Why Won’t My Kids Eat Their Goddamn Dinner?: An Exhausted Mom’s Manifesto

That’s it. I’ve had it.

I’m clocking out for the month.

Tell me why my children won’t eat their goddamn dinner?

Why?

It’s not that they won’t eat. They just won’t eat what I cooked. And I can’t help feeling like I created this problem.

I let my kids pick what they eat for breakfast and dinner. We’re a busy family, usually grabbing our morning and afternoon meals individually when our schedules allow. So, since I’m not planning a unified meal, I’m fine with made-to-order meal requests from my kids. But at dinner, we all eat together. I don’t take requests because I know we’ll never all agree on the same meal on the same night. So, at the beginning of the week, I ask for input on what I should make for dinners, and if I get any requests, I put those meals into the lineup for that week. In general, though, I have a list of kid-approved meals I know we will all eat and enjoy, and I mainly recycle that list every week. I expect that everyone will eat what I prepare because it’s not like I’m throwing Hail Mary’s at them. They know what’s coming.

So why is it that all of a sudden, my kids reject everything I make at dinner time? When I set their plates down in front of them, they turn their noses up and push the plates away. “No, thanks,” they say. “I don’t like that.” Or, they take two pitiful bites and declare themselves full, only to ask me for an entirely different meal less than twenty minutes later.

They’re good kids. Obedient kids. Kind kids. I know this isn’t some weird form of rebellion. The only thing that makes sense, then, is that there is some emotional need they’re trying to get fulfilled.

Are they feeling insecure about something and wanting me to “prove” how much I love them by being willing to accommodate them? Do they feel like they’re getting something special and secret if I toss out the meal I made and make them something else?


Or, am I entirely wrong and this is just some strange power struggle we’re in?

What do other parents do in this situation?

On one hand, I think I should probably stand my ground. I shouldn’t capitulate to this behavior because it breeds entitlement and a difficult disposition.

On the other hand, if there is an emotional need underneath this behavior, refusing to meet them where they are could damage their self-esteem.

I’ve tried talking about it with them, but they’re six and eight. They don’t have emotionally resonant explanations for their behavior. I mainly get, “I don’t know, I just don’t want to eat that.” I’ve plumbed the depths of their little hearts on this one and can’t get anywhere.

But this is, I suppose, one of the universal and oft-unspoken struggles of parenthood. Even with the best intentions at heart, we find ourselves at a loss. We don’t have all the answers—we’re missing pieces to the puzzle and can’t make it all fit. So we do our best, always wondering if we’re actually just fucking it all up.

In truth, I’ve already accepted that one day I’ll be the topic of my kids’ therapy sessions. Not because I was a negligent, uninvolved, horrible parent, but because I’m human. Because I’m a human who also happens to be the most important person in the world to them. And by that very fact, I will let them down. It is impossible to live up to their love, or even to deserve it.

We’re all trying our best. And when possible, we handle it with a teaspoon of humor.

I do wish they’d eat their goddamn dinner.

But more than that, I wish I had the answers so that dinner was never a problem.


Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.

Check out her blog called Compassionate Feminism on Psychology Today to join a feminist conversation centered in openness, empathy, and equity.

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