25 answers

5 Year Old Eating Habits

How do you handle it when your child refuses to eat the dinner fixed for the evening? He picks at his food for 15-20 minutes then says he's full, then 10 minutes later says he's hungry and wants a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. He is very tiny and needs all the food he can get (his bllod sugar drops when he goes to long without food) and I hate to tell him he can't eat. Do we allow him to make his own dinner everynight? Do we make him something besides what we are eating?

What can I do next?

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Haven't yet been able to try the advice but wanted to thank EVERYONE! What wonderful advice you each gave......I appreciate the concern and the advice! I will think it all through! Have a wonderful day!

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M. - My five year old was the same way, She is on the thin side as well and very picky. About a year ago we decided we had had enough. So her choices are She can eat with us now as a family, or if she decided not to eat then she can wait. When and if she says she is hungry again, she is once again offered the same dinner that was served to her earlier. It takes a while for this to work great. We no longer have a struggle. She eats with the family now and knows that if she doesn't eat what is served then no desert and she will have to eat her other dinner if she gets hungry.

With this as with so many other issues I would highly reccomend love and logic. www.loveandlogic.com It is a great parenting method and we have tried many. Good Luck!

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I know it may sound harsh. My son has the same problem. You don't have to tell him he can't eat, or give him a diferent kind of food. In my case I just save the plate and when my son tells me he is hungry again, I offer him the same. Only on rare occasions I let him eat something else, when I know what I made he cannot eat. There are foods like liver that I just won't touch, and I'd rather go hungry. But if you are offering a variety of foods and he still decides he doesn't like any of it, I wouldn't offer anything else. Some times kids aren't as hungry, they are just craving. But when my son is really hungry, he'll eat anything. Some other times kids will tell you they are hungry even after they've eaten a good, balanced and even large meal. In that case they may just be craving dessert and after having something sweet they'll be fine.
Good luck.

I have several friends who only offer dinner and 1 alternative (the pb&j). And there is nothing wrong with that. At least he is still getting some nutrition. As for me, I have a picky eater too who will eat a few bites then 20 mins later wants a snack. So I started keeping his plate at the counter and if he says he wants a snack then I'll offer him more of his dinner. He has always been off the charts small but they will eat if they are hungry.

I would save the dinner and if he's hungry later just reheat whatever it was the family ate for dinner. Is he involved with cooking dinner in some way? Maybe if he helps around the kitchen he would be more likely to eat a meal. He could choose the side dish for dinner every night or be in charge of pouring ingredients. My son is only 2 and I have the same problems. I have stopped giving him a drink with dinner and that helped. I also encourage him for every bite he takes (but then again, he's 2). Good luck.

Hi my name is Christina , I have a 6yr old little girl that is doing kind of the same thing , except she only eats all of her food when it is something she likes, she also snacks a lot during the day, and she also asks 10 minutes or less after each meal if she does not eat for something else, so I am having the same bit of trouble with her eating habits , I know that probably does not help you with your son, but I just want to let you know that you are not alone.

My oldest daughter was and is extremley small. We took her to a nutritionist at Children's hospital. We had three sessions with her. She had some great advice, at the time my duaghter was the same as your son. She said make sure you always have something that they like at the meal, and that there is variety. Then she said allow 20 minutes for eating and let them know that when that time is up, dinner is over and there will be no more food. We did this and we had a couple of nights of her going to bed crying, but she quickly realized she needed to eat what was at the table. Another thing is we made a rule that the kids have to try everything that is new. If they don't like it they can spit it out, but they need to at least try it. This has really helped with the automatic "ew I don't want this. It looks gross" And my oldest is much more apt to try new things without being asked. I also have her help me cook because then she wants to eat what she made. I originally made a big deal, by having her wear a chefs hat and apron and helping me pick out recipes. Now at 5 she is a whiz in the kitchen. Also find something he likes and offer it as a side. My sister always offered either yogurt or cottage cheese as a side because at least you know they'll eat something. My daughter loves sunflower seeds so I make a green salad with sunflower seeds ranch dressing, and hard boiled eggs and she gobbles it up because of the sunflower seeds. Good luck!

