Food Fight: One Mom’s Tale of Meal Time Surrender

What was once a lovely mid-century modern table adorned with a fresh floral arrangement and pre-set with our fine china is now the battle ground of the war being waged at my house. It is ripe with the scars of a weekend’s worth of uneaten meals: smudges of peanut butter and splatters of yogurt marking the places where Jane once sat visible from the bird’s eye view. If this war was being measured by the havoc it caused, you can include two grilled cheese sandwiches, a cup of strawberries, three yogurts, and two Buddy Fruits in the body count. The collateral damage: my spirit.meal

Ok, that is a bit dramatic, but there is most certainly a battle of wills ensuing between me and my two year old. For the last several weeks Jane has been rejecting her meals left and right. There is something so demoralizing as a parent when your child refuses to eat the meal you prepare for them. It leaves you with both fear and frustration – the fear that they are not getting the nourishment they need and, well, I don’t think I have to explain the frustration.

Before I had a child, I had a lot to say about how a child should be fed. Of course, before I had a child, I was the best parent I knew. My child would sit at the table with me and eat a mini-portion of the meal I prepared for Mark and myself. Meal time would be filled with laughter and joy as we all nibbled on our plates of grilled redfish, brown rice and asparagus. The thought of spreading some kind of condiment on a piece of white bread and calling it a meal qualified as child abuse.

Ha! That laughter you hear is not the sound coming from my dining table. It is the sound you hear when Mark and I reflect on how little we knew about what parenting was like on a day in and day out basis. It is hard, and it is exhausting. And when you combine that with the long hours he spends on call or at drill and I do at the office during tax season, it makes the work of parenting feel, well, like work. Don’t get me wrong; it is the most enjoyable and amazing thing I have ever done – most of the time. But, when Jane has gone three days sustaining her precious life on whole milk and Pirate’s Booty, it can make you want to bang your head against a wall. P.S. Someone please call the medics – I think I may have a concussion.

So, where do I go from here? I don’t even think I have the energy to raise a white flag. If only Pancho’s was still open, I could borrow one of theirs and just tug on the pulley when I’ve surrendered. For now, I keep telling myself Jane will eventually call a truce. Surely, she won’t go to college eating only microwavable Kraft mac-n-cheese.

Of course, when you actually think about it, college students eat much like toddlers (I microwaved every meal), so maybe there’s no point in worrying at all.

Are you frustrated by your picky eater? What tips can you share?


  1. Jennifer,
    As a mother if a 3 and 2 year old I get your frustration at meal time..
    I have taken solace in the fact that there is no steady state with very young children and have learned to roll with it at meal time. My 3 year old is eating much better these days and my two year who was an excellent eater has become very texture driven in his choice of food!
    That being said.. I have picked up a few little tricks. My kids love to dip food into lots of things.
    So I usually serve sliced chicken with gaucamole or ketchup. Which goes over very well.
    When we bring home sushi I set a small plastic saucer for soy sauce for each of us..
    We use low sodium soy sauce and they kill the California and snow crab rolls as they dip their food. Granted there is soy sauce everywhere!!
    I try to use Greek yogurt with Indian food and it works about half the time.
    So I try to stay fluid.
    Hope that helps.

  2. Andrew is a good eater on some days and not so great on others. I feel for you- because on some days, I will have made a delicious meal and he won’t want to eat it, instead he wants a peanut butter sandwich. What we have come to do on days that he’s like that is have him eat at least 1-2 bites of the dinner we cooked and if he does that and still refuses, then we give him the pb sandwich or mac n’ cheese.

    I always offer him whatever we are eating first, though. I don’t give him a choice. Some days, he cleans his plate, some days he will eat 2 bites and then ask for a cookie. I try to never give in with the cookie and I will always offer a fruit pouch or something instead.

    I feel ya, Jen, I have some days where I want to pull my hair out and scream because he is throwing a tantrum because he wants “bread” for dinner. (in that respect, there is no doubt he is my child, I love carbs!) and it is a battle of wills, for sure.

    I think part of it is that at this age, they want to test boundaries and assert their independence and show that their opinion counts, and it is hard for us, as parents, to let them do it!

