When to say, “NO!”

Posted on May 16, 2022. Last updated on May 17, 2022
Alyssa a registered dietitian
Written by Alyssa

I feeeeel you, mama! Sometimes you just want to say “no!”

I am a big advocate and talk a lot around here about saying yes.

“Yes!” to having some more broccoli, “yes!” to more chicken, and even “yes!” to more dessert.

But the question is when do we say no?

At what point do they get cut off — after 4 oranges? 6? Where is the boundary of when we say no as the parents?

Let’s talk about it!

When our littles under-eat or over-eat what we deem as the correct amount, we tend to lean into anxiety of something being off.

But we are not in our kiddos body. Read that again.

We don’t know how much is too much or if their belly is feeling more full than usual. 

As adults our meals fluctuate greatly; our appetites fluctuate greatly. So why would it be different for our kids? If you listen to your body well our appetites should fluctuate. In a growing season we may eat more and others we may eat less and for our kiddos they are growing in height, width, weight, and even mentally every day

So let’s change our expectations of how much our children should eat!

Approach it in a mentality of wonder — “I wonder if my child is going through a growth spurt!” for example.

But there are a few exceptions to this and times we should be saying no to our child.

Here are a few:

  1. If your child has an allergy and the food they are hoping for could or will cause them harm.  

  1. If it is outside of the meal and snack schedule. If you haven’t made a meal and snack schedule listen to my podcast episode entitled, “Why you need a meal and snack schedule and how to create one that works.” (linked below) When this happens we can acknowledge that they are hungry, make a plan for when they will eat next, and re-direct. An example of this might be, “I hear that you’re feeling hungry. Lunch is in one hour so why don’t we go outside and play until then!”


  1. There is no food left. If you provided grapes for dinner and your child had 2 servings and there are no longer any left this would be the appropriate time to say this. A great way to respond in this situation is, “I’m sorry we are all out! We them it all up. Mommy will make sure to put them on the list for next time!”

  1. You need to save food for the rest of the family. This is totally ok to be transparent with your kids about. Especially in families with multiple kiddos sometimes there is only enough of something for each person to have one serving! It is perfectly ok to say “That is all we have for today. The rest is for daddy’s lunch tomorrow.”
  1. When the mealtime is over. Some littles struggle and drag meal times on. A great tool to use in this is a sand timer so your child can gage how much time they have. I suggest 15-45 minutes for meal times. Here’s a link to the ones we have — https://amzn.to/3vZEPUY
  1. If there is a continual reaction to a food when too much is consumed. An example of this would be overeating fiber and it resulting in tummy aches.

An important disclaimer though: It is super important we only say no when there has been a consistent reaction to a food not when we think there might be a reaction. Teach them how to listen to their body! I am a big believer in letting them eat it and then once the consequences come down the pipeline gently using it as a teaching moment and then reminding them gently the next time they want to overeat a certain food that creates these consequences. I usually hold this one loosely – not as a firm no but as a constant tool to teach them how to listen to their body. 

So there you have it, mama! Say “yes!” often!

But occasionally know when to say, “no!”

Head over to the Nutrition For Littles podcast episode on this topic to hear my thoughts on when to say no more in depth!


Alyssa Miller picky eating dietitian
Hi there! My name is Alyssa

I'm a registered dietitian and picky eating specialist with nearly a decade of experience, mom of three, and the founder of Nutrition for Littles. I'm dedicated to making mealtimes enjoyable and nutritious for families.

Do you need more help with your picky eater? I want to invite you to my free class to reverse picky eating!

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