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What to do if Your Child Tantrums About Food | How to Deal With Mealtime Tantrums

Tantrums... my favorite part of parenting...not! A child having a tantrum makes for a stressful meal. But you, the parent or caregiver, can handle a tantrum. You can do it! Here are some ideas of how to deal with mealtime tantrums and what to do when your child tantrums about food.

child having a temper tantrum about dinner

Tips for How to Deal With Mealtime Tantrums

  • It's OK to be firm. You are the parent, and you (hopefully!) set your mealtime practices with your child's best interest in mind. Firm is not unkind. Keep a calm tone of voice, and state your expectation.

  • Give options. This can help when your child wants something you don't have or do not plan to serve at the time. If they want to have blueberries, and you have none, offer, "would you like strawberries or chocolate chips on your oatmeal." You get to choose the options, but your child can choose from the options.

  • Express empathy. How about, "I know you are angry because you want a cookie now. Right now the options are meatballs, spaghetti, or broccoli."

  • Give an option not to eat. Try, "You can either have yogurt and then go play, or you can skip the yogurt and go play now."

  • Remember your child will not starve. If they are refusing to eat what is offered, they might feel hungry later, but they will be OK! They will likely eat more the next meal or the next day.

  • Work on your own distress tolerance with tantrums. It is definitely stressful to hear your child screaming. Take a deep breath. You can handle it.

  • It is OK to leave the room if you need. You can say, "Cutie, you are really mad that I am not taking out fruit snacks. I need some quiet now, so I am going to my room for a few minutes. I will be back soon." Then leave the room until you feel ready.

  • Take your child out of the situation. Gently carry your child to another room. Let them know they can come back when they feel calmer.

  • Let your child know what the eating plan is going to be and then stick to it. This is often helpful for children with behavioral challenges with food. Tell them, "Today when you come home from school, there will be crackers and cheese for snack. After that we are going to do some errands. When we get home, we will have pizza and salad for dinner." Make sure you stick to what you told your child.

  • Make sure their preferred foods have a place! Maybe you always have ice cream on Friday nights, you child always gets to choose a snack for their lunch, or they know that when they go to grandma, there are always special treats.

  • Change the topic. Many preschoolers are easily distracted. Ask you child about his block tower or which book she wants at bedtime.

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