Taking your questions: Advice from Mrs Q and you

One of the great things about a blog is that it’s an exchange of information. Even though I don’t respond to comments because I’m time-strapped, I read them all and they have been invaluable to me. Admittedly, I like giving advice — that’s probably because I’m a “first born” in my family (Side note: I totally buy into the theory that birth order determines personality characteristics). But I also like getting advice — I need help a lot of the time, especially when parenting.

To encourage even more of a give-and-take on the blog, I’m going to start up a feature where I take questions on school food, food and kids in general, mealtime help, basic cooking questions, blogging questions, food politics thoughts, etc. I’m going to do my best to answer the question(s) and then I’ll leave the rest to you. Commenters can support or criticize my response or add their own perspective and opinion.

Feel free to comment on this post with a question for next week’s post or email me directly at fedupwithlunchATgmailDOTcom. If I don’t get any questions, then I’ll ask my own. So today I’m going to ask MY own questions. I have two questions related to food and kids:

Q1: My son has stopped eating as much dinner as he usually liked to eat. He’ll eat maybe a third of his plate and he’ll ask to leave the table. We don’t force him to stay. I don’t care if he doesn’t finish his dinner — that’s not the issue. What he’s doing is that just before bed he claims that he is hungry. Of course he is! We explain to him that he needs to eat more dinner at dinner time, but we know that he is legitimately hungry. So we have let him eat a little food right before bed and more recently we have saved his dinner and he has eaten some or all of what’s left. The amount of food that he eats varies from a little to a lot. Is this about control? Do we have to be more firm and let him not eat before bed? We’ve had two nights in a row where he ate better dinners and didn’t request a bedtime snack, but I’m not going to assume anything. What would you do?


Q2: Charlie helps me cook in the kitchen. At our old house we just pulled a dining room chair into the kitchen for him to stand on and participate. That worked pretty well. At our new house we have a step stool on loan from my mom and he’s bee using that. It’s sturdy, but smallish so the stool is not a long-term solution. What do your kids stand on when they help out in the kitchen?

 Thanks for your input!

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20 thoughts on “Taking your questions: Advice from Mrs Q and you

  1. My son isn’t quite 2. When he doesn’t eat all of his dinner (which he is normally pretty good at) I don’t give him crackers that he usually asks for. I distract him with what toy we are going to play with or whatever else I can think of. He hasn’t yet asked for something else before bed, but then again bed is about 90 minutes after dinner. Kids are pretty good at regulating what they eat, even at Charlie’s age. So it’s good you aren’t forcing him, and I don’t think there is necessarily anything wrong with letting him finish his dinner later on. At least you aren’t giving him snacky type foods that he might like better, so he isn’t “getting his way” by not eating dinner but getting dessert/snack anyway. I hate how we always have to question ourselves on our children! You’d think we’d know waht is best but there is always that doubt.

    I’m eager to see what people recommend as a “stool” – I like the looks of those Learning Towers, but not the price tag. I have seen a tutorial for making your own that I might have someone make for us.

  2. Q1- once my kids reached about 3 years old, the rule is that if they dont eat dinner at dinner time(not clean the plate, but all the.main and veggies(I give small portions), they get no snacks. They might go to bed hungry one.night,but they learn to eat when its time to eat.
    Q2-my kids use a chair or a kid stepstool, but they are all tall. My 3 year old is about about 3.5 feet tall.

  3. Charlie is still pretty young. I would be it is not a meal control/manipulation tactic but just that he is not hungry enough for it all at that time. If he was refusing the entire meal and then trying to get a snack shortly there after different story. It sounds pretty legit especially if he will finish his meal. Pick your battles.

  4. I honestly think that children’s appetites change as they grow. Children are better judges of when they have had enough then we are sometimes. As long as you are not offering him something different at bedtime, he isn’t getting away with anything. My kids had choices growing up for breakfast and lunch, but dinner was dinner. They learned to eat enough at dinner to satisfy their hunger because they weren’t getting something different. Kids need to learn that Mom is not a short order cook. Growing up I ate what was put in front of me and that was it. I didn’t have a choice to have something else. Too many Mom’s I know make 3 and 4 different things for dinner and I think that is crazy personally.

    If Charlie is offered his leftover dinner warmed up – then just because he isn’t as hungry at dinner then you are not catering to his whims. Perhaps you may want to move dinner back 15 minutes and see if that does anything for his appetite. I offer you congratulations for not giving him something different later when he is hungry.

