Guaranteed No Tears At Mealtime

“Ok hunny, I’ll pop some chicken nuggets in the toaster for you,” said none of our great-grandparents ever.

Don’t you think some of the troubles little ones have with eating and mealtime are really due to society’s recent trend towards using processed foods? The convenience of popping some chicken nuggets in the microwave or grabbing some crackers for the toddler is a relatively new reality. And no parent wants to see their child go hungry, so it’s no wonder our children demand an alternative to lentil stew. We give in because we can. There are easy alternatives calling from the kitchen “hellooooo…anyone want some crackers?”

But, by giving in and allowing these alternatives, we’re creating picky eaters that are on a path towards leading an unhealthy lifestyle.

So, how, you ask, do you avoid the tears at mealtime? How do you navigate the refusal to try a bite of green beans?


A wildly popular post by Leigh Anderson details a method that I have found to be tried and true. And the funny thing is, I’m pretty sure that a few generations ago, this was the norm. Here are the basics of it:

Make Normal Meals 

So, first step is that you don’t make any specialty meals for the kids. Make one thing for the whole family. Bam, that’s it. Ensure that there’s something everyone will eat. So, add a side of bread or applesauce if you’re unsure whether or not your kids will want to eat the main dish.

Eat Together

Then, everyone enjoys the meal together. This way children can observe Mom and Dad eating all that weird green stuff vegetables.

Everyone Eats What They Want

No forcing bites, no airplane spoon feeding. Your children can eat what they want. If they don’t eat much, good luck until the next snack or meal. Everyone can eat as much as they want, or nothing at all. If your child only wants to eat the side of bread, let them.

In Review

Basically, you decide when, what and where your children will eat and they get to decide if they eat and how much.

And that’s it!

I can’t help but think that this used to be the reality in most families. There were no easy alternatives available, so kids ate what was there. Now, there may have been a lot of old-school “five more bites” and “think of the starving children” that wasn’t so healthy. The idea isn’t to force your child to ignore their body, tastes and sense of how full they are. On the contrary, we should encourage our children to be sensitive to their bodies.

We must also provide a basis of healthy eating, teaching our children about healthy diets and getting them used to a variety of foods. This can only happen with experience.

So, shut away your cupboards of easy prepared meals. No crackers instead of supper. It’s time for a mealtime makeover that will reduce your stress and teach your children how to eat.

**Not sure how to say “no”? Read this post about holding your ground and this one that teaches 3 rules for how to say “no.”



20 thoughts on “Guaranteed No Tears At Mealtime

  1. This is exactly what I do actually and with great success! My toddler has learned to eat at meal times and has actually developed a great palate. There is “No, I won’t eat that” but sometimes there is a little “I only want this much.” I also found that asking my toddler help me prepare the meals we ALL eat fuels her appetite! Great post!

  2. Good tips. If I didn’t eat my dinner when I was younger, my parents would simply put it in the fridge. When yummy snack time came they would get out my dinner. I had to eat enough of that meal before I could skip to the good stuff. I’m guilty of giving in with my kids but I have started becoming more strict about this myself. #BigPinkLink

    • Haha – nice one – your parents are pro’s! I find it to be a helpful strategy that gives me guidelines for creating healthy eating habits for my kids. Thanks for reading!

  3. I find pudding is a good incentive. 🙂 I like my children to eat what I’ve made them, they are very welcome to stop when they are full but they must have eaten at least half of what I’ve given them if they want pudding. They are not remotely fussy and we all eat together as a family when we can, it’s lovely. Thanks for joining us at the #bigpinklink
    Louise Pink Pear Bear recently posted…Halloween fancy dress with Tickled PinkMy Profile

    • Thanks Louise! Yes, I agree some encouragement to eat can be ok, but forced eating makes me cringe. Looking forward to more #bigpinklink s!

  4. Well said, Rachel! It can be all too easy to create a picky eater without meaning to. Without sounding like a smug arse, when my two were babies there food was our food (without the salt). I would make extra, liquidise it and freeze it in ice cube trays, so I always had something to feed them.

    Dinner times have always been a family affair and I can honestly say that neither of my two has ever been a fussy eater. Mushrooms used to make my daughter genuinely gag (I tested her by hiding some in her food), but now she will eat them.

