Do you make your kids eat all their food? Eating rules that work.

“Dinner is a time to relax, recharge, laugh, tell stories and catch up on the day’s ups and downs, while developing a sense of who we are as a family.” Dr. Anne K. Fishel is a co-founder of The Family Dinner Project and a clinical psychologist, teacher, blogger, and family therapist.

But what happens when dinner is just a frustrating fight? Or a battle of wills? What are some eating rules that can help you?

picture of girl looking sad at dinner table


I remember one night when I was little sitting at the table till 9 pm because I refused to eat the liver and onions that we had for dinner. Finally I said that I would eat it if I were allowed to put Hershey’s chocolate syrup on it. My dad was appalled by the suggestion. But he said yes and I ate it. The next day I came down with strep throat and for years I was convinced that strep throat was caused by that meal! I was stubborn but I also did not like liver.

When my husband was young, he was made to eat homemade yogurt and cottage cheese, which he said was very sour.

Because of these experiences, we did not want to force our children to eat; however, we did want them to eat healthy foods and a variety of foods.

We were able to come up with a plan that helped all of us.


Fortunately for us, the children are growing and are usually hungry at regular intervals which works in our favor. I will note that there are some stages when your small children will eat less than you think they need. And there are other times when they seem to eat constantly. Make allowances for these times!

    1. KNOW WHY

Know your kids and why they may not like a certain food. We have one child that does not eat mushrooms. She is allowed to pick them off her pizza or out of her spaghetti sauce. She doesn’t mind the taste, but the texture bothers her.  I think that is understandable. Fair warning: Be careful you don’t sit next to her at the supper table or you might find a double portion of mushrooms on your plate!

I have also heard of a child that didn’t like smoothies, not because of the taste, but because the noise of the blender was scary to her (child was age 3).


We don’t all like the same food. We allow each of our children to have one food that they do not have to eat. (This choice could not change from day to day. . . of course, we did have one child that tried that.) One child does not eat turnips, one does not eat coconut, one does not eat mushrooms, and I don’t eat liver!


We do not require our children to “clean their plate” but they cannot have dessert or a snack later unless they finish their dinner. We generally served their portions when they were young and were careful to give them a reasonable amount.

Here’s another great idea: A family I know has the “no, thank you” bite.  In their family even if they don’t like something that is for dinner, they must at least take a bite of that food.


We do not cook a special meal for a child. We all eat the same things. And though I do not like brussel sprouts, I still have to eat three when we have them. I am setting the example.

Also, moms, make good meals.  It is worth the extra time and effort to learn how to flavor your food so it is very good tasting.  You can do it.  Check out some good recipes here.


This eating rule is for parents.  Be great salesmen.  If we were introducing a new food or recipe, my husband and I were super salesmen! We talked it up- I made this great recipe that I got from Grandma. This is great! This is yummy! Wow, is this ever nice. It will help you grow strong!


Because I knew my children, when this happened I knew that it was a matter of a stubborn will.  My plan was: When she didn’t eat the meal for dinner, she got it for breakfast.  If she wouldn’t eat it for breakfast, she got it for lunch.  I only had this last a short time, as this girl was getting hungry!

I have also heard of parents who would allow the child to get an alternate meal such as plain oatmeal.  You will have to use your best mom instincts to see if this oatmeal idea will work in your family.

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What about eating rules for going visiting, out to a restaurant or some other unusual situation?  I am all about flexibility in this situation because young children (below the age of 5) are already out of their element and probably off their normal schedule as well.  Get them to eat what you can but don’t make a restaurant your battleground.  I would talk about going out to eat ahead of time, so that the child knows what to expect, but I wouldn’t try to force him to eat his vegetables.


Note: If you have a young child that is gagging, vomiting, or refusing to eat, you need to see a pediatrician as these are not normal responses to food. Some children have serious medical issues that need to be addressed. Other children have sensory issues and need feeding therapy. I even know of one family where everyone prefers to eat crunchy foods.  That mom is one creative cook!

It is okay to Be the Mom. If your child is having struggles with eating it is better to get it checked out medically so that you know what is going on. One mom reminded me that if this is your situation, be sure to get a diagnosis and treatment plan. Some of these medical problems can be tricky to diagnose, so it may take some persistence on your part. Hopefully you can get the answers you need and make the necessary accommodations so that you and your family can share years of happy mealtimes together.

Be wise with your children, have reasonable expectations and I’m sure you’ll figure this out- one spoonful of mashed potatoes at a time.

picture of Turkey appetizers made with bacon bits, crackers and ritz cheese

Be sure and comment below with other ideas about rules and eating.

One Reply to “Do you make your kids eat all their food? Eating rules that work.”

  1. Thank you for the encouragement and the suggestions- we were just studying nutrition and healthy eating and I can incorporate some of you your ideas into our ‘daily’ lessons at the table. It may encourage older kids to eat healthier when they understand what vitamins and minerals they get from the different foods they eat. God Bless

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