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How to Say No {Nicely} to Your Child’s Food Requests

Margaret found herself faced with the same dilemma day after day: her kids were asking for extra snacks. Should she say yes? That’s not what she wanted to do. She questioned herself, “Are they really hungry?” She didn’t think so, but she didn’t want to be mean and say “no.”

say no to food

How to Say No to Food

Saying “no” is setting a boundary. And, when it comes to food and eating and the kitchen…well, saying “no” can be a powerful strategy in your feeding toolbox.

Margaret needed to learn how to say “no” to food requests, and here’s why:

Not only would a denial help Margaret stay sane {and calm, and less frustrated}, but it would also help regulate her child’s health, especially since she was experiencing a lot of extra food requests.

So the question is…how do you say no nicely?

Why Saying Yes is Easier than Saying No

When you say “yes,” you may get some important and compelling feedback. Number one, you make someone else happy—your child—and it makes you happy to see him happy. Secondly, you get affirmation of your value, or worth. “You’re the best, Mom!” And that makes you feel good—and worthy.

Of course, your “yes” to food can be motivated by other hoped-for outcomes—fewer conflicts and less drama from your child, or peace of mind that you have covered any hunger he or she might be experiencing.

Yes, saying “yes” brings on all kinds of feelings.

But, it can also open Pandora’s box.

“Yes, I’ll make you what you want for dinner, I knew you didn’t like this anyway.”

“Yes, you can have something to eat. Let me get it for you”

“Yes, you can have another piece of candy.”

Is a Frequent “Yes” a Good Thing?

A frequent “yes” to your child’s food requests may be aligned with a permissive feeding style. When it comes to food and feeding, a permissive style may play out like this:

Your child asks for an extra snack, you say yes.

Your child wants more dessert, and you say yes to avoid the 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 semblance of peace at the table, right?

YES! I want the Short-Order Cook Syndrome Cheat Sheet

The biggest problem I see with the permissive feeding style is that it may interfere with a child’s on and off valve around eating. As a result, poor eating habits, overeating unhealthy foods, and potential weight problems may arise.

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 healthy boundary and has a place in your feeding approach.

How to Say “No” Nicely

Inevitably, you will be faced with different food scenarios where you may want or need to say “no,” but how do you this nicely?

Here are some common scenarios and suggestions:

When your child asks for more food {and he’s not hungry, or just ate}

“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—in just a little bit.”

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

“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?”

When your child asks for unplanned sweets

“These are special occasion foods and guess what? Today isn’t a special occasion day…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.”

When your child doesn’t like what’s for dinner

“I know you aren’t fond of this meal. I tell you what, 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.”

When your child complains about food options

“Boy, the complaining about food is really hard for me to hear. I work really 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 really help me know what to buy next time at the store.”

When your child is melting down because you said “no” to a food request

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

When your child refuses to eat what you made for dinner

“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” nicely?

Want to make sure you’re on track with raising a healthy child with a healthy weight? Read this.

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    1. That is true, especially if this is new language or a new approach. Give it a try and let me know how it goes!

  1. How would you suggest to respond to a CONSTANT asking for sweets, and constant refusal for real food.
    My kids are constantly asking for cereal, cookies, treats or at least white bread and butter sandwich instead of meals.
    It’s horrible! I am constantly forced to say NO!! And I tell them all the time, I’m not saying you can’t have junk food, just eat real food first. It is a constant struggle that I’m worried is leading to eating disorders down the line. They are constantly asking and I’m constantly refusing, unless they have eaten properly before hand. They will often eat some of their food, then say they are full, and then 5-10 min later, ask for a treat. Or come home from school and want to eat treat befor dinner – and throw fits when I say no. Food is the biggest challenge in my home!! How do I change this horrible pattern???

    1. Hi Merav,
      This can be annoying, for sure! I would make sure you have a structure set up for feeding meals and snacks; close the kitchen afterward; and downsize the treats in your house (if they seem to trigger your kids’ requests).
      These posts may help:
      I also find it’s helpful to say: It’s not time to eat. It’s not on the menu today but we can talk about when we can put it on!
      Let me know how you do!

      1. Jill, my first time on your page! Great article! I have been trying to find ways to increase the nutritional content of the foods we do serve at the table – do you have any suggestions?

        1. Welcome! I always suggest you try to include a food from every food group (dairy or non-dairy sub, fruit, veggie, grains, protein) on the table–or at least account for every one if you are doing mixed dishes. Go for less processed and more natural foods such as whole fruit and veggies, whole grains, lean proteins like chicken without the skin, and milk, yogurt or cheese.