Similar to this question, but not about behaviour.

My son is 5 years old now, and I give him lots of choices that he is free to make on his own. A while ago, he started asking for certain foods (that he enjoyed many many times in the past), but once it got ordered and brought out to us, he did not want to eat it. I know, kids change lots...

My issue is that I cannot always send back food after it's been ordered - for example, going through a drive thru and we've already arrived back home. The food is not overly expensive, but it is annoying on my wallet. He needs to eat, no doubt about that.

I started a while ago giving him between 25 cents and 2 dollars for any extra chores around the house (you know, other than cleaning his room). He has a piggy bank with money, and a bank account that he is not allowed to withdraw from until he has enough for "something big".

What I have been doing is making him the deal that if he's not hungry, he tells me point-blank "I'm not hungry, no thank you". He is usually quite good at that. Other times, he asks for a specific meal (i.e. "Cheeseburger plain, yam fries, apple juice"), and will even place the order himself sometimes. After it's been paid (out of my money, it's a family meal once in a while), we go to sit down, and he decides he doesn't want anything. At this point, I tell him that I'm going to take $5 from his piggy bank when we get home, and he even goes to get it.

When he gets it, he pulls out the money, and I help count it for him. I do set it aside, and plan to keep it in a savings area away from him and away from my spending. He will be angry at me, and I explain about how money works, and how upset it makes me when money is essentially "wasted". He claims he understands, which I assume is true. He still loves me and tells me that, so I know he's not angry enough to do anything rash.

My question is, is this type of discipline (I don't consider it a "punishment") a good way to get him to stop this behaviour, or at least understand why wasting money on things he specifically asks for and not wanting it when it comes happens?

5 Answers 5


If he has a firm grasp on the concept of money, that one earns it from working, and to waste it is irresponsible, then I think the consequence you've chosen is fine. I would use the money to pay for family expenses, though. Giving it back to him at some point in the future kind of defeats the purpose of the consequence. (It could be that his not spending it until he has a big ticket item in mind diminishes the importance of that money. In that case, I would take it out of money targeted for more discretionary use.)

If money is something nebulous to him, though - and it can be to a 5 year old - I would try to make the consequence more meaningful. He's old enough that the consequence can be discussed ahead of time and implemented later with a reminder.

One option off the top of my head: explain again how money works and how it's wasteful to order food and not eat it. Explain that the next time you order out and he doesn't eat what he ordered, he loses the chance to order himself. (This would have to be recorded on something tangible, like a chart on the refrigerator.) If it's take out, make him a sandwich while the rest of you have the food you ordered. If you're going out, bring a sandwich along for him. (A server should understand. It would be kind to make sure the tip covers what he might have ordered.) He has the option to eat the sandwich or not; the point is he loses the option to choose because of an unwise choice he made before. If he gets upset, well, consequence do that. Remind him of his disappointment before he orders next time you eat take-out.

Always give him the option to pass if he's not hungry. That does happen from time to time, and it shouldn't hurt him nutritionally.


You didn't mind spending the money for him (or you wouldn't have spent it), but you do mind wasting it. And I fully agree with you there. So you want to teach your son (1) that he annoys you personally by making you waste your money on his behalf, and (2) not to waste money.

If his grasp of money isn't very good yet, there is an obviously understandable unit. If he ordered a drink and then didn't want it after you pay, then the next time he doesn't get to order a drink. A punishment that is directly related to what he did. If he didn't want any of his complete meal, then the next time he doesn't get anything.

The time after that, he should be free to order what he wants again. He then has the choice of ordering more carefully (good lesson: Be thoughtful when making decisions), eating the ordered food even if he feels some impulse to reject it (good lesson: Sometimes we have to do things that we don't like to avoid consequences), or not eating the ordered food and going without the next time (good lesson: You can do what you want if you are willing to suffer the consequences. But there are consequences).


My own personal stance is that children get an allowance for extras, and they also get money for expenses. Expense money is for classes, or bus rides to school or school necessities. Most 5 year olds would not be getting their expense money to handle.

Allowance is for ice cream or a movie, or a toy -- only frivolous things. I think this money is given because the family member is well behaved and contributing to making the family work.

IMO, chores are not things parents should pay a child to do, unless they would pay an outsider to do them. So, if you have a lawn service and you pay 30 dollars a week for it, it would be reasonable to allow your old-enough child to earn (for the same amount of work and responsibility) that money.

But making/changing beds, unloading/loading the dishwasher, doing laundry, washing floors, vacuuming and so on -- these are the things families do to make the household work. If you aren't getting extra money for doing the dishes, why would your kid?

If you want your child to learn the value of the money you spend on things he then wastes, then teach that. If you think he is too young (I don't) to handle money, then use tokens instead.

Your child is unlikely to go hungry for long. You do not want to start food battles, but allowing him to be hungry isn't going to hurt either. So if he doesn't eat the hamburger then let him go hungry to the next meal.

I had a client whose child would only eat potato chips and cookies. I went in, removed all the chips and cookies and by the next day, the child was eating all the foods she had enjoyed before. The parents only had to say, "We do not have any." There was no fight, no anger.

You say he 'needs to eat', but does he? As I said, it is very unlikely for a 5y/o to choose hunger for very long. Teens and pre-teens are different and this advice would be WRONG for them.

Once he knows that he will have to wait for the next meal to eat, I think he'll decide not to be as wasteful.


Giving kids choices is good, but giving them license to make any choice is risky. Could you select two or three options and ask your child to choose based on those ideas? You might suggest ordering food that you know was eaten in the past?

This is like the option where a child must wear shoes but doesn't want to, so you ask, "Do you want the red shoes or the blue ones"? That implies choice but limits the options to what are acceptable. It helps to not overwhelm a young decision-maker with either too many options, or, even too much power to make all their own decisions.

  • I turn to that when I know their choice is not a normal (for them) choice Dec 18, 2016 at 4:35

If a child refuses to eat the food you give them then one straightforward solution is just to say "OK, but there won't be anything more until the next meal". Then when they get hungry an hour later tell them "Its too late. Now you have to wait until the next meal". This will drive the message home much more directly than confiscating money.

  • Why not just put the food you give them in the fridge if they don't want to eat it, and let them change their mind if they get hungry later? Following the principle that the parent decides what the child eats, and the child decides whether and how much to eat at any reasonable time.
    – bdsl
    Sep 7, 2020 at 11:35

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