Special Situations - lesson 3

The Child Who Refuses a Meal But Wants a Snack

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What if they refuse the meal and There is no meltdown? Ask yourself – Did you provide a safe food and did you limit pressure. If you did, they were likely not hungry. One of the most stressful moments is when a child refuses dinner. “How will they go so long without eating?”

I want to remind you that for many toddlers, they will eat a big breakfast, a smaller lunch, and their dinner size can vary depending on their growth needs. Or some variation of this. So refusing meals is not unheard of. 

If they get up or don’t want to eat much repeat the following scripts at home:

“Is your belly full? great job listening to your belly!”

“This is our dinner and the next meal will not be until breakfast. Are you sure your belly is full?”

“If you’d like you can take a break and try again later. I will leave it here for 10 minutes”

“It’s dinner time. Eat what you’d like. But stay with us until we all finish.”

“It’s dinner time. Eat what you’d like. If you’re done, bring your plate to the sink. You can play but we can’t play because we are eating.”

If you are truly concerned they didn’t eat “anything” all day and will wake up hungry in the middle of the night, you can offer a bedtime snack. I only encourage implementing bedtime snacks if we’re in a string of food refusals at bedtime and it’s causing night wakings.

A bedtime snack is a “boring snack” that is nutritious and is offered matter of fact. I don’t encourage power of choice with a bedtime snack. So you decide what it is and present it. This can be a glass of milk, orange slices, a cheese stick, peanut butter or almond butter with a banana, or a small portion of yogurt. Make sure to check out the Snack Guide and Bedtime Snack Ideas Handout in the course for more ideas. 

We want to avoid offering this bedtime snack immediately after a refused dinner (within an hour) because this reinforces that if they don’t eat, you will give them something else. They will begin holding out for the bedtime snack. So if they refuse a meal and say, “I want a snack” and it’s being used as a meal replacement, use the following scripts; 

“I see you want a snack, but the kitchen is closed. Would you like that snack in the morning after playtime?”

“Is your belly still hungry? Next time if we eat dinner,  your belly won’t feel as hungry!”

“I see you want a snack, but the kitchen is closed now.” What would you like for breakfast peanut butter toast or eggs.”