Why it Hurts so Much when Your Child Refuses to Eat

child refuses to eat{Guest post for Modern Mama} Why does it hurt so much when your child refuses to eat? Several reasons. You don’t have to be dietitian like me to be inundated with nutrition information. Every day we hear about how important it is to get enough of this vitamin and that mineral. We hear about the next super food. And, we hear about the latest food to avoid. When you become a parent this news comes at an even more rapid pace, because now you’re not just responsible for feeding yourself but you’re responsible for feeding your children too. But food is so much more than just fuel for our bodies.

Food is an expression of culture.

Each culture identifies themselves with what they do and don’t eat. Have you ever experienced culture shock when travelling? I bet you craved a food from home. Expats do too. For example, a (Canadian) friend of mine searched out and paid an exorbitant price for peanut butter when living overseas for 5 years – and she was living in Paris where there certainly isn’t a shortage of delicious food! Now that she’s back in Canada she spends her time searching for a decent croissant – go figure!

Food is also an expression of love.

I know that my Grannie’s applesauce was the best that I’ve ever tasted because hers had the extra ingredient of her love. I bet that you have similar memories. Each culture around the world shares food with family and friends. In fact, in most cultures it’s considered rude not to offer food and drink to a visitor to your home.

So it’s no wonder that it hurts so much when your child refuses to eat something that you’ve prepared. All of these layers of meaning come into play. You worry that they won’t get the nutrition that they need. You feel that they’ve rejected your love. And if it’s a cultural food, you feel that they’re rejecting not just you but your culture too.


When your child is a picky eater and he/she is constantly rejecting food these painful experiences can easily compound into guilt and shame. I’m a long-time fan of Brené Brown’s work. She describes so clearly how powerful shame can be. And how huge of a barrier it can be to creating positive change.

There are many reasons that contribute to a child not wanting to eat a particular food, and/or being a picky eater. Most of which have nothing related to rejection of you, your love, or your culture.

When your little refuses to eat a dish, acknowledge your feelings, recognize why it elicits such a strong reaction in you, and choose to take the high road and not engage in a battle. It’s not easy to do, but the right thing often isn’t the easy choice.


Click here to get tips on how to get your child to eat sent directly to your inbox.