I know the popular school of thought is to: make a family dinner and if they don't eat, too bad. However, I found I was getting so frustrated with my daughter that it was ruining what little time I have with her each night. So, I figured out the few things she would eat and just rotated them. I'm not her personal chef on demand, but I know she'll eat mini-pizzas, chicken nuggets, grilled cheese, snack plate (which is string cheese, crackers, and apple chunks), purple yogurt, pb and j, hot dogs, and 'krabby patties' (mini-hamburgers) with sides of peas, corn, carrots, or green beans. Then if she chooses not to eat (almost never) it's too bad so sad--no snacks later. It works for us and the peaceful mealtime is worth it for me.

Make sure he's not getting filled up by snacks during the day. It's good for him to be hungry at mealtimes, so he'll eat. What I would do is when he won't eat, take the food and put it in the refrigerator. Then when he comes back 10 minutes later and says he's hungry, give him the same plate of food. If he's actually hungry, eventually he'll eat it. But at the same time, you're not sending him the message that he doesn't have to eat what you give him, he can eat whatever he wants. He'll understand that, if he's not hungry at the moment, that's fine, but when he is hungry, he needs to eat what everyone else eats.

I wanted to respond to this and just say that when I was little, around 4 and 5 I did the same thing and my parents ended up letting me have cereal almost every meal for dinner while i was growing up. i really wish they would have followed through and encouraged me to eat more foods as now in my adult life I am a really picky eater and have food issues and tend to struggle with my weight. I don't blame my parents, but I just wish I would have been less indulgent with me as now I have extra stuff to work though.

My 6 year old went throught that faze a year ago. she was underweight for her age. What I did was I gave her two options and she had to make the choice first was she eat 4 bites of everything to try it and she if she likes it her second choice was to put her food in the fridge until she got hungry then i would heat it up and she woul then have to eat what was put in front of her. Most of the time you can tell if your child doesn't like what u made but other times they are trying to figure out how to get there way which my daughter did prior to my husband and I getting married. He father and real mother allowed her to eat plan bread all the time and nothing else except what she wanted. Very picky eater and yes there were so long nights at the table and food thrown at the table. But after her realizing she couldn't get away with it she started eating with us and not being picky or faking full. My daughter would get the shakes but we found out that her mom reached the first time to her shaking being mad and she got whatever she wanted so she would do it to get away with not eating what is put in front of her. I also removed the food that she would have a fit over until she started eating properly. I took her to the doctor about the shaking and they told me it takes along time for a child to be to hungry. That she was seeing what she could get away with. If they have the shakes talk to your pediatician about it missing a meal by an hour shouldn't cause a huge effect on the child. But try these and see if they work but if not talk to your doctor that is who gave me the advise on our daughter.

My kids are 4 and 5. We have the same issue. If the dinner served is something they like I require them to eat it - no substitutes. If they aren't really hungry I allow them to recognize what their bodies are telling them and they don't have to finish what is on their plates - however no dessert or snack later. If they are hungry soon after, they get the remainder of the dinner on their plates. If they don't like what is served for dinner they have the choice of cereal (usually Cheerios) or a lunchmeat sandwich. Evening snack is a set time in our house and it starts off the bedtime routine.

This is a really tough one. Part of it, I've read, is that kids' taste sensors are not fully developed, but our son was very small, too, and needed to eat.

I think the first step is to make sure he's coming to table hungry. In our case, that meant putting the brakes on the junk that was around the house. He was storing up on the bad stuff and coming to the table feeling choosy. Getting the junk food out of the house was probably the hardest part!

So it took a lot of vigilance and patience. We insisted on sitting down to a balanced meal at dinnertime. We presented a large variety of foods and expected/required him to eat a very small portion (in the case of the stuff he didn't like). We allowed him "seconds" of the foods he liked, as long as he'd tried a small portion of everything on the plate.

When he adopted a new food (at first he would eat nothing green), we kept track of it on a white board. When I say "adopted," I mean he would not need to be prodded to eat it; he ate it without much/any resistance. At a certain point (2 new foods? 3?) we rewarded him with a toy, a book, something small, but his choice. We kept the white board in the kitchen, so he could see it as he ate. He began to feel some sense of pride at seeing the list grow, and now at 14? He eats everything: all vegetables, all fish, everything.

