It's becoming more frequent that my 18 month old daughter has started refusing the dinner we give her without trying it. Our best guess at why, is because it contains green things.

We always check the food and it is damn tasty, and she does like it if she tries it, but obviously explaining this to an 18 month old is difficult.

We know she is hungry, because in the past we have given her a replacement of something like toast and she'll gobble that down.

What is the best way to handle this? We don't want her to think that she can always swap her healthy dinner for toast, so the method we have currently been using is, if after 15 minutes she is still not eating, we'll get her down and say something like "You haven't eaten your dinner, you must not be hungry". If, later she decides she does want the food, we'll put here back on her chair and let her eat.

Is this a good way to handle it? Would there be a better method? We don't want her to grow up having "food issues"

  • 1
    Could you please clarify: Does she eat what the family is eating (pr parts of) or special meals? Is there a "family dinner", or does she eat separately?
    – Stephie
    Commented Jan 19, 2015 at 15:42
  • She does eat separately most nights because she is in bed before the rest of the family eats.
    – dan
    Commented Jan 19, 2015 at 15:51

6 Answers 6


Some suggestions - these worked for our family - mix and match what works for yours...

  • Eat with her. Eat the same food at the same time. If she sees you eating it, she'll copy you. It may help to serve everyone from the same saucepan - on the table where she can see it - or even serve her from your plate, so she thinks she's getting 'your' food. The more family members you can get to eat at the same time as she does, the better (partly because then the attention won't be entirely on her).

  • Give her finger foods that she can pick up and put in her mouth herself when she feels like it, rather than spoon-feeding her (aka "baby led weaning").

  • If she doesn't eat the food you've prepared (which I'm assuming is both tasty and nutritious), then don't give her an alternative option afterwards (i.e. don't offer an alternative of toast or cake or cookies). She'll be hungrier for the next meal and more likely to eat it.

  • Don't try to persuade her to eat. Just leave it up to her whether she eats or not. Don't give loads of praise for eating, definitely don't give attention for not eating. Your job to make the (tasty and nutritious) food, her job to eat it if she feels like doing so. If she's not hungry, she doesn't have to eat it.

  • Let her make a mess. (Placing a plastic tablecloth on the floor under the high-chair is useful in this context). Make sure there is no "wrong way" for her to be eating / touching / playing with her food. If she's interacting with the food then that's a good thing, so make sure you're never telling her that she's doing it in the wrong way. Table manners can wait until she's older.

  • If she doesn't eat her food, eat it yourself (at the end of the meal). Make a big deal about how yummy it is and how much you're enjoying it. Let her feel that she's missed out on something nice.

Worked for us!

I'm assuming here that she's an average child without any serious psychological issues surrounding food (which is what she sounds like from your description - the behaviour you're describing is 110% totally normal). But if my assumption is wrong and there are serious issues then you should seek assistance from a healthcare professional: your family doctor should be able to point you in the right direction. Same applies if she's seriously underweight - in that case the strategies above might not be appropriate.

  • 1
    Good idea eating it yourself. I bet that would get almost any child to demand the return if THEIR plate (that the previously wanted nothing to do with...)
    – user7678
    Commented Jan 28, 2016 at 14:30
  • I would add that we did one additional thing, for own sanity. Kids don't sleep when hungry. If the food is tasted, and refused, if they are hungry they can get something else, but only one specific thing. Usually for us it is a piece of bread, but it could also be an apple or similar. No snacks, no dessert, none of their 'favorites'. It is rare that they choose this, will not work if they skip everything, always.
    – Ida
    Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 23:02
  • 1
    Great ideas. There is nothing my kids like eating more than my breakfast cereal. Out of my bowl :) Commented Feb 7, 2016 at 0:13

It sounds like you are basically doing exactly the right thing at mealtimes. I'd support everything said in the answer by 'A E'. I think your strategy of not reacting sounds perfect. I add a bit more detail on what has worked very well for us, mixed with the standard wisdom, in What to do about a 4 year old that's unbelievably picky about food .

I would just like to add a challenge this assumption:

We know she is hungry, because in the past we have given her a replacement of something like toast and she'll gobble that down.

There are two things.

Hungry isn't an on/off state. Most people will eat something high calorie or bland when offered. Does this sound familiar?

  • She doesn't eat her meal.
  • You worry she hasn't eaten enough / will feel hungry later / won't sleep.
  • You give her toast.

Try to fight your anxiety. She's learnt that you perhaps will give her toast, which basically all kids prefer to almost everything else :-) if she holds out.

You're right that you need to not let her think that if she holds out she will get toast!

With luck, she will hopefully just grow out of this in a week or two!

If not, the missing piece of information - which is why I'm adding to the existing answers - is probably portion size. You don't say she is underweight and I assume she has no relevant medical condition.

It's not the green things on the plate causing the problem, since she has no reason to fear them, since you're not making an issue of them. If her weight is fine, then she's getting enough food and she's just not that hungry in the evening. Google for portion sizes for her age, and you might find that you're overfeeding her earlier in the day, which is why she's fairly relaxed about negotiating over her dinner!

Good luck!


We approach it roughly the same with our 3 year old. She doesn't have to eat, but she must remain at the table until everyone is done eating. This of course goes both ways; we will stay seated if she's the last one still eating or the only one who wants desert.

If she doesn't eat while at the table, we just put the plate away in the cupboard and leave it there. If she gets hungry later in the evening, she can get the plate back, but she doesn't get anything else to eat unless she's at least actually tried it.

This does occasionally cause her to not eat anything the entire evening and be hungry in the morning, but that's "your own problem" in this case, it's her choice not to eat anything and she will get regular breakfast in the morning.

Whether or not she'll have "food issues" from it I cannot tell, but I do know that most of the people I talked to had some sorts of food issues while growing up, inclusing myself my girlfriend, so I'm not sure whether it's even possible to entirely avoid it. People will grow over it eventually, I think.


Kids have various food things as they get older and their tastebuds develop and their friends tell them that their favourite food is disgusting at which point they'll claim they don't like it etc etc. It's just important not to be controlling or make it a "thing" or a battle, but like you are doing "You can choose not to eat it but there won't be anything else".

We don't allow ours to get back to the table once dinner is over so if they are hungry then they are hungry. This works well, and I have a few friends with kids older than mine who've done this and it's worked very well, as it's the child's choice. You're not implementing any form of punishment, just creating clear boundaries and then their choices determine how hungry they are in the morning.

Sounds like you're doing well. It will change, just stick to your guns and don't let it be battle.


Have you considered to not to intervene at all? When your child doesn't want to eat, to just leave it at that? 18 months is a bit early for looking ahead more than a few hours, but when it comes to food, I am sure instincts will kick in and make her eat the next day.

In my experience, the worst way to handle this is to give her the (same) favorite food every day because she doesn't like the one provided. Try to avoid that at almost all cost.

Also: Diversity in food is something that needs to be acquired.

  • 1
    That's exactly what we've been doing. We wanted to check that it's not going to screw her up!
    – dan
    Commented Jan 20, 2015 at 20:04
  • 1
    @dan: This was an answer regarding older kids, but might still be interesting to you.
    – sbi
    Commented Jan 20, 2015 at 20:23

The current paradigm for feeding kids is that you decide what, where and when, and they decide how much. Your job is just to provide nutritious options, if she doesn't want them right then, you should respect that. Just ride it out, she'll start eating better eventually. Virtually no kids will starve themselves. They get growth spurts, and when they aren't in one, remember how little she weighs compared to you, she doesn't need all that much food to be okay.

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