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Stefanie Tsabar

How to feel totally in control of dinner time meltdowns


Do you ever wish you knew the perfect thing to say when your child is refusing to eat dinner, complaining about the food or just won’t sit down?

Today, you’ll learn simple solutions to 9 of the most common issues that parents face at the dinner table.

Be forewarned, though. You’re kids might resist at first. They will be testing you.

However, keep your resolve, follow these simple solutions and very soon you’ll feel totally in control of dinner time.


Issue: Your child keeps getting up from the table during a meal and then wants to come back to eat more.

Solution: Say, “Honey, dinner is over when you get up from the table. I’ll be serving snack soon.” Or, “Breakfast will be served first thing in the morning.”

Young children should not be expected to sit at the table for more than 10-15 minutes. Allow them to get down once they are done eating, but the meal is over for them once they do get down.

If your child is very young, schedule a nightly bedtime snack to ensure that he or she doesn’t go to bed hungry. However, don’t offer a bedtime snack depending on how dinner went. Either schedule it nightly or not at all.


Issue: Your child constantly begs for a snack in between meals.

Solution: Schedule sit-down meals and snacks every 2-3 hours for toddlers and preschoolers and 3-4 hours for school-aged children. Also, make sure that you offer your kids enough food to fill up on.

If your child doesn’t eat enough and still feels hungry before the next meal/snack, say, “Dinner is coming up really soon. Right now, the kitchen is closed.”


Issue: Your child does not eat enough (or at all) during a birthday party or play date.

Solution: Offer an “appetizer” to hold your child over until the next scheduled meal or snack. Example: a granola bar, apple slices with peanut butter or a banana. Do NOT shame your kids for not eating at the party/play date.


Issue: Your child asks for sweets all day long.

Solution: Start serving a small, child-sized dessert WITH the meal and tell your child, “dessert will be served with dinner, and you can eat it whenever you’d like to during the meal”. For more on ending obsessions with sweets, click here.


Issue: Your child does not eat for almost the entire meal, and then starts to gobble down food as soon as dinner is ending.

Solution: Decide in advance how long you will allot for dinner (30 to 45 minutes is appropriate for older kids). You can set a timer or tell your child when dinner will be over. Do not nudge or force your child to eat. When the time is over, simply announce, “dinner is over” and then calmly clear the table.


Issue: Your child says, “Yuck!” or “I hate XYZ” at the table.

Solution: “You don’t have to eat anything you don’t want to eat, but in our family, we do not talk like that.”


Issue: Your child wants more of a particular dish, such as another hamburger/veggie burger.

Solution: Put enough familiar food on the table for your child to fill up on. That does not mean, however, that every dish has to be served in large quantities.

For example, preparing one burger for each family member is appropriate, and then serving perhaps sweet potato fries, corn, and salad on the side are good options to round out the meal.

Say, “you’ve had your serving of “X” and there is no more of that. If you are still hungry, feel free to choose from the other options on the table.”


Issue: Your child doesn’t want to come to the table because he/she is not hungry.

Solution: Say, “You don’t have to eat, but you are part of the family, so I need you to come sit with us for 5 minutes”.

After 5 minutes (set a timer!), allow your child to get down if she’s not eating. However, do not allow him/her to come back to the table to eat (see #1). 


Issue: Your child asks for something else to eat that is not on the table.

Solution: Always make sure that you serve at least one familiar dish (e.g., rice or plain pasta) that goes with the main entree that your child can fill up on in case he/she doesn’t like the new foods.

Studies show that children try new foods more readily when there are both familiar AND unfamiliar foods on the table.

Once you’ve served the meal in this way, however, do not cater to your child’s requests.

Simply say, “No, that’s not an option. We do not make separate meals for each person. You do not have to eat anything that you don’t want to, though.”

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