Food Wars: How to Win!

Dealing with a picky eater is like a right of passage for parenthood. One of our primary jobs as a parent is to provide proper nourishment to our kids. That’s what makes mealtime so stressful. We want them to eat healthy food, but if they refuse we at least want them to eat SOMETHING. Unfortunately, our desperation makes us vulnerable and we often end up feeling completely at the mercy of that little dictator in the highchair. A dictator in a five-point harness: ironic. Here are some tips to help take back control of your dining room table.

Let them go to bed hungry. I think it’s important to point out that you are not MAKING them go to bed hungry. Did you offer them food? Yes, yes you did. They are CHOOSING to go to bed hungry. Never lose sight of this. Would a starving child have eaten the dinner you made? Yes, yes they would have. Once we change our mindset on this, it’s a whole lot easier to put our foot down and let go of all that self-imposed guilt.

Stop begging them to eat. Actions speak WAY louder then words when it comes to motivating your kids to eat. So just decide what the consequence will be for not eating and stick to that plan (e.g., go to bed hungry, stay at table, no dessert, no computer time, early bedtime, etc). Occasional reminders are ok (especially if it’s a new rule), but conversation at the table should be about something other than food.

Avoid the “one more bite” trap. Keep arguments, discussions and negotiations to a minimum by giving them exactly what you expect them to eat (no more, no less). Most of us have seen the popular rabbit-nibble sized bite that occurs when ask for just “one more bite”. If there is a loophole or alternate interpretation- kids will find it.

Picky Eaters

Consider baby steps. When you are introducing a new food or something your child claims to hate, consider starting small. If the rule is that you have to eat all your “veggies” to get dessert, they are likely to have a meltdown at the sight of something new or intimidating. Help ease the tension by starting with a very small amount (maybe borderline ridiculously small), then build up to larger amounts over several days. And don’t forget mom-NO backtracking, NO “eat half of it”, NO “one more bite!” If your child refuses, consider that attempt a fail and try again the next meal. If you get several failed attempts across many days, consider presenting a even smaller amount of the item or rethink the consequences for refusing (maybe dessert isn’t a motivator but something else is).

Whatever strategy you decide to use, remember to be consistent and persistent!

Luanne is a Florida native and Gator girl who moved to Jacksonville for her first job and never left. She has a Masters degree in Behavior Analysis from the University of Florida and has provided parent training and behavioral services for children of all ages. Luanne’s “hands-on” parent training began in 2010 when she became a mother herself. She now has two daughters, ages 2 and 4. With a newfound respect for what parenting around the clock actually feels like, she now spends her time trying to practice what she’s been preaching about for so many years. When not busy being mom, she takes a “break” to help parents experiencing behavioral challenges. Her company Blueprints for Change , offers behavior management trainings and comprehensive behavioral services.


  1. This is great advice Luanne. Its so easy to give up at dinner time and give them yogurt when they won’t eat just to shut them up if nothing else. Great tips here that I need to follow.

  2. Love it, Luanne! I remember my mom telling me she is “not a short-order” cook. My kids eat what I eat because it is their only choice. Some days, they don’t eat much and some days they eat like horses. I just remind myself that they have tiny stomachs and do not need as much as we do.

  3. Thanks Luanne! If they won’t eat it do you leave it available on the table or just throw it away? What do you do if they say they are hungry later?

    • In most cases I recommend allowing them to eat the dinner that was originally offered if they get hungry later. So yes save it!! Although any reward offered, such as dessert, would no longer be available.

  4. I get the point of the article, but what I don’t get is why it’s so important that your kids eat something just because you fixed it. Do you make something for dinner that you don’t like and make yourself eat it…I highly doubt it. If I know my kids don’t like what I am making, I simply heat some leftovers or make them a sandwich. It’s really not a big deal and only takes a minute. I do however make them try everything. Just because you like something doesn’t mean your kids have too.


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