Or does your kid eat but not WHEN you want? By the time you sit down is your kid out of their chair, running around? Do you give them snacks long after the meal is done since you're worried they didn't eat enough?
Sometimes we just want to pull our hair out because our kids are driving us crazy not eating WHAT we want them to eat or not eating WHEN we want them to. Ugh! Sooo infuriating!
The list of battles we can have with our kids over food is endless!
Here are some really practical tips on how to "win" your food battles.
"WHAT" THEY EAT BATTLE
#1 - Offer Healthy Choices: Your game plan here is to provide lots of healthy choices and let them choose. If they are hungry, they will eat. They might skip a dinner or two or not eat veggies much for a year or so but, eventually, if you are patient and don't battle them on it, their bodies will want food. You just offer good stuff!
Should you cook separate meals for them? The answer is "no" with the exception that you should offer at least one item that you feel pretty confident that your kids will eat. In my house, I knew one would eat green beans and the other broccoli so I tried to offer those pretty frequently along with a protein plus a starch they liked - potatoes, rice or bread. When we moved up the tastebuds to include Caesar Salad as they got older, it became a staple. The food choices were more bland than I preferred but it was food I liked enough and knew they would eat.
"WHEN" THEY EAT BATTLE
#2 - Set Loving Limits for When Food is Offered: You need a different tactic than you use with the "WHAT" battle. You need to set Loving Limits on when food is served and what happens when one leaves the dinner table. The Loving Limit would be along the lines of: "I serve dinner for 30 minutes." (or 5 or 15... whatever your family needs!) At the end of the allotted time, the dinner goes away. There were only healthy choices offered and your kids were welcome to eat what they wanted to during "dinnertime" but not forever. We don't open up the kitchen later to kids who are hungry because they didn't eat their meal. Tough? Yep. Does it work? Yep!
Another Loving Limit might be: "We allow children sitting at the table to enjoy their food. Once you get up, it means you're done and your food goes away." This is really useful for parents of wiggly little ones who are learning what it means to sit. If we let them get up and run around and come back to the table when they want, they will learn there is no limit. It will take a meal or two for them to figure out their running around is making them hungry but it's worth the peace at the table for them to learn this in such a loving way. No lectures, just action and love.
But, you say, my kids whine when they are hungry and I feel terrible putting them to bed on a empty stomach! If you really, really can't completely close the kitchen (which is the preferred method) then find something really bland and boring that you know your kids will eat but not crave. My typical recommendation is using carrots or celery as a choice for kids who are hungry when the kitchen is closed. I used to offer my son Go-Gurt squeezable yogurt when he was young. I think that was a bit too nice and sweet but I didn't know L&L so you'll have to forgive me. :) In my defense, it never varied and I didn't have to cook another thing, plus it was quick.
DESSERT comments: Hmm... this is always a tricky one since many of us were raised with: "You won't get any dessert if you don't finish your dinner." I would try not to use threats but would turn it into a Loving Limit more positively by saying: "We allow children who've finished their dinner to enjoy dessert." You don't battle or bribe, just state the limit in a loving way, no pestering, no waiting for them to finish, simply move on to dessert and offer Empathy to those who chose to not finish their dinner. It would sound like: "This is so sad. I know how much you enjoy carrot cake. I'm sure tomorrow you'll do a better job with your dinner." Then you end the conversation. Yep, END it! No more talking. Feel free to comfort them as they cry and fuss but use Brain Dead and restate your Loving Limit again and again in an empathetic way.