How to Stop the Dinner Time Power Struggle

Out of all the temper tantrums, the ones that bug us most as moms are the dinner time tantrums.  

Because not only are they loud, but our kids are refusing to even try a meal we just spent a lot of time cooking!  Time to put a stop to the dinner time picky eating.  Here’s what to do.

Does every meal time feel like a battle with your picky eater. Here's how to end dinner time tantrums for good.

I’ve had my fair share of issues with food.

We get so worked up as moms, constantly worrying about our kids eating enough.  I doubt we’ll still have this concern when they’re teenagers, but now… now it just twists at us.

Maybe it comes from when they were just infants.   All the doctor’s appointments and weighings.  How proud we felt when our infant gained weight and the fear when they didn’t grow quite fast enough.

How proud we felt when our infant gained weight and the fear when they didn’t grow quite fast enough.

They had us then and they’ll continue with it for as long as we let them.

Time to stop this picky eating once and for all.

No more catering to their whims.  If you want your kids:

  • to eat the food you give them and,
  • not complain during dinner time.

This is for you.

Causes of Dinner Time Tantrums

Kids crave routine.  In a world where everything is new, they look for those little places where their lives can be consistent and predictable.

You know how your child loves watching the same episode of his favorite TV show over and over again?  Same principle.  He craves the familiar.

That’s why dinner time can be such an issue.

When we introduce new foods, our kids’ minds want to rebel.  “What is this?!? This isn’t chicken nuggets!  This doesn’t look like mac and cheese! No way!!”

And then the tantrum starts.

How can we avoid this?

Start Serving ONE food for consecutive meals

I’m not talking about spaghetti all the time. That’s not what I’m saying.

Rather, dinner time tantrums usually result from trying to persuade our kids to eat healthier.

Choose one healthy side dish for the week, like broccoli or carrots and serve that every night with the meal for a week.

I personally like buying the steamable freezer bags of vegetables so it’s no more work on my part.  Just throw it in the microwave and heat it up.

Your kids may not eat it the first night.  BUT, they will probably try it the second night and then eat more and more each consecutive day.

Limit snacks before dinner

An hour and a half before meal time, cut off all access to snacks.  If your child is hungry, suggest they drink some water.

There will be a fight on this at first.  Your job is to remain firm and not budge.  As soon as your kid realizes that you aren’t giving in – which honestly, depending on how stubborn she is, may be a week or two – they will stop the flight.

Why do this?

In order for your kid to try new foods, they need to come to the table hungry.  It’s easy to refuse steak if your stomach is full.  It’s a little more difficult when you’re starving.

Or you can try this simple trick for dinner time.

Make Eating Your Child’s Decision

Remember how we were told to clean our plates?  Well, it did us little good.  Our generation has such problems with overeating and obesity because we were taught to polish off everything in front of us.

We don’t want that for our kids.

But, we do want our child to make healthy eating decisions. [clickToTweet tweet=”That’s why eating needs to be completely under our kids’ control. ” quote=”That’s why eating needs to be completely under our kids’ control. “] [clickToTweet tweet=”That’s why eating needs to be completely under our kids’ control. ” quote=”That’s why eating needs to be completely under our kids’ control. “]

No bribing.  No threatening. No encouraging.

Just placing a plate full of food in front of them and saying,

“Here’s dinner.”

Now, they may respond, “I don’t want this.”

To which you can say, “That’s your choice.  You can eat it or not.  I’m not making anything else.”

End of discussion.

Prepare yourself, your child is going to push back.  A LOT.  They may scream, cry and go into full-blown tantrum.  That’s ok.

If this happens, remove the plate of food and ask them to leave the table.  You love them but their screams are hurting your ears and you need them to calm themselves outside of the kitchen.

When they don’t move, go to them, pick them up and physically move them to another room.  Don’t let them return until they can do so without screaming and crying.

Prepare Yourself

This will not be a quick fix.  But, I promise when you are consistent, your child will no longer protest over dinner.

But, be ready.

They may throw a tantrum for a week or two.   They want you to cave and give them back their macaroni and cheese. (Don’t we all just want Mac and Cheese?)

Once they see you are serious, the dinner time tantrums will stop and meal time will no longer be an issue.

JoAnn Crohn

CEO/Founder at No Guilt Mom
JoAnn Crohn, M. Ed is a parenting educator and life coach who helps moms feel confident in raising empowered, self-sufficient kid while pursuing their own goals & passions.

She’s an accomplished writer, author, podcast host of the No Guilt Mom podcast, and speaker who appears in national media. Work with her personally in Balance VIP

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