How to End Mealtime Battles {Preschool Age}

“I hate broccoli!”  “I don’t want THAT for dinner!”  “Peas?! Yuck!”

 Do these phrases sound familiar?  Is mealtime a constant battle in your home?

As a stay-at-home mom, I spend a good amount of time with other moms with similar age kids.  And almost a day doesn’t go by without one of us complaining about our child’s picky eating habits.  “My son won’t eat carrots, broccoli or yogurt.”  “My daughter only drinks milk with chocolate syrup added,” etc…  Sound familiar?  These are such common phrases that it almost seems commonplace that toddlers and preschoolers alike are expected to be “picky” because of their age.


Keep this MyPlate design in mind when providing meals.

 Personally, each of my children constantly go through changes of what they love to eat and don’t love, which almost changes on a day-to-day basis.  One day they love chicken pot pie, the next time I serve it, they won’t touch it.  Well it’s not always easy, but a good reminder to us is that unless your child is underweight and their pediatrician or dietitian have advised you to force them to eat food…they WILL eat when they are hungry!  I know as parents it’s hard to not be overbearing and force/bribe/coerce our kids to eat their veggies, fruit, etc, but it’s OK if they don’t eat it at a certain meal, day or even week (I have to remind myself often of this very topic).  And we’re way past the old “clean your plate” club.  It leads to unnecessary battles and eventually poor eating habits.

2014-10-13 17.56.32

K is enjoying devouring one of her favorite vegetables (frozen squash), but trust me, its not always that way.

There are numerous reasons why your child may be a picky eater or appears to not be hungry, but there are strategies to help with this issue.  I particularly agree with child nutrition expert Ellyn Satter and her philosophy of getting kids to eat but not too much.  In her effective strategy named “Division of Responsibility,” she points out the child’s jobs and parents’ jobs.  ([i]).


Parents’ jobs:

  • What food is offered
  • When the food is offered
  • Where it will be eaten

Child’s jobs:

  • If he/she will eat or not
  • What he/she will eat from the food offered
  • How much he/she will eat

This may be a very difficult challenge to try, but it’s worth it…it gives the children some independence (which they constantly desire at this age) while also allowing you to keep some of the control.  Also offer at least 1 food that you know your child likes and will eat, since who wants to be a short-order cook for the next 18 years!

I also read an article recently about a mother of two and fellow RD who says she has ended the meal battle with her 4 year old.  When told it’s dinner time and he says “I’m not hungry, I don’t want to eat” she says “you don’t have to eat” but you at least must sit at the table with us…leading him to 9 out of 10 times eat something.

Get past the fear of “he’ll be hungry going to bed” or “what if he only eats bread for dinner?”  There are several reasons why your child may not be hungry – too many snacks, not going through a growth spurt or maybe not enough physical activity that day.  Just breathe, and remind yourself that they just may not be hungry or may not need as much food as you think they do.


  • Let your child gain independence through food, there will be less arguments
  • Eat with your children as often as possible
  • Offer at least 1 food you know your child enjoys
  • Eat the SAME food as your children
  • Talk about other topics besides food at the table (don’t focus on what food they are or are not eating)

Of course, not every strategy will work great with each child, but it’s sure worth a try.  Right?!  Please leave a comment, I’d love to hear what has worked and what hasn’t worked for you.

[i] I was not compensated in any way by Ellyn Satter; however, I do truly believe in her strategies and approaches to childhood nutrition.

© 2014 Kristy Hegner


  1. I’m all about Ellyn’s approach (and your summary/tips) shared here. I was just thinking today as I was driving, “some days I love hummus, other days I can’t stand it.” Why wouldn’t our LO’s feel the same about certain foods?!


    • I agree Katie! Often times I personally don’t feel like eating a certain food (even though I normally enjoy it), so I have to remind myself, even if I serve something I know the kids like, they may just not be in the mood for it. Which is why they sometimes only end up eating fruit for dinner, which on occasion, is fine with me!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Julie Stevens

    Hi Kristy!
    Completely agree with all strategies! We also use the no thank you bite – they have to try one bite! I hate it when they say they “hate” something they’ve never had before!


    • That’s a great idea Julie! My oldest will sometimes take a bite, say its delicious and then not want another bite (basically he just says he likes it to appease me).


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