  5. We’ve tried to show our kids, from the time that they were very little, that spending time at the table together is about more than the food on your plate. That means that even if you’re finished, you stay at the table and share stories about your day or learn a new joke. That way, when they are teens and they would rather go text someone, they still know that it’s not about when you finish what’s on your plate. It helps if you give preschoolers something that they like that takes a long time to eat.

    If you eat dinner early, then Charlie may be legitimately hungry before bed. Having a healthy snack of your choosing won’t hurt.

  6. When the kids help me with food prep (2 1/2 and 4 1/2) they usually sit on the counter in a safe spot. If there’s no room on the counter I’ll move the ingredients to our dining room table so they can sit in their chairs.
    As for being hungry after an unfinished dinner…I’ll offer their dinner later. If they refuse their dinner and are still legitimately hungry I offer fruit or PB&J. They both understand that they cannot have a “real” snack if their dinner is mostly unfinished or if they are unwilling to try any new food I’ve offered. I know on occasion they’ve gone to bed hungry, but it’s not for lack of several food choices. When this happens they usually end up finishing their breakfast and wanting more! I believe kids eat what they need, it’s just up to us as parents to offer a variety of good choices for them to choose from.

  7. You have to check out the learning tower. It’s incredible and there is nothing like it for safety and accessibility! Other stools can be so tippy and dangerous. My kids use this constantly and I don’t have to give it a second thought. I have a 5yo and a 4yo and they both can safely stand on it together. Amazing. They cook and bake with me often, and also use it to do projects or have snacks at the counter/island. Our lifestyle would be so different without it – this makes them such a part of the kitchen!


  8. I agree about not liking the price of the learning tower, but it is SUCH a good investment since we have used it multiple times a day for over 3 years now. We also have the easel attachment.

  9. It’s good to find I’m not unusual in keeping my younger daughter’s dinner on the table and re-offering it to her an hour later. If she eats dinner and then wants a snack an hour later she gets offered dinner leftovers (if we have them), since usually at that point she’s just angling for fruit or yogurt. I wouldn’t worry about why Charlie isn’t eating all of his dinner ( do you have snacks before dinner? When we cut those out that really helped our kids eat dinner, but sometimes We just can’t get dinner on the table fast enough for hungry kids); oh hey, someone is whining for food right now as it happens. Got to go!

  10. Regarding Q1, I offer a glass of water before bed. When it was more of an issue (it hasn’t been in a while), I would gently comment that I was still full from eating dinner. Perhaps I should mention that dinner time ends about an hour to an hour and a half before bedtime…

    Also, I second K’s point about staying at the table even if you’re done eating. It’s family time, and dinner time happens to fall within that time. My kids are 5.5 & 2.5, and the conversations we have are quite entertaining! Or maybe I need more adult conversation…

    For Q2, if I have my kids prepping veggies, I set them up at either the dinner table or at their kid-sized tables. If I have them operating something (like the food processor) or helping me cook, I set up a chair at the counter.

  11. Q1: I have been down this road. I want my son to eat dinner but I refuse to force him. I’m even against the “take 2 more bites” tatic. If your full, your full. He knows not to leave the table and then ask for a cookie. BUT I also hate to send him to bed hungry. I find that offering his dessert/snack closer to bed time, he’s satisfied for bed. Of course snack is an apple, orange or sometimes half a pb sandwich. Maybe that would help as it has in my house.
    Q2: The same son in Q1 also wants to become a chef. He loves to help. He uses my 3 step stool that I use to reach items on top shelf. Each step is rubber coated so he will not slip.
    On a different note congrats on the baby. My son mentioned is my step son but I just had my first baby on July 5th after 2 years on trying. I’m so happy for you. Q for you. I’m going to make my own all natural and organic baby food. I’m getting great ideas from farmers market and I’m very excited. Healthy and hopefully we save some $$. Have you thought about doing this or did you with your son?

  12. Re: Q1, I have always said that mealtime is at the table and once the kids are done and get down, the kitchen is closed. I will not offer food later. They learned to eat because that is it, there won’t be any food later. On rare occasions I will bend a little, it depends on the reason. If they don’t like what I’ve made f

  13. Re: Q1, I have always said that mealtime is at the table and once the kids are done and get down, the kitchen is closed. I will not offer food later. They learned to eat because that is it, there won’t be any food later. On rare occasions I will bend a little, it depends on the reason. If they don’t like what I’ve made for dinner then they can eat the fruit that is offered.

