Food Fights: Winning the Dinner Time Battle


We’ve been having food fights as of late.

I’m not talking about the fun kind where everyone freely throws food, laughs together and has a blast. I’m talking about the kind where everyone leaves the dinner table feeling defeated, sad and sometimes (a lot of times) in tears.

It seems I’ve tried everything. I’ve bartered, threatened, punished, tried positive reinforcement and letting her help. Some of them have failed, some of them have worked occasionally, none of them have worked consistently. I know my child won’t starve herself, but when it comes to mealtimes we parents seem hell-bent on our kids eating what we deem to be an appropriate amount in an appropriate amount of time.

I realized the battle I was engaging in and decided enough was enough!

A nice thought…but not at all realistic!

My oldest will almost always eat the not-so-healthy options without complaint. While I don’t mind serving these items occasionally, I feel the need to enforce a more balanced, healthy diet. Instead of coming to the table ready to eat, lately she spots her plate and automatically announces how “gross” it looks and states she’s not going to eat it. I recognize she’s simply exerting her independence and trying to establish her place in our family but dinner hasn’t even started and I’m already seeing red! This is the point I would start with the threats and negotiations. Before I knew it, I was in a full-fledged battle with a 4-year-old over 1 meal. Everybody was upset, my daughter often in tears and myself feeling like a big fat failure…again.

I want meal times to be a happy occasion. A chance for us to sit with one another and enjoy each other. I’m pretty lax about breakfast and lunch, but I’m a stickler for dinner time and the battles we kept having were creating some serious tension! Knowing this was a struggle for my family, I’ve quietly been taking notes whenever this topic is raised. Here’s our latest plan, a conglomeration of different ideas and what we feel will work best for our family.

Rule 1. She must sit at the table and is no longer allowed to speak rudely or disrespectfully about the food in front of her.

Consequence: If she’s rude or disrespectful, it’s an immediate trip to time-out. After time-out we’ll remind her of the rules and she can try again.

Rule 2. She must try a bite of each item on her plate. If she doesn’t like what she tries, she can politely tell me so and is then allowed to ask for a peanut butter sandwich.

Consequence: If she refuses to try a bite, she gets nothing else to eat or drink (except water) that evening.

Rule 3. Over the next few months, I will teach her how to make her own sandwich. If she doesn’t eat what I fix, she needs to fix her own dinner. I will not be turned into a short-order cook.

Consequence: If she doesn’t want to eat what I fix, or fix her own sandwich, she’ll go to bed without dinner.

Bonuses: I remove the battle, which is my goal. She has the control, which is her goal. Clear, concise rules and expectations allow us to easily talk to her about dinner time BEFORE things get out of control.

I’m happy to say that so far, this plan is working really well and I’m pleased with the results!

**This post is specific to my 4-year-old and does not yet apply to my toddler.

Do you have food fights? What are your solutions?



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