Mealtime can be a battleground. Here’s a popular post of mine called 5 phrases to stop dinnertime battles. But if those still aren’t working, this may be for you. Post contains affiliate links.
I’m going to turn on my vacation responder for this because I know I’m going to get a lot of hate mail. But it must be said…
Just because your child wants to eat doesn’t mean they are really hungry.
In our tendency to parent based on guilt, we get twisted up inside at the thought of refusing our children anything. Much less food. Images of starving children around the world make us feel grateful we can feed our kids whatever we want whenever we want. And so we do.
But instead of that gratitude passing down to our children, they start developing an entitled and picky attitude towards food. That, no matter the cost or availability, they can eat whatever they want whenever they want. And sometimes this is okay with us, but other times… it just gets out of hand.
Children who are starved (regularly deprived of nutrition):
- will eat nearly anything, even if it comes out of the trash;
- hoard food offered to them wondering when their next meal will be;
- may go days without food;
- and will snarf down what is given to them.
Children who are picky (or who want to eat even though they aren’t hungry):
- refuse food they don’t like;
- will go long periods without food in order to get their preference;
- and can turn down an entire meal, but come back asking for a snack pack 30 minutes later.
Now, of course, we should offer our children a lot of healthy and filling foods. Fruits, vegetables, carbohydrates, good fats, and whatever else. We absolutely don’t need to make our children go hungry to “teach them a lesson” or “make them appreciate food.”
However, just because your child says they want to eat doesn’t mean you need to give them food. I could spend $50 on fruit and watch the kids devour it all in 2 days if they got their way. There are more considerations than just, “I am hungry at this very moment,” and we have to stop feeling like horrible mothers if we make our children wait.
4 Times It’s Okay For Your Child To Go Hungry
I offer my kids 3 square meals and 2 snacks a day. Fruits, vegetables, fats, meat, treats and anything in between. This is not about being dictatorial, it’s about being wise and setting boundaries.
1. They refuse what you’ve offered.
If you consistently offer your children filling and nutritious food (and even sometimes not nutritious), yet they refuse to eat it… it’s okay to let them feel hunger. The consequence of refusing a meal is an empty stomach. Cause and effect. As long as you are not serving them food they’re allergic to, if they refuse to eat simply because they don’t want it, that’s not your problem.
I’m not saying you can’t have a rotation of meals your family enjoys, but when a child crosses over into super picky, even what they enjoy is inconsistent. One day they love spaghetti, the next time they slide their plate away in anger. At this point, it’s unwise to jump through hoops to please.
I tell my kids, “If you didn’t buy it or cook it you can’t complain.”
2. Mealtime is approaching.
My kids get really hungry 30 minutes prior to dinner time. I understand this. I am hungry as well. However, it’s okay to make them wait until dinner is served. Yes, they may become hangry (I do too), but that’s a part of life. It’s a good time to teach your children self-control and patience. Everyone can be hangry together and call it family bonding.
You aren’t depriving them of food by making them wait half an hour. On the contrary, you are taking the time to prepare it. If only food cooked itself the minute you felt hungry. If they can’t wait 30 minutes for a taco casserole full of melted cheese to come out of the oven… then I just don’t know.
3. You’re not at home.
It happens often. We’re running errands, finishing an appointment, or just doing life, and the kids get hungry. We probably do too. Just because your children are hungry doesn’t mean you have to spend $25 in a drive through or provide a consistent stream of goldfish. It is part of life to finish one thing before you start the next.
If it’s going to be hours and cross over mealtime, by all means, feed the kiddos. But if they are demanding a treat at 10:00 am in the bank, it’s okay to make them wait. No time like the present to learn self-control. As an adult, I have to do the same. In fact, sometimes, I have to eat things I don’t much like for days on end until I’m able to do a proper grocery shop.
This is not self (or child) abuse, this is life.
4. He’ll only eat junk.
If your child consistently refuses well-rounded meals but asks for snacks, treats, and junk food, the problem is clear. When they snack they get Satisfied Enough to say no at meals. They aren’t very hungry at the dinner table. They are able to wait until their next preferred food is offered.
If you want to cut out junk food and treats to give your child a better-balanced diet, cut out the junk food and treats. Offer round meals, set snacks, and if they refuse them, it is okay if they are hungry.
Just because they are hungry doesn’t mean you are starving them.
5. They’ll snack all day.
Some children do well with three meals and set snacks. Others will stand at the door of the refrigerator all day and demand snacks. Perhaps you let your kids get food whenever they want, that is up to your family. But if you find your kids won’t eat your meals, that they waste food put in front of them, and are getting pickier and pickier, the time for incessant snacking is over.
Offer a hearty breakfast that will sit in the stomach, a substantial snack, a hearty lunch, another substantial snack, and a hearty dinner. This is enough for growing children. It is. Unless they have a medical problem or have a workout regime like Michael Phelps, I assure you, that is enough food.
If you want to feed your kids anytime they ask, go ahead, it is your house. But if you feel guilty making them wait or letting them go without dinner (even if they refused it) I just want to encourage you…
You are harboring false guilt.
Making your child wait 2 hours before dinner is no more a crime than only being able to afford one meal a day.
If a child can hold out 12 hours until you give them a Pop Tart, they can survive until the next meal.
Food may grow on trees, but your kids didn’t plant, harvest, or package it so teaching a little self-control is okay.
Really, it is.
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