles and is coming over to my team. I think it also helped to explain to him that they eat all day, and have a good snack at 5, which is probably when other kids eat dinner and then go to bed a couple hours later.

One last thing, I always fix their plate with a little of everything on it, because I think they are too young to already decide they hate something for life. My daughter got mad at me for putting salad on her plate the other day (literally you guys, it was like 1 leaf and 1 crouton because I know she won't eat it). I told her "I am ALWAYS going to offer it to you, because someday you might decide to try it. If that's not today, just ignore it and push it to the side of your plate politely".

Good luck, you have to do what works for your family :)



answers from Minneapolis on

At 2 is often when kids go through a picky stage. It is hard wired into them as a protection against eating poisonous plants or other bad things now that they are more mobile and sometimes out of parental sight for short periods. Add to that their increasing search for independence...well, frustration.

At that age I served the same food but on my son's plate I usually put the individual ingredients. So instead of serving him stir fry, I would put on his plate some of each ingredient before cooking and adding the sauce. He loves raw or frozen vegetables but has yet to develop a taste for many cooked ones. I always made sure that the plate has at least 1 thing I know he likes. He was allowed to chose what he wanted to eat off the plate. Once a week we make his favorite meal (mac/cheese), otherwise it was not catering to him.

Once he was about 5 or 6 we started insisting that he try a "no thank you" helping of whatever food was being served. He is free to add string cheese to a meal, but not unless he has finished his "no thank you" serving (I keep it small). If he delays too long eating that serving (past when DH and I are done), we give him warning before giving a consequence. Otherwise it would take the whole evening for him to eat it.


answers from Dallas on

If I know my kids don't like something then I do make something different for them. I was a picky eater and so I am empathetic to my kids. However, "demanding" is not so good and I can understand why you send your son away hungry. It's one thing not to like something and another just to want something else. I assume this is not at every meal, so he will not starve, and you shouldn't overly stress. I do agree it's okay to have more than one thing on the table, giving him that kind of choice. This may be all about him wanting to make his own choices. It starts young with some kids.



answers from Philadelphia on

when my son was smaller (he's 4 now), I used to make alternatives for him and ended up being a short order cook until about 2 or so, when the doctor told me to stop. If he doesn't eat, then he goes hungry and that he won't starve. He's better now but there are some things that I know he just doesn't like so I'm not going to force it on him. My daughter is 14 months and what I do for her is, if she doesn't want to eat something, her only alternative is Cheerios. As she gets older, then I will do away with her 'alternative' food choice and she will have to either eat, or be hungry.

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