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How to Say No to Food Requests (Nicely) When Kids Ask…

Learn how to say no to food when your child asks for more food after they just ate. Firm boundaries for food access can help your child regulate their eating better.

Does your child ask for extra snacks?

Oftentimes kids beg for snacks right after they’ve eaten. When this happens, you may wonder, “Are they really hungry?” 

Many parents I speak with tell me their child isn’t really hungry, but they don’t want to be mean and say “no,” nor do they want to give their child extra snacks when they don’t need them. 

Managing this scenario can be tricky.

As a pediatric dietitian and mom myself, I know that children can wear down their parents. But when it comes to extra food, parents need to have a game plan. In this article, I will teach you how to say no nicely, and outline the most common food requests from kids and how you can respond.

how to say no to food when your child asks for extra snacks

Kids Ask for More Food When They’re Not Hungry

Sure, kids get hungry and when they do, it’s okay to offer more food. But many kids ask for snacks shortly after a meal and they’ve had enough food. In other words, they want to eat when they’re not hungry.

This is a recipe for overeating. Parents can help their children maintain their sensitivity to their appetite and stay on an eating schedule by saying “no.” 

Saying “no” is setting a boundary and a powerful strategy for your feeding toolbox.

Alternatively, when you say “yes” to extra snacks, it may quell the begging and nagging from your child. It may also make your child happy – and it may make you happy to see your child happy. 

A positive response from your child, like “You’re the best Mom!” can make you feel good about yourself as a parent. 

Of course, saying “yes” to food can lead to fewer conflicts and power struggles with your child. You may also feel reassured that you’ve covered any hunger your child might be experiencing.

Saying “yes” can bring all kinds of positive feelings.

Is Saying “Yes” to Extra Food a Good Thing?

A frequent “yes” to your child’s food requests may be aligned with an indulgent feeding style, which may play out like this:

  • Your child asks for an extra snack, and you say yes.
  • Your child wants another dessert, and you say yes to avoid a meltdown.
  • Your child doesn’t like dinner, so you make an alternative meal for her—best thing to do if you want to preserve some peace at the table, right?

The biggest problem I see with saying yes to your child’s extra food requests is that it may interfere with their ability to recognize appetite cues like hunger and fullness. As a result, poor eating habits and overeating may occur and this can get in the way of your health goals.

Also, all these “yeses” –or accommodations for your child– can be frustrating for you, diverting your attention from other important things and placing you at the beck and call of your child.

So, instead of saying “yes” when you really want to say “no,” or when you know you should say “no,” remember that “no” is a boundary that can help you feed your child well. 

How to Say No to Food

Inevitably, you will be faced with different scenarios where your child may be asking for more food and you may want or need to say “no.” What are the polite ways to do this? Here are some common scenarios and suggestions about how to say no in a nice way:

Your child asks for more food soon after eating

You can say:

“The kitchen is closed right now, so I can’t get you another snack. But, the good news is that it will be open at 3 pm for snack time — and that’s in just a little bit.”

Your child asks you to bake, cook, or start another food activity in the kitchen when time is tight

You can say:

“I would love to help you out sweetie, but I am in the middle of something else right now and I really want to finish it. Can you wait a bit?”

Your child asks for unplanned sweets or “junk food

You can say:

“Today is not a day for sweets…but this weekend is! We can have dessert then. I, for one, can’t wait!”

“That’s not on the menu for today. Let’s look for a time when we can include them.”

Your child doesn’t like the food choices (or wants unhealthy food instead)

You can say:

“I know you aren’t fond of this meal. But I included two foods I know you will eat. Why don’t you write down a list of your three favorite meals and I will try to work those in over the next week or two?”

Your child complains about the food options (they don’t meet their food preferences)

You can say:

“Boy, hearing you complain about this meal is really hard for me to hear. I work hard to make nutritious food available for our meals. Let’s stop complaining and be more proactive. Would you write down some foods you want me to purchase at the grocery store, please? That would help me know what to buy next time at the store.”

Your child is melting down because you said “no” to extra food

You can say:

“Oh honey, I can see that you aren’t happy.“ {Smile, give a little hug, and move on.}

Your child refuses to eat what you made for dinner

You can say:

“This is the menu for tonight. I’m sorry you don’t like it, but I’m sure you can find something on the table to eat.”

When do you need to say “no?” And, how do you say “no” to food nicely?

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