How do you get small people to EAT?!

Practically every day lately I have the same battle in an ongoing war with DD, aged 3, over food. She eats a good bowl of cereal every morning, has seconds for lunch at nursery four days a week, and will accept any snack offered, from cake to fruit. She’ll also happily eat a plate of chips and beans, or pasta and sauce, or ‘bits and bobs’ (toast, cheese, crackers, salami, raisins, cucumber, tomatoes etc). But if I dare to actually cook something proper for tea on nursery days, or lunch on Fridays and the weekends, all hell breaks loose.

At pre-school, she’ll eat everything from Moroccan lamb and couscous to fish pie to curry, but if I put a nice bit of salmon, or a risotto, or chilli, in front of her, she’ll play around with it, have a couple of mouthfuls, and then declare that she’s had enough or doesn’t like it, and goes on strike, but still asks for pudding. I am at a loss to know what to say, really, and could do with some inspiration. chips3

I’m totally inconsistent. Sometimes I insist she eats some more, sometimes I just accept it, sometimes she has pudding (yoghurt or fruit) regardless of how much main course she’s eaten, sometimes I won’t let her have pudding because I know she’s still properly hungry and just doesn’t fancy what I’ve cooked. Sometimes I get really cross. Because although she is only little, I can’t help feeling annoyed that I’ve wasted my time trying to cook something nice for her and DS (who feasts like a mini-Henry VIII on anything at all) and even that she is being ungrateful. I also feel embarrassed when she kicks up over tea at friends’ houses.

I know I’m sending her mixed messages about food. If I say she only has to eat until she’s full (because I don’t believe in forcing children to clean their plates as I think this might set up an unhealthy relationship with food, especially for girls), and she says she’s full, but still has room for pudding, do I insist she has one more mouthful, or just accept it? What’s the right thing to say about pudding? That she can have some if she eats a good proportion of her main course, or that she won’t have any pudding if she doesn’t eat enough? That seems confusing alongside the idea that she can stop when she is full. 

Should I stop coming over all Annabel Karmel, bless her, and just chill out? Is it really bad to mention waste? Is she just playing power games? Is she just not hungry?

 On the plus side, she’s healthy, has a really balanced diet, and clearly eats well at nursery. She’s interested in cooking and shopping for food (I frequently find a peeled bulb of real garlic in her play kitchen and hear her mumbling things about ‘putting the oil in the pan’), and considers it a real treat if I let her sit on the worktop after official bedtime while I start chopping onions for our supper.

In short, I have no idea of the right messages to be consistently giving my daughter about food and eating, and I think I need to get this sorted pronto. Any ideas?



  1. if DD eats a hot lunch at pre-school, she is probably ok for just scrambled egg on toast or a light snack for supper.

    Yummy Puddings are every mum’s BIG Bargaining Chip; use this to hammer out deals on tidying toys, cleaning teeth, whatever comes up…

  2. It’s probably one of those things the books warn you against, nay, forbid, however i find with my 3 year old the only way to get her to eat on those days when she just wont is to give it her in front of the telly. If she can sit and watch Mickey or whatever at the same time it doesn’t seem like such a chore to her and she’ll wolf it down without even noticing. Other times, when this doesnt work cause she’s too busy running aorund, i shovel spoon fulls in her mouth each time she runs past.

    I think some days she just finds sitting down in front of a full plate too much pressure.

  3. Like all of our children, she has worked out how to annoy you BIG TIME and will continue to do it while she gets a response. My little one does it too.

    I do not sanction my little one’s pudding on the day she plays up, but tell her that there will not be any in future if she does not eat her main meal. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s a daily battle that I think is destined to last for quite a while.

    Meanwhile, I am trying to stress the benefits of eating healthy food, i.e. that she will get bigger if she eats well, which is something that she is desperate to do!

    What I am really trying to say is that this seems to be a normal stage of development and one where our little ones are testing the boundaries. All we can do is roll with the punches and reach for a well-deserved glass of wine at the end of the night!

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