This article was originally published in 2010 and updated on April 12, 2020.
Have you ever told your child that the kitchen is closed?
If you haven’t, you’re missing out on a powerful boundary that can change unhealthy eating behaviors and naturally teach your child to regulate his appetite.
As a pediatric nutritionist, I frequently help parents and their children set boundaries around food and eating.
Setting boundaries is part of the path to becoming better at food parenting. Boundaries are part of using a diplomatic style of feeding.
I teach parents how to do this, but one thing they have questions about is how to set limits around food in a nice way.
I give parents easy phrases to use that help support healthy changes around feeding and eating.
This is one of them.
“The kitchen is closed.“
What Happens in Your Kitchen?
Let me ask you this: Is your kitchen always open, always a mess, always in production?
Is your child constantly roaming in and out, looking in the pantry or refrigerator for something to eat?
Grazing on snacks? Helping himself to food without asking?
You probably know this isn’t exactly a healthy habit.
If you’re like other parents in America, having a kitchen open all day long wouldn’t likely work for you.
It might even make you quite frustrated and worried about the eating habits your child is developing.
The Kitchen is Closed
While some parents might believe that closing the kitchen is a cruel act toward children, I find it to be a healthy way to set limits.
Let me be clear, though: Closing the kitchen does not involve remodeling your kitchen, or adding new doors to close it off.
I’m not being literal here. I’m speaking figuratively.
What I mean by the phrase, ‘the kitchen is closed’ is this: The kitchen is off limits right now.
When you close the kitchen, it:
- Allows time between meals and snacks so that children can build up an appetite for meals
- Encourages predictability around the timing of meals and snacks
- Supports the foundation of structure and rhythm for daily meals and snacks
- Diverts children to other activities that have nothing to do with food
If your kitchen is always open, then:
- Limits around food and eating are missing, and it will be hard to be your best at parenting your child and food
- Food is harder to monitor because you’ll be unable to accurately track your child’s food consumption
- Your child is more likely to graze, snack frequently, and overeat
Setting Food Boundaries Helps
“The kitchen is closed right now,” is a particularly useful phrase when you’ve done a good job at providing meals and snacks on a schedule throughout the day.
You want to make sure you have regular times when the kitchen is open. For example, “The kitchen is open for breakfast (or for snack, for lunch, etc).”
Then, when your child comes to you an hour after eating dinner, wanting something else to eat, you can say “the kitchen is closed right now,” and set a clear boundary.
If this is initially upsetting to your child, assure him that another meal or snack will be available soon.
Be explicit with the timing of the next meal or snack.
For example, “The kitchen is closed right now, but it will be open for afternoon snack at 3 o’clock.”
Being clear with the timing reassures your child that he will get food in the future, which builds trust and a sense of security.
Granted, your child may not be happy to hear he has to wait, but he will gradually adapt and respect your food boundaries, learning to eat when meals and snacks are served.