20 answers

My 3 Year Old Wants to Eat Day and Night!!!

My 3 year old has been a drama king since the day he was born. He's our 2nd son, so I was caught off guard with this one. He not only whines and cries constantly since day one (God bless him) but now he's gotten into a horrible stage of wanting to eat constantly and it's driving me crazy! Now, don't get me wrong, I don't give into him but when I don't give in he will scream and cry and kick and yell forever! I don't know if this is a growth spurt of some kind but I doubt it cause the only thing he wants to eat is the "good stuff" and not so much of the real good stuff. He wakes up begging for me to feed him and then immediately after breakfast, he's asking me if he can eat now. Just as I write this, he's coming over to me and asking again for cheese and crackers. I said no, and for now he's ok but he'll be back over here asking me again in a few minutes. I have a few ideas of what may be going on but I'm not too sure. It may be a normal part of being a growing toddler boy but I don't know. You'd think I would know it all being as though I've been working with children for 11 years AND I've had one other boy before this one but I'm getting so stressed out over it. My son's day starts off the same, He wakes up before I do, runs downstairs to the kitchen, opens the fridge and grabs a yogurt to eat and or fruit snacks. I then come down to the kitchen and give them their drinks (half juice and half water) and the 3 year old still cries that he wants to eat cereal. I've learned now to only give him a few tablespoons of cereal and milk since he doesn't always finish it. I don't think he's starving, he's an average sized 3 year old, not overweight in the slightest. My boys are both very tall guys and not petite in any way but very lean and healthy looking. I just don't know what to do and I don't seem to get anywhere at the Doctor either. So, any suggestions or ideas would be greatly appreciated but please no words of judgement..I just need some friendly advice..Thanks!

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Thanks for the fantastic responses. I will definitely try the suggestions mentioned. Thank You!!!

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My 3 year old went through the eating all the time phase. I'm not sure if she was actually hungry or just bored. My solution...I made up containers of snacks that I could live with her eating (sliced or whole apples, carrots, graham crackers, fruity cheerios, etc.) I left them in the pantry on a low shelf or in the refrigerator on a low shelf and she could help herself. When she was out of snacks for the day...that was it (of course she got her 3 squares a day too). She's also allowed to get water whenever she wants. It allows her to be independent and choose her snacks, with the added benefit of not annoying me. :) Now, she rarely goes in to get a snack, but does get water throughout the day. I explained the process to her each morning for a few days and billed it as a big girl type of thing (not sure if that would work for you or not, but I'm sure you can adapt). I might have even picked up that suggestion from this site. Good Luck!

2 moms