    Meal times are a perfect time for educating children about food and the importance of a balanced diet. It can be done without stress and fuss if you start off as you intend to go on.

    And as you said, if they don’t eat, that’s fine. But they mustn’t be saying they are hungry five minutes later and get a biscuit!

    Thank you for linking to the #MMBC

    Debbie recently posted…Through My Lens #1 – ZakynthosMy Profile

    • Yes – such a good idea Debbie. Likewise as soon as I started feeding my kids, I mashed up whatever we were eating so they’d get used to eating regular food including veggies and meat. Thanks for reading and hosting the #MMBC!

  5. Hi! found you through the link up!

    I have a extremely picky eater (age 7.5) and I am very sensitive about it. He def has some food sensory issues. He has a big appetite, but has a limited number of foods he will eat. This summer I read a great article called, You dont have to eat it – very similar to what you are describing. Im trying to figure out when I am going to overhaul our current system and implement something like this.

    • Yes – it can be so hard! You want to be sure they eat because nothing’s worse than feeling like your child isn’t eating at all. I think the key is to always include at least 1 item in the meal you KNOW he will eat whether its bread, apple slices or something else. But, also try throwing a new item on his plate. I’ve read that just seeing it on the plate after a number of times can make them more willing to eventually try it, although it may take awhile. Until then..”you don’t have to eat it.” Best of luck with your picky eater! Keep trying!

  6. I had to learn this the hard way. My son, who is almost 2, would eat whatever I gave him. Then, I fell off with preparing full meals after becoming pregnant and I would also snack throughout the day. My son would eat whatever I ate, but when it came to dinnertime, he wouldn’t eat anything.

    I’m working on eating proper meals throughout the day and since he eats what I eat, he is doing the same. It was a struggle to transit him into eating full meals again, but I’m making progress.

    • Hope you enjoy this plan! It takes some work to get everyone used to it, but once done it works like a charm 🙂

  7. Great tips and we tend to do most of these already. As a family of six meals time can be stressful so if they don’t eat their dinner then that’s fine, but nothing else is offered instead! I don’t have the time to allow each child to eat differently! Thank you for linking to #momsterslink

    • Yes, the more kids, the less you can cater to their every wish – and I think many times that’s for the best!

  8. I love this! We use this very method when eating at home. Our problem, and I’m wondering if you have any suggestions, is when we eat at someone else’s home where dessert is always offered. At home, we never have dessert (except for movie night 😊), but with extended family it is ALWAYS avaiable. I really don’t like bribing them to eat dinner in order to get dessert. We do say things like, “we fill our tummy first with healthy foods” or “if you are choosing not to eat dinner then you are also choosing to not have dessert”. The problem comes with others try to get involved; i.e. grandpa begins airplane feeding and with every bite mentions “eat more bites or you don’t get dessert” or grandma say, “don’t you want some cookies? You don’t get one unless you eat” or there’s always the two bite dinner followed with, “I’m full. May I have a brownie now?” I’m fine with letting them get by with one bite of chicken at home or only eating the bread or berries, but I don’t feel they need to throw in a bunch of processed sugar when that’s all they have had. Do you have any suggestions for maintaining the “eat what you want” but also teaching a healthy relationship with desserts/treats?

    • Hi Mindy,

      Great question! Yes, everyone else does seem to want to get involved when you’re away from home, don’t they? One suggestion I’ve heard, that probably isn’t very helpful with relatives, is to serve dessert right along with the meal. So, they probably finish all of the dessert (obviously!) and part of their meal. But it takes the pressure off eating the meal and feeling anxious about dessert – I can attest that it has been effective when we’ve tried it…but same as you, we don’t often have dessert at home, so I haven’t tried it very many times. Quite frankly, depending on how often your family events are, I might just let it go and allow them to have one dessert without having had much of a meal. When they’re hungry later, you can offer healthy options again. I have been through this at family events when cake comes out and my son has only had a VERY small supper…so we let him have some cake. Half the time doesn’t even eat it all. And then later at home, he has a sandwich or piece of fruit to round out his meal. I see it as a social situation, special time event where we slide on our regular eating habits – because aren’t we doing the same as adults? I think what will speak louder to our kids is consistency in trusting their appetite, not making a BIG deal out of desserts and turning them into a prize, and of course regular healthy eating habits at home. Hope this helps!

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