When dinner time rolls around after a long day, facing a fussy eater refusing food is frustrating. No one wants to end their day with a mealtime meltdown. Understanding what is underlying your child’s fussiness is key to turning things around. To help you out, our in-house Dietitians from The Lifestyle Dietitian share their insights on the most common reasons why your child is rejecting dinner.
- They are hot hungry
One of the most common reasons why children are fussy at dinner time? They are simply not hungry! Your child may have grazed on multiple snacks, milky drinks or fruit juices before dinner, all of which reduce their appetite. If this is the case, try scheduling meals and snacks every three to four hours throughout the day. This helps establish a routine that ensures your child arrives to dinner hungry.
- Overwhelmed by the food
Some children feel overwhelmed by too much food on their plate or by unfamiliar foods. This is especially true for picky eaters who are used to a limited range of foods. To reduce feelings of overwhelm, serve smaller portions and slowly introduce new foods. This can help your child become more comfortable with trying new things.
- Wanting to assert their independence
As children grow, they start to assert their independence and mealtimes can be a way for them to express their autonomy. Sometimes children refuse to eat simply because they want to make their own choices. To give your child some control, involve them in meal planning and preparation. Or, serve dinner “buffet style” so your child can plate up their own meal. This can help them feel like they have a say in what they eat.
- Needing Variety
Sometimes children refuse to eat dinner because they are bored of the same meal. While you certainly don’t have to serve a new meal every week, adding variety to the colors, textures, seasonings or sauces at dinner goes a long way. Another game-changing tip? Involve your child in meal planning and let them choose a new recipe to add to the family menu. For recipe inspiration, check out The Lifestyle Dietitian blog.
- Pressure to Eat
Pressuring children to eat can cause them to refuse food altogether. When you pressure your child to eat, it creates stress and a negative association with mealtimes. Did you know that stress hormones released during these situations reduce appetite? Instead, try to make dinner a positive experience by focusing on family bonding. Serving “buffet style” dinners where your child can choose what goes on their plate is also helpful in reducing pressure.
There are many reasons why children may refuse to eat dinner. As parents, it’s important to understand these reasons and approach mealtimes with patience and positivity. With time and persistence, you can help your child eat (and enjoy!) dinner again.