My little girl (17.5 months) is a fairly good eater, but often refuses a meal I have made knowing I will bring her other options until she eats. I want to raise her as a good eater, but I don't know when she has the mental capacity to understand the consequences of not eating what is served. When is too early to teach a kid that if they refuse a meal they will just have to go to bed hungry?


2 Answers 2


I think you have to be careful of food battles. My mum and nanny used this method and it worked for our family. My own daughter doesn't have this issue.

Mum would make a meal and know that at least part of it had foods my brother and I would eat. A new food was presented on a teaspoon and the only requirement was to eat that one spoonful -- and have more if we liked it. The other food on the plate was "what is for dinner". If we did not eat, that plate was covered and put in the fridge.

If we expressed hunger later, we ate from that plate. This was well before microwaves and so it was cold. No pressure to eat, and it stayed in the fridge until morning -- so if I could not sleep because I was hungry -- our nanny or Mum would get it for us. There was never a battle -- it was always up to us to eat. We never chose hunger for long enough for it to be a worry and as it was always a new day the next day -- there was nothing to stay upset about if there was any upset.

Needless to say, there were no snacks or other treat offered. We always had access to that meal, until the next meal was on the table. So, if I did not eat breakfast I was not forced to eat it for lunch.


We once discussed that exact question during an information evening at my kids' daycare. (For reference: The kids at that place are between 6 months and 3 years old, but most are between one year and 2.5 years) A couple had a problem with their kids, who would only eat if given special attention and entertainment at the same time.

The answer was that if he ate properly at all the other meals, and drinks enough, the occasional skipped dinner isn't much of a problem.

Personally, I would be very careful about offering additional options until she eats. Kids learn very quickly that if they play stubborn then their favorite foods will be specifically brought to them. (My nephew was such a candidate, and it took years to break that habit afterward, partly because he was a bad eater in general and my sister was just glad he'd eat something at all).

I am lucky enough that my kids don't give me a lot of trouble in that regard, but even they at times test the limit and I run into a similar dilemma as you are in. (My son is two, my daugther five). What I do it always make sure every meal includes something my kids have eaten without complaint before. Then the rule is that they can eat whatever and as much (or little) as they like, but what's on the table is all that is available.

Good luck!

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