5 Phrases to Avoid When Your Child Doesn't Want to Eat

There are certain phrases that parents should avoid when their child doesn't want to eat. Using guilt or blackmail are frequent mistakes.
5 Phrases to Avoid When Your Child Doesn't Want to Eat

Last update: 26 August, 2022

In many households with young children, mealtime resembles a play: There are moments of sweetness, drama, anger, and frustration. However, many times, in a desperate attempt to put an end to this tense scene, adults appeal to guilt or blackmail, without realizing the mistake theyre making. Let’s see which phrases should be avoided when your child doesn’t want to eat.

What not to say when your child doesn’t want to eat

Some of the phrases we usually use when our child doesn’t want to eat are dangerous and counterproductive. Therefore, it’s best to analyze their background and eliminate them from our daily repertoire.

1. “There are so many children on the street who would like this plate of food” 

Although it’s true that many people experience hunger, it’s not a good idea to try to convince our child to eat through guilt. In fact, using these phrases can accentuate even more the behavior we want to extinguish and make them feel a link with food unpleasant and even guilty.

2. “If you don’t eat, you won’t grow up, you’ll stay…” 

This phrase isn’t a good idea either. On the one hand, it sounds like a punishment and this has a short-lived effect, as it may work on the first try, but it doesn’t work as a lasting lesson. At the same time, it also stigmatizes certain body types and physical characteristics, such as thinness or short stature.

We know that many times children are told “you’ll be short”, “you’ll be too skinny” or “you’ll be shapeless”, as if there’s something wrong with these characteristics. It’s important to validate body diversity and explain to children the real reasons why it’s important to maintain a healthy and varied diet.

A teenage girl refusing to eat the meal her father prepared.
Manipulating to get our children to eat gives a counterproductive message. For example, that love justifies everything, even doing things we don’t want to do.

3. “If you don’t eat what I’ve prepared for you, it’s probably because you don’t love me”

This is a form of manipulation, whichever way you look at it. It puts the child in a position where, in order to prove their love, they have to do something out of obligation and against their wishes. Although it may not seem like it, the subliminal and very dangerous message is that love justifies everything, even doing something we’re not comfortable with.

As adults, it’s important that we don’t get caught up in these games and are able to not personalize this situation.

4. “If you eat, I’ll give you…”

This could also be considered a kind of blackmail. When we do this, we run the risk of kids associating food with a reward and only attaching importance to it because of the prize they get in return.

Instead, what children need to know is why it’s important for them to eat well and to do so whether or not there’s ice cream for dessert or a few extra minutes to watch TV. Otherwise, the day we don’t have a reward, they’ll refuse to eat, and we adults will be stuck in a dead end.

5. “You don’t like this? Tell me what you want and I’ll cook it for you.”

This is a tricky phrase and a double-edged sword. It’s true that there are occasions when the whole family doesn’t agree on the menu and different dishes may be prepared. However, this situation should be avoided as much as possible.

It’s important not to resort only to the typical dishes that kids like (such as pasta) and make the effort to encourage them to try a wide variety of foods. It’s important to differentiate between rejection and likes, as there are ages when children resort to “no” as a way to get what they like best.

What you can do to get your child to eat

Parents cooking together with their children.
Inviting your children to cook with you will allow them to share an entertaining moment with you and will motivate them to taste their own dishes.

Here are some recommendations for your child to enjoy food:

  • Seek to offer alternatives: There may be some foods that your child doesn’t want to eat, but instead of forcing them to eat, it’s best to look for other options that offer similar nutrients.
  • Make them part of the menu planning: Some days of the week, you can ask them what they’d like to eat and grant their wishes.
  • Try to make mealtime enjoyable: I.e., if your child doesn’t like it, shift the focus away from the food. The food itself has to take a back seat. Rather, meal time can be an excuse to take a break from the day, to share, and to talk about daily activities.
  • Try cooking together: To make mealtimes more enjoyable, you can invite your child to cook with you.
  • Try to introduce foods slowly: Start with foods they like and gradually offer them other flavors.
  • Let them explore the food with all their senses: Ask them questions about its texture, aroma, and colors. This is also a way of relating to food.
  • Offer a plate with a measured amount of food: If there are difficulties when eating, it’s better for the child to ask for a repeat portion, rather than offering a very large plate. This can be overwhelming to look at and lead to rejection.
  • Talk to your child, ask them why they don’t want to eat, and what they think about food: If you encourage dialogue, you may be able to understand or discover some of their ideas about food. For example, maybe they saw something on TV that triggered a negative emotion about a certain food and that’s why they don’t want to eat it.

You may be interested in: What are Positive Parenting Skills?

You should ask and wonder what’s going on

Faced with children’s lack of interest or rejection of food, it’s logical for adults to worry. However, it’s important for us to think about how we ourselves arrived at that moment. For example, if we cooked with reluctance, if we complained while doing it, or if we were so tired that we just wanted the children to eat quickly to go to sleep that day.

It’s important to know that the emotional climate around food can also work as a conditioning factor, both for and against.

Finally, you shouldn’t force your child, as this can further complicate the situation and increase the discomfort. It’s also wise to consult with professionals, as in some cases, the situation is less serious than it seems. This could help us to relativize the situation and understand how to act according to the child’s age.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Martín, S. C. (2020). Trastornos de la conducta alimentaria en el niño pequeño. PediatríaIntegral, 108.
  • Villares, J. M., & Segovia, M. G. (2015). Alimentación del niño preescolar, escolar y del adolescente. Pediatr Integral19(4), 268-276.
  • López, C., Mario, J., & Ayllón Valdés, L. (2002). Anorexia en la infancia. Revista Cubana de Pediatría74(3), 213-221.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.