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by Randi Rubenstein
“Dinnertime with my 3-year-old is a nightmare. She complains about EVERYTHING. She thinks I’m a short-order cook. I make her what she asks for, then she won’t even take a bite and places her “order” for something different. I am fed up and frustrated. How can I get her to stop acting like a dictator so we can have a peaceful dinner as a family?”
Dear Hardworking Mama,
I hear many stories just like yours, so please know you are not alone. I can tell you will go to great lengths to feed and nourish your little people.
Unfortunately, contrary to what most folks think, this has probably turned into a situation that has to do with something besides food or nourishment for your little Napolean.
Yes, there are some exceptions. If you have a kiddo that is sensitive to textures or has a gag reflex, he may have sensory issues. This can be easily resolved by working with a great Occupational Therapist.
The REAL issue going on for the other 93% of us is a little more challenging to resolve.
Mom, I’m going to need you to pull up your big girl panties and really listen up if you truly want to quit your job at the diner as a short-order cook.
I respect you too much to tiptoe around the truth here so I’m just going to level with you straight up: You have to be willing to allow your kid to choose not to eat.
I know. I know. You have a million reasons why this will never work. Little David will get low blood sugar. Or Rachel will wake up in the middle of the night and disrupt the whole family’s sleep.
Three days. Seventy-two hours. That’s about how long it will usually take for a hungry dictator to turn back into a regular picky eating toddler without the unreasonable demands and power struggles.
That’s right. It’s normal for kids ten and younger to be picky. They have an extremely unsophisticated palate. Foods with strong flavors overpower their highly attuned taste buds.
Once a kid begins to grow vertically from baby to toddler, their body starts to thin out. During this stage, it’s not uncommon for food to become much less interesting even for your baby who was “such a good eater.”
Some helpful tips are to create rules around pantry surfing and to stay on top of snacks. If you allow your kid to fill up on pretzels and Goldfish in between meals, then be prepared for a picky kid that relies on “filler” foods to sustain them. Obviously, this is not ideal.
We want our kids to be well-nourished and “to grow big and strong.” That’s our go-to line when it comes to eating broccoli or spinach. It happens to be rooted in truth.
Now don’t worry. This is not about serving up fancy adult food and going all tough love on your kid.
No, you are going to use your mama brilliance combined with your common sense. You will find a happy medium between kid and adult foods that work for the whole fam.
Okay, so you’ve got down the logistics, right? Well now comes the real challenge. We’re friends, right? I mean I’ve given you some really valuable and helpful info so far, so please don’t shoot the messenger on this one.
The real obstacle has to do with your mindset. You have to be willing to stop arguing, pleading, and dancing like a circus monkey for baby Napolean.
This is the hardest part. I wish it were easy for a loving mom like you to simply go cold turkey and stop giving in to unreasonable demands. No more jumping through hoops and then losing it when dinner number three is ungratefully snubbed.
I get it. You just want to get some decent food into your kid’s belly. It’s not easy to say, “Oh you don’t like anything on your plate tonight. Remember after dinner the kitchen is closed so keep that in mind when you’re choosing not to eat anything.”
Don’t kill me, but that’s just the beginning. You will also have to deal with a bad attitude, arguing, and maybe even a meltdown.
It will be terrible for about a week as you consistently follow through, refusing to react or negotiate with your little terrorist.
It will take approximately one week to be promoted from short order cook at the diner to highly esteemed manager at Chili’s.
Your new job may not serve elegant French cuisine, but you’re also not slaving away in a grease pit for pennies on the dollar.
It’s civilized. People listen to you. There’s something on the menu for everyone. And best of all, you get to be the hero when you serve the chocolate molten cake!
Bon Appétit, Mama.
Randi Rubenstein helps fed up parents learn tools to raise confident, kind, and self-motivated kids by closing the parent gap – the gap between the parent you want to be and the parent you currently are during the REAL triggered moments with your kiddos. But you never yell at your kids, right? As a parent coach and author, Randi helps parents keep cool and replace old patterns. You can find her at