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How do I get my 3 (almost 4) year old to eat his dinner?

It is a battle at dinner time every day and I am so tired of it. My son will refuse to eat his dinner. We've tried coaxing him, putting him straight to bed, not allowing him to have any juice or snacks the following day, and tonight we are trying the 'you aren't getting up until your eat everything on your plate!' threat. Seriously, I'm planning on staying up as late as it takes to make sure he gets the point. Oh, and on top of refusing to eat sometimes when we finally succeed in getting him to put food in his mouth he gags on it and makes himself throw it right back up! I am at my wits end! Please help me!


Asked by vnw1405 at 7:36 PM on Oct. 14, 2008 in Preschoolers (3-4)

Level 11 (635 Credits)
This question is closed.
Answers (8)
  • Take the fight out of the fight. As you've discovered, unless you hold him down and force the food down his throat, you can't force him to eat. This is a power struggle and you can never win it. So quit trying.
    Make one thing at each meal that you know he will eat. It could be the bread, the corn, the meat, it doesn't matter. Just make sure there is one thing on the table that you know he would eat.
    Don't tell him he has to eat anything, don't tell him he has to eat a bite of everything, don't tell him he has to sit there until he's done. Just put some food on the plate and ignore what he does or doesn't eat.
    Don't have dessert more than once a week and don't link his getting dessert to eating his dinner.
    If he CHOOSES to not eat, let him. Don't give him anything until the next meal or snack time. Don't scold or beg. Let him feel the natural consequences of not eating - hunger.

    Answer by kaycee14 at 11:09 PM on Oct. 14, 2008

  • We have this fight with my 5-year-old. First off, at that age the consequences of "no snacks tomorrow" doesn't stick because they don't think that far ahead. I would try moving his afternoon snack up in time a little, and maybe cutting all his food portions by half. You can always give him more if he's still hungry. Sometimes what looks like a decent amount to us adults is actually a lot for them. Plus, maybe he would be more willing to try eating it all if it didn't seem like so much to him.

    Answer by mamapotter at 7:52 PM on Oct. 14, 2008

  • You may wish to speak to your pediatrician about this. I'm sure he/she will reassure you that he's getting the nutrition he needs throughout the day and that skipping or not completing his dinner won't have any long lasting serious effects.
    Also, you don't want to force him to eat. This is partly about control and he'll only fight you harder and you certainly don't want to create any unhealthy food issues.
    Try getting him involved in the preparation of the meal. Many times kids are more interested in eating if they've had a hand in preparing the meal.
    Finally, while you're certainly not a short order cook, try to keep him in mind and offer him some foods at meal time that you know he'll go for. At least he'll put a little something in his belly.
    Good luck!

    Answer by twinclubmom at 7:55 PM on Oct. 14, 2008

  • Leave it alone. You cook one meal for dinner. If he eats, great. If he doesn't okay. Every body is different and his eating requirements will be different, than any of his siblings even. Don't reward when he eats it, and don't punish when he doesn't. Just don't give him any snacks before bed. Let him have breakfast the next day. I'm 50 years old. Family of 8 kids. I didn't eat dinner either. Everyone would sit and wait wait wait. But the kids were older than me and had homework or school activities to go to. So eventually they left the table, and mother would set the timer for me. If I didn't finish in time, off to bed I went. Okay, no big deal, but I didn't have to eat. I wasn't hungry. I'm still alive at 50, so I guess I didn't starve to death. I'm still a picky eater. But I'm healthy.

    Answer by EireLass at 7:55 PM on Oct. 14, 2008

  • You offer him brownies!

    Answer by julieh0906 at 8:29 PM on Oct. 14, 2008

  • He won't starve if he misses a meal or two and your not a bad mom if he does. He'll eat when he's hungry, don't make yourself crazy about it. Just serve healthy food so that when he does decide to eat you know it's a wholesome choice. Be patient.

    Answer by AmandaH321 at 8:48 PM on Oct. 14, 2008

  • I agree with most of the others. My doctor once told me that a toddler is not going to starve. If I make a meal and my daughter refuses to eat it I ask her to take one bite of everything. If after that she still doesn't want the food then she is finished. But, that also means that she doesn't get anything to eat until the next meal. I have to say that my daughter is a GREAT eater. Another trick that worked when she was younger is I would start eating her food and when she asked for some I would say no, this is sooooo delicious. Then she would "steal" her food back and eat it.

    Answer by Colleen801 at 9:36 PM on Oct. 14, 2008

  • I go through this battle with my 2 1/2 year old. My DH and I have decided to space lunch and dinner far apart and no milk or juice close to dinner. Still, he hardly eats but I think it is best to not force him to eat and to let him eat when he is really hungry because if we force them when they arent hungry they will learn bad eating habits. At least that is what a pediatrician said in a baby magazine! Let me know if anything works!

    Answer by MiiSSHiiSCAMP0S at 2:28 AM on Oct. 15, 2008