How We Won the Mealtime Battle with Our Kid

One mother’s journey in regaining peace at the dining table

By Sue-Ann Lee | 14 November, 2017

As a little girl, I used to dread mealtimes. I hated eating — I remember my 8-year-old self thinking that meals were a complete waste of my time — time that would have been better spent playing! My mother was and still is an excellent cook, but quality of food had nothing to do with my distaste for eating. Needless to say, I didn’t learn to appreciate good food until I was much older.

I remember my parents trying all ways and means to goad me into eating better, from issuing threats to offering treats. Now my turn has come and my daughter has the same aversion to food, and I fully understand how frustrated my parents must have felt!

My daughter’s ‘rocky’ relationship with food began almost at birth. As a newborn, I remember her at feeding times, screaming until her face turned purple. She had to have her milk fed her way, or she would not want to drink at all, no matter how hungry she was. When she turned 1, she stopped eating fruit altogether. I tried hiding fruits in ice-cream, blending them in smoothies and making fruit popsicles but she would pick out even the subtlest hint of fruit and reject it immediately. As she grew older, she would take hours to finish her meals. It was a stark reminder of my own childhood struggle at mealtimes; getting my daughter to eat felt like torture for both of us.

It didn’t help that we faced pressure from concerned family members who highlighted the amount our daughter was eating compared to her brothers, who love to eat. Grandparents, grandaunts and uncles were constantly commenting that my petite child was all ‘skin and bones’. We were at our wits’ end, thinking of ways to get her to eat.

I remember chancing upon a book ‘The New Dare to Discipline’ by Dr. James Dobson, describing the dinner table as ‘one potential battlefield where a parent can easily get ambushed’ because ‘the advantages at the table are all in the child’s favour’.

That really spoke to me. At around the same time, a mentor who knew about our mealtime struggles reminded me to take a good look at my daughter and see that she was thriving.

Dr. James Dobson described the dinner table as “one potential battlefield where a parent can easily get ambushed”.

That was a turning point for me in our feeding battle and I began to take note that my daughter didn’t look nor behave like a malnourished child. Instead, she was bright, alert and full of energy. We decided then that we needed to adjust our ideals and trust that Dr. Dobson was right when he wrote, ‘Children will eat as much as they need…’.

We decided then that we needed to adjust our ideals and trust that Dr. Dobson was right when he said, “Children will eat as much as they need…”.

We knew that our daughter enjoys dry, plain food; things like plain bread, plain pasta, plain cereal, nuts and hard cheeses really appeal to her. As such, every couple of days, she gets to enjoy plain cereal and a glass of milk for breakfast and a sandwich or pizza at lunch.

We also made it non-negotiable for the whole family to have dinner together, and if our daughter can’t finish her meal in an hour, we’d just clear her plate and move on. This has significantly cut down on mealtime drama and everyone is calmer and happier as a result.

Now that our daughter is older, her eating habits have improved greatly. She still eats comparatively less than many of her peers but I can see that giving her the choice to consume food that she enjoys has helped her find some joy in eating and has finally brought our family to a place where we can enjoy each other’s company at the dining table.


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