    My husband is a chef and is never home for dinner. I make dinner 7 nights a week for my 4 yr old, my 2 yr old and myself (I also have a 5 week old baby). I don’t have the time or desire to cater to anyone’s whims or whines. You get what you get and you don’t get upset. That may sound too tough but it works for us.

    My parents recently bought a step stool for us that is 2 steps with handles and it works great. I will look for the link and come back if I can find it.

  14. Q1- When my (now 6 year old almost 7 year old) daughter eats only a few bites of dinner and says she’s done, we generally save her dinner for her. And more often than not, before bed she tells us she’s hungry and wants a snack. We then offer the rest of her dinner. If she doesn’t want it, she can go to bed. If there’s just one particular item on the plate that she really really dislikes, and has eaten at least a few bites, we’ll give her a pass. (but only because she doesn’t do that very often, and we all have a food or two that turns on the gag reflex.) No snacks or snack food when you haven’t eaten a decent amount of your dinner… but we will save dinner for you most nights.

    Q2- the layout of our kitchen does not lend itself well to any sort of stool for a kid to stand on to help cook. When they do, we just pull a chair in from the dining room for her to sand on. We’ve had step-stools that live in the bathroom when they were smaller that we’d occasionally use too. I like the chair better because I’m less likely to trip over it when the step-stool because I see it when my daughters abandon them mid-cooking project.

  15. Sounds like you’re doing all the right things in terms of him wanting to leave the table, at least to me. As annoying as it is, you shouldn’t force them to eat when they say they aren’t hungry. And he may very well be legitimately hungry before bed. In a sense, it sounds like he is listening to his internal hunger cues. By reheating his dinner for him, then you also aren’t caving and letting him get away with having something “snacky” instead of his meal. I interviewed Ellyn Satter not long ago and she talked about providing a bedtime snack–something “filling but not thrilling” like cereal or plain yogurt. Just another thought! Imagine you’re familiar with her website, but if not: http://www.ellynsatter.com. Lots of great info on there!

  16. I’m in the same boat as Q1. My daughter is 3 and is going thru a major not wanting to eat dinner phase. Last night we had homemade pizza, which is normally “safe”, but she didn’t touch a thing even though I had left her plate available the rest of the night. It wasn’t until I took the plate away at bedtime that she even acted like she wanted some saying “no, eat”. I stuck to my guns and made her go to bed, but then I felt horrible about it and slept horribly last night. I am so ready for this phase to be over with!

  17. Q1: If my daughter doesn’t eat a decent portion of her dinner and then is hungry before bed, I usually just recommend that she eat more next time, or comment that she will be ready for a big breakfast in the morning. I have also gotten really firm about snacking after 4 pm, because even small healthy snacks destroy her appetite before dinner and make her way less likely to eat veggies. However, if there have been unusual circumstances (i.e. lunch was pushed really late by an event, we’ve been traveling, visitors have disrupted our usual eating schedule, a birthday party filled her up on sweets in the afternoon, etc.) I might make an exception and offer her either the dinner leftovers if they are available or something easy and healthy (hard boiled egg and carrot sticks or something like that).

    Q2: We use a heavy wooden stepstool from Ikea (it’s called Bekvam). When she was little she stood on top and now (age 6) she stands on the lower step.

  18. I’m happy to see a forum for questions, because I have one, er… some, and I’ve actually asked them before:

    I love your lunch kits, can you provide a source for them? Are they bento boxes? How do the foods stay safely (and appetizingly) hot or cold in those containers? And do you add lemon juice or something to the apple slices to keep them from turning brown? I have a hard time figuring out how and what to pack for my kids’ lunches because I’m afraid by the time they open them, they will be yucky or maybe even unsafe to eat.

    I’m especially concerned about food being safe and appetizing by the time he gets to eat it. I would love it if you could dish on the how to.


  19. I have 2 boys, ages 3 & 5. If they don’t finish their dinner, and are hungry at bedtime, I offer the rest of their dinner. If they have finished their dinner, they can have a small snack at bedtime, fruit, yogurt, crackers, etc.

    We have a wooden stool that they both use to help. If they are both helping at the same time, one uses a dining room chair.

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