Skip to Content

What to do When Your Kids Hate Dinner

Sharing is caring!

Let’s be honest, it sucks when your kid, or anyone, doesn’t like what you made. It can really sting. So we wanted to share what to do when when your kids hate dinner, so that you can still have a nice meal and not take it personally.

Picky Eater

I was recently talking to a new Scramble member who mentioned that one of the unexpected positive outcomes of joining our meal planning service was that she no longer felt stressed about whether or not her kids were going to like the food she served for dinner. When I probed a little more, it became clear that this wasn’t because they suddenly loved everything, but because by having a plan and cooking from that plan, it felt less like a rejection of her; it was less personal.

This got me to thinking about how it can feel very personal when a kid, or anyone, doesn’t like or appreciate the food you prepared. It can really sting. So I wanted to share some of the ways I have found to shift this dynamic both for myself and my whole family.

What to do When Your Kids Hate Dinner

picky-eater: what to do when your kids hate dinner

Rudeness is not acceptable

When my youngest was about four, I instituted a new dinnertime rule: it was fine to not like the food, everyone has their own tastes, but it was not fine to be rude about it.

As a family, we talked about how there are certain terms or phrases that are unacceptable because they are rude and hurtful. These include: yuck, gross, ewww, disgusting, never, etc. But we also agreed that everyone was entitled to his/her own opinion, as long as it was expressed politely. Some examples of ways to express that were: “this isn’t my favorite” and “no thank you.”

What this did for our family was allow space for my kids to express their preferences without being hurtful. This meant that my kids knew they had a right not to like something and I knew that I wasn’t going to feel attacked or rejected.

My formerly picky eater also pointed out that this helped him to relax around food and mealtimes because he realized it was OK to not like something.

Feedback is always welcome

When my kids don’t like a meal I prepare I now ask them what could be done differently to make it better. This has been helpful because it has taught me (and them) a lot more about their preferences, which is helpful for planning and preparing other meals.

Another added (secret) perk: they often end up eating more of the food they supposedly don’t like in order to give me the feedback.

picky eater hiding face from food

Change the focus

Instead of focusing dinnertime on eating, we now use it as family time. This helps to take the pressure off the food for me and for my kids. I no longer feel like I have to produce a masterpiece every night and they don’t feel like they have to love it.

Don’t make another meal

This is a hard one for many parents. It’s a hard one for me, too. But if every time our kids don’t like something we hop up to make them something else they are:

  1. never going to stretch themselves to give things another try
  2. learn that if they hold out (or whine or complain) long enough they will get what they want

If just saying, “sorry you aren’t a big fan, but dinner is dinner” is too hard for you, then first try to help them to find a component of dinner that they are willing to eat. Maybe it is just a side dish like a grain or vegetable you served with dinner, maybe it is pulling out parts of the main dish they prefer (just the chicken, for example). The point here is to encourage them to work with that’s in front of them.

If that doesn’t work, then a no-cook option like an apple, banana, or yogurt is OK (bonus points if you ask that they get that back-up food for themselves).

Healthy Snacks

Change the dynamic

If a family meal is starting to feel tense or stressful because of the food, take a breath and try to change the dynamic. This can be done by playing music, changing the subject, asking a fun question, or suggesting a game (Note: we share fun conversation starters and games in our newsletter each week! If you aren’t on our newsletter list, enter your name and email in the newsletter sign up box in this post or in the footer at the bottom of the page). And make sure to check out our post on fun games to play at the dinner table).

Remind yourself that it isn’t personal

It can be hard to remember this, but the vast majority of the time our kids aren’t trying to hurt our feelings or be rude, they’re just struggling to make sense of something that’s challenging for them. So, do your best to let go of any hurt feelings, remain calm, and follow the ideas listed above to change the dynamic as much as possible.

Finally, if you think you and your family could benefit from relieving the stress associated with dinnertime decision-making, give The Scramble’s weekly meal planning service a try with our free trial.

Do you have ways to shift the dynamic when your kid doesn’t love the dinner you made? I’d love to hear your ideas on what to do when your kids hate dinner in the comments!

How to Handle Treats During the Holidays

Thursday 6th of August 2020

[…] What to do when your kid hates dinner […]


Saturday 2nd of February 2019

Hi! One idea that helped me in the early days of "Scrambling" was this one: You decide the What and When of meals, the child decides the If and And How Much. And that's the end of the story! When my kids didn't like dinner, I told them that was OK; they could eat a good breakfast. ;)


Monday 4th of February 2019

Yes! I love the "Division of Responsibility" approach! It made such a difference in my family as well. This concept is part of what is covered in our Simplify with The Scramble video series.

    Your Cart
    Your cart is emptyReturn to Shop