  3. Hiya -you’re not alone! My best advice is to understand picky eating as a developmentally normal phase and be as relaxed as you can. Your child may need less food than you think. Problems really begin when you react to food rejection with stress or pressure. Good luck!

    solving picky eating

  4. My toddler likes to watch us cook, and he likes to ‘help’ – stirring, adding the ingredients, etc. We name all the items for him, let him smell the ginger, the garlic, and let him taste-test along the way. Lately he’s also really into doing the dishes at the end of the meal, rinsing and putting them in the dishwasher (with assistance). He doesn’t always eat the meal, some portion always winds up getting thrown to the dog, but we always sit down together to eat and at least he is getting exposed to the different foods. Sometimes he surprises me and chows down on something I would have never thought he would like. As someone else said, a little ‘dip’ is always a winner, although he usually winds up only eating the dip, licking it off the food item.

  5. I’m blessed with a 2 1/2 year old son that will eat ANYTHING and always has. There are plenty of nights when my husband works late and i just dont want to cook so i let him have mac n cheese or nuggets but i dont feel to bad because he goes to a wonderful daycare where he gets a healthy balanced breakfast and lunch and on his daily report they tell us what he hate and how much of it he ate. So on nights when i fix a less than balanced meal i just tell myself it’s a treat night for him 🙂 I’m praying my 6 week old daughter eats like her big brother.

  6. Jen,
    I feel your pain. Here’s what I’ve learned as a mom, and as a pediatrician:
    1. This is a normal and healthy part of child development. I agree with Andie (above), this is Jane’s way of exerting her independence.
    2. Toddlers have complete control when it comes to 2 things: eating and potty training. You can’t force a child to eat, and you can’t force them to use the potty.
    3. Kids often need to try things 10-20 times before they suddenly decide they like it. So just because she didn’t like it last week doesn’t mean she won’t eat it next week. Don’t give up.
    4. And vice versa: just because she ate 3 helpings of spaghetti and meat sauce last week, doesn’t mean she will eat it again this week…or this month…or for the rest of this year.
    5. Do continue to offer a variety of healthy food choices. One strategy is to offer her one small bite/serving of what you are having but also to have 1-2 things (favorite fruit or veggie?) on her plate that you know she does like. If all she ends up eating at the end of the meal is a bunch of peas, it’s o.k. (heck, that’s more nutritious than some of the meals I eat).
    6. We could all learn something from toddlers–they eat if they’re hungry, not if they’re full. As long as she’s growing appropriately, you know that she’s getting enough.
    6. Avoid food battles as best you can. Because she will win. And this stage will pass.

  7. Oh….been there, done that….still there?? My 2 1/2 yo little girl is so off and on with eating at the moment. She WAS awesome…but right after turning 2, really fought it and it has gotten better, but still reverts back to “Mommy, I no like that” stance every now and then. Dipping foods is great…..we’ve also use it as a time to work on counting and we count how many pieces of food she has and then as she puts them in her mouth, we recount. Sometimes that works…sometimes she’s totally on to us. We’ve let her help us cook…haven’t found that any more enticing to eat what she made, but I think this will work better when she’s older. Often, I find the best strategy is giving her two options and letting her pick and THAT usually makes her eat it, b/c she feels SHE made the decision. And I try making them two options, with a little tweaking, of what we are eating. Luckily there are no stories of kids starving themselves to death out of pure defiance of the food we give them….so I try to remember that (“try” being the key word, as I pull my hair out once more as I hear “Mommy, I no like that.”

  8. agree with everyone above and here is another article on the topic.

    we have 2 great eaters who try everything b/c i learned from my sister, who has good eaters, that if you give them what you eat and dont veer from that, they will also come to enjoy what you enjoy. If they dont eat one night, or two nights, they wont starve to death and they will likely eat on the third night.
    taking the battle out of it is definitely a good idea, although it is really hard to do.
    you feel like one of your main jobs as a mother is to nourish your child, but once the battle is out of it, then they will want to nourish themselves (with stuff you made) 🙂
    good luck.

  9. We fight this battle EVERY. DARN. DAY. I feel your pain girl. As many above mentioned, I’ve just learned to roll with it. If he doesn’t eat one day he usually packs it in the next day. It all tends to even out.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here