Hope you have some success with this.

I have a 8 yr old boy who has sensory issues with texture of food. So there is not much he will eat. I tend to always fix him what he wants. He even gets upset when I put a little of what we are having on his plate. His food therapist said it would take like 700 times introducing new foods before he will try them. I'd say more like 7000 because I have yet to see him try something new. He is on the small side also and the doctor said let him eat what ever because we don't want him to lose weight. However, he does this even with things he likes. I just let him know that this is meal time and if he doesn't eat now he won't get to until a chosen time later. Depending on the time of the meal. I usually will let him eat about 2 hrs later. Unless it is to close to bed time and then I say you will have to eat tomorrow morning. I do however, let him have what I know he will eat. This does mean me making two different meals each night. One for the kids and one for the adults. My 3 yr old has caught on and she will eat other things but has decided that she will only eat what she likes, I can get her to try new things when her brother is at school. Once she likes them she will eat them. The baby 14 months old will eat almost anything Yea! We are still working at it also. Good luck!

You would need to check with his doctor on this if you are concerned about blood sugar dropping, but I personally feel you are allowing your son to run the meal times by having that as an excuse. He needs to learn that when there is a dinner in front of him he needs to eat. I would have various snack times built into the day to make sure he is getting enough food, but outside of meal and snack times I wouldn't allow eating until he eats at the times he is supposed to. The biggest thing I would do is give him his original dinner back after that 10 minutes when he wants a PBJ sandwhich. A home is not a diner, and there is not a menu available to choose from. If you get in the habit of letting him choose his own dinner every night you are opening up a gate for him seeing an exception to every rule. Check with your doctor about the blood sugar, then make your son eat or go hungry. Kids learn real fast that they don't want to do that!

M. - My five year old was the same way, She is on the thin side as well and very picky. About a year ago we decided we had had enough. So her choices are She can eat with us now as a family, or if she decided not to eat then she can wait. When and if she says she is hungry again, she is once again offered the same dinner that was served to her earlier. It takes a while for this to work great. We no longer have a struggle. She eats with the family now and knows that if she doesn't eat what is served then no desert and she will have to eat her other dinner if she gets hungry.

With my 4 1/2 year old daughter, I have had to save her dinner for a while after we are all finished because she would barely touch it and do the same thing, within a half hour be saying she was hungry again. I would just pull out her dinner plate and tell her if she is hungry it was a good thing we saved her dinner for her. This worked most of the time, and I even had her saving her plate when she thought she was full, she would want to put it in the refrigerator, even when she had eaten most of it. Then she had a little more of the responsibility. This worked most of the time, but she isn't a finicky eater, if your son is I am not sure it would work well, because even with her if it was something she wasn't fond of, she would still just pick at it, and like you I would rather have my child eat something healthy then nothing at all. She also goes in spurts, where one day she doen't care for something, then 2 months later she gobbles it up, then 6 months later she doesn't like it again. Good luck!

Dr. Phil just did a show about this last week. He said that you keep that plate of food ready for him. When he comes back in ten minutes you tell him he can have his dinner. Eventually he will eat. In our house we have dinner...that is all we are eating. If they choose not to eat it, that is fine, but there will be no more food the rest of the night. They usually pick out what they want of the food and at least eat something.

Good luck,

I say hold your ground! He's testing you.
Every night tell him sweetly that that is dinner, he can choose to eat it or not. He may be full from an earlier snack, so maybe experiment with the timing of the dinner. It may take a week of little eating, but you will be doing him a huge favor, and yourself a huge favor, by not letting him tell you what's for dinner. I know a mom that make 3 different meals for 3 different kids, crazy! Trust me, now's the time to expand his eating horizons.

1. a 5 year old cannot make his own dinner... if he dosn't like what you're having, then feed him a peanutbutter and jelly sandwich(or what ever he wants) with some fruit and water or milk


2. if he is skinny, feed him when he says he's hungry!!!

hope this helped!!!

