Dear Lola,

My 5-year-old son recently began throwing tantrums when it was time to eat meals. Not like screaming and crying, but loudly refusing to take his seat and then whining the entire time he is eating. My husband, son, and I eat breakfast and dinner together as a family, while lunch is eaten at school. I spoke to his teachers and they said he has no trouble sitting down for lunch each day. When I talked to him about it, my son said he hates eating breakfast and dinner but couldn’t – or wouldn’t – tell me why. He said he just wants to have snacks and not the whole meal. I pointed out that he seems to eat a lot more than a snack portion at breakfast and dinner and he said he wants big snacks but not a meal. I know he enjoys the food because it’s the same things I pack him for lunch and I pride myself on cooking good food from scratch. How can I get my son to come to the table without a fight?


Hungry For A Fight

Dear Hungry For A Fight,

In true Miniature Human fashion, there is a lot to unpack here and I’m almost positive not much of it is going to make a lot of sense. At least, not to an adult. You see, deep inside the unorganized mind of every Miniature Human, there is a tangled ball of yarn that is twisting and turning as fast as it can, in order to confuse any parent who may try to unravel the mysteries of the universe. We simply need to locate one end of the thread and tug on it as hard as we can. Thus, solving the riddle of mealtime tantrums and finally discovering the lost city of Atlantis.

You think I’m joking, but those Miniature Humans have knowledge well beyond their years.

I think we need to establish what we know for a fact in order to eliminate likely reasons for the tantrums. Fact one, your Miniature Human is indeed hungry. He eats a normal meal portion and even stated that he wants snacks, but they must be big snacks. Big snacks are meals, though it wouldn’t be wise to argue this point with a Miniature Human – they are renowned for their ability to be stubborn. Fact two, your Miniature Human enjoys the food you prepare for him. You mentioned lunches are similar to what you serve at dinner, leading me to assume you make enough to pack leftovers for the next day at school. Fact three, your Miniature Human has no trouble sitting down at school to eat his lunch.

Which leaves me in an extremely awkward predicament as I reach the end of the ball of yarn.

When I tugged on the thread, I found there is a clear difference between breakfast and dinner with his parents and lunchtime at school with his friends. Your Miniature Human’s mealtime companions are the only variable left to consider. Wait! Don’t panic! I predict your eyes are welling up with tears right now and I need you to take a deep breath or two so we can work through this. Just because this is the only thing that changes between meals does not mean your Miniature Human doesn’t enjoy your company.

It is likely your Miniature Human enjoys the company of his peers more.

Think about it. When sitting down to dinner with his parents, your Miniature Human is required to use appropriate cutlery. You have probably instituted rules about wiping his mouth when dirty and not speaking when his cheeks are full of food. None of these rules are required when eating amongst his fellow Miniature Humans. During lunch, your Miniature Human returns to jungle law where napkins are not invented and spitting food across the table is encouraged. They have contests on who can spit the furthest! You cannot possibly compete with that. Actually, I guess you could try, but your house will be covered in stains so it’s probably best to hold the current course of proper mealtime etiquette.

Polite society will thank you for it later. You may even win an award!

So, what exactly can you do to curb the mealtime tantrums at home? I would limit the amount of time your Miniature Human is required to be seated. School lunches are usually a hurried event in order to get to recess as quickly as possible. Set a reasonable time for the meal being served and allow your Miniature Human to leave even if you or your husband are still chatting over the table.

Be sure to include your Miniature Human in conversation that he is interested in.

To be clear, school and how he is doing in it should not be considered a source of extreme interest. Adults have a tendency to ask about school first and then proceed to get bogged down in the minutia until the Miniature Human runs screaming from the room. Touch base about how school is going but remember that brevity is key. You also need to engage with your Miniature Human about the topics of interest in his life. Current cartoons he is watching and which toys he favors above all others are huge highlights in any Miniature Human’s life. You can also ask about the hot topics flying across the lunchroom – you never know when you’ll hear a juicy tidbit about another parent straight from the mouth of babes.

You may spend an extraordinary amount of time discussing boogers, so come prepared.

If the tantrums continue, simply tell your Miniature Human that he only has to sit down for a large snack. Then proceed to serve him the dinner you have prepared.

I bet it takes him at least a week to realize he’s been bamboozled.


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