March 16, 2016


A leading Australian children’s dietitian says Curtis Stone’s message about sending children to bed hungry is mostly correct but a little extreme – there is another way, says Kate Wengier, and it should mean children are far less likely to go hungry.

“When it reaches the stage that parents are cooking two meals or kids are refusing entire food groups or going to bed hungry – something needs to be done,” said the mother of four.

“I appreciate what Curtis Stone is saying, but there is a kinder middle ground that will help kids to become adventurous eaters and allow families to enjoy food together.”

Part of why kids become fussy is about control, says Kate. Adults control so much of a child’s life from where to go, what time, brush your teeth, no you can’t wear a summer dress in winter.

“But there is one thing we can’t force a child to do and that is eat. We can sometimes bribe them, beg them or trick them, but these are not successful long-term solutions.

“My number one piece of advice to parents is not to be so strict that they’re dictating to kids about eating but instead create an inclusive environment where food is fun and kids are involved in family meal decisions and preparation. This changes the game.

“When mealtime is a chore for everyone and its ‘eat your veggies or go to bed hungry’ there’s a very good chance it will end in a standoff between parent and child and they will go to bed hungry.

“If you let them help choose between carrot or pumpkin, get them to help chop the veggies and set some boundaries about how you as a family talk about food at the table most parents will find the outcome much more pleasant. The word ‘yuck’ is discouraged at our table and it was key to creating a more positive eating environment. In fact, teaching kids to eat well starts way before you get to the dinner table.”

Kate’s top tips for raising food-loving kids:

  1. Share the responsibility. 

Getting kids to enjoy a wide variety of food is a team effort:

You, as the parent, have the responsibility to serve food at regular intervals. Kids get to choose what and how much they eat from the options you provide. Try to serve foods they like with new foods, to encourage them to try something new.

  1. Create family meal times

This can be hard for working families, but it’s very important to eat together, around the table and without the TV, as often as possible. This allows you to role model to your kids and show them that meal times are an enjoyable social experience.

During the week, either my partner or I eat with the kids. It’s not always possible for us all to be together but one adult with the kids is great.

  1. Have set meal and snack times 

Kids should be coming to the dinner table hungry, but not famished. This will maximise the chance of them trying something new and sitting nicely at the table. Grazing is not advised for kids older than one as having the feeling of hunger and fullness is essential to learn intuitive eating. Kids are great at listening to their bodies hunger and fullness signs, something we often have to re-learn as adults.  Just make sure there is enough time between snacks and meals for kids to get hungry. Some afternoons, we skip the after-school snack and just eat an early dinner.

  1. Change your attitude 

Start believing that your kids will eat. Eating can be learnt, but it does take time and patience. Stay positive, remember your responsibility and never give up offering a variety of healthy foods to your kids.

Kate Wengier
Kate Wengier

Main image source: Shutterstock

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  • get your child more involved in the process. get them to help pick the ones they want to eat, get them to help wash them etc. let them be involved so they can learn and see it as a positive thing


  • We’ve just completed a triple p parenting course to try and get some hints on getting our son more active and healthy and this was the same advice they give – and the program is developed by child psychologists. It was the same when I was a kid… If you didn’t like it, you starved! Mum would always say her kitchen was not a restaurant! I’m still here and no worse for wear!


  • I still agree with most of what Curtis said. But in saying that, I involve my son by giving him choices, eg. I ask him what he wants for dinner or include him by allowing him to serve dinner up on his plate. But apart from not serving him the 2-3 things I know he wont eat, he gets what I am making for dinner or nothing, and kudos to him, every month or so I give a very small portion of a food he dislikes and ask him to try…he always tries it. Still doesnt like them but he tries ☺


  • This is much better advice than Stone’s.


  • Great tips!!


  • I like Curtis’s philosophy of eating what is in season. I’m lucky not to have fussy eaters but we do play games with the kids around the dining table to see if they can identify what we picked out of our garden or what they helped prepare in the saucepan earlier. Involving them seems to help a lot.


  • My mother had a rule where we had to eat all of our meal or not get dessert. It was awful as no matter whether we liked it or not, we had to eat it or she’d be angry and she was scary. She would make such huge meals too, you should never force a child to eat more than they can fit in. Didn’t help when our step-father didn’t have to finish his food and would get dessert.


  • we would not starve missing a meal but for kids too harsh as a mum I feel. I did used to cook normal meals and add say different veg or other item only a little and say ‘give it a try’ it worked most of time. But my grown up olderson admitted brussel sprout went in pot plant now and again or was given to the dog secretly covered in gravy. Those were the days ha ha. my newest piee of art not I did it but got it at garage sale and love it


  • Do you know what, I kind of agree with Curtis. I had 3 fussy eaters, one started off brilliantly and I thought I\’d cracked it but soon enough I was cooking 3 different meals and spending a lot of energy trying to hide veggies. I always put everything on the plate and even after tying myself in knots to please their fussy palate\’s they would still push the plate away. Maybe sometimes it\’s good to say enough is enough, lets face it, they aren\’t going to starve are they. Just wanted to throw in my 2 cents (sense) worth.


  • Totally agree. All children are different and the more anguish caused at meal time, the less likely they are to eat. My daughter won’t be going to bed hungry


  • I read an article that stated that toddlers whose legs and feet hang down with nothing to support them get pins and needles in their legs and feet.Therefore they don’t feel comfortable sitting like that for more than a minute, sometimes more. The article recommended that you put steps that the child’s feet rest on and that will stop the pins and needles


  • All families are different in their approach and we like to at least try everything.


  • I agree. I wouldn’t be able to send a child to bed hungry. Better to work on the problem and try to find a better solution.


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