You aren't going to like what I have to say, but I think you already know what the answer is. Unfortunately "caving" on one issue leads to the expectation that you will do it for other ones. Your son will not allow himself to starve. Fixing him another item after he has refused to eat (or "picks at") the other is allowing him to choose dinner. By doing this you teach your child that everything is up for negotiation which leads to a child that is in control because he will dramatize anything to get his way. When dinner is served you need to let him know that this is the meal that was made for the family. Point out that you, dad, sister, whoever is eating it and that this is all that will be available to eat. When he decides he is full you need to inform him that he can get down from the table, but that there will be nothing to eat for the rest of the evening. It sounds harsh and will lead to some drama filled evenings (especially since he already knows that there is a PB&J waiting somewhere), but you need to stick to your guns. It will take a little while, but he will start to eat the food offered because he will understand that it is what's available. As long as there are other choices why should he? You really need to stick to this one or you will find him negotiating everything with you... especially when he doesn't want or like something.

When my daughter tried to do that, (they tend to test their limits quite often)I put her dinner in the fridge. When she came downstairs for a snack later, I warmed up her dinner in the microwave and gave it to her. After doing this a while, she learned that dinner was dinner and what the family ate, she ate. Now she is a teenager and not only eats everything, she loves to try new things and encourages her friends to do so. Hang in there, hold firm boundaries, remember - YOU ARE THE PARENT.

My daughter is only 3 1/2, so I don't know if my opinion will change as she gets older, but here is how I usually handle mealtimes. If the meal is something that I know she likes, then I will insist she eats it, if not she goes hungry. However if it's something she doesn't care for, then I insist she try one decent size bite and then I will offer her one or two other quick & easy choice(s).

I don't think it's fair to force a food that your child doesn't like. I won't eat anything I don't like, why should my kids? I do insist they try it each time, because tastes do change, but after that I will make reasonable accomodations. On the flip side, I'm not their personal chef, if they just "don't feel like" whatever it is that they normally like, then they can go hungry. I realize that may not be an option for children who have health concerns when they skip a meal. In those instances, I would try to keep on hand plenty of healthy & quick choices for them.

Hi M.,
We go through this with our 4 1/2 year old almost every night. If I make something I know he won't eat, we make it a "freebie" night for him and I will make something special for him. If it is something I know he will eat, then we tell him that he has to eat a certain amount and if he does eat that certain amount (a certain # of bites), then when he comes to us an hour later saying he's hungry, we will fix him something else. I don't believe in sending a child to bed hungry (I disagree with my husband - my husband is too strict on that one). I really try not to make a special meal for my son because that's what his nana does so when he comes home to me, he expects it. I also try to make foods that he will like. I hope this helps and good luck - you're not alone with this :)

When I was growing up, I was the picky eater, and yes, I am living proof that you can eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for an entire year and not die, or get bored. My mother always told me before dinner was on the table, what was being served, and I would be responsible to decide if I was going to eat it or not. If not, the expectation was that I would make my dinner, and be ready to eat with the rest of the family. No playing around, we sit and eat as a family, until everyone is done. (The first couple of days it takes a lot of courage to quietly finish your dinner while your child continually asks to be excused, but it is worth the effort.) By allowing your child to decide on his prefrence of dinner, without comment from you, you are allowing him to make choices and live with the consequences, without getting into a test of wills. Hope this helps.

I was just like that as a kid. I went for months only eating peanut butter & jelly (even black pepper was "hot" to me). I was very skinny as well. My mom figured that as long as I was eating something (not candy) that it was OK. I turned out fine and "healthy as a horse". Make him what he is willing to eat while still trying to introduce him to other things. You may find that he likes certain veggies that he can eat to balance out his diet. Also, I do not agree with the "you are caving in..." stuff. I was always an obedient and good child other than having highly sensitive taste to most food. Good luck & don't worry to much!

ps PB&J is not exactly McDonald's

I have a similar problem with my 4 year old daughter. If it were up to her, she'd eat only noodles, pb&j or chicken nuggests.

One thing that I started doing that makes life much easier for us is I've put a big bowl on the table and keep it filled with a variety of fresh fruit that I've already washed. It's easily accessible for snacks or during meals. She does love fruit. And now I know she's getting some good food in her, even if she won't eat anything else that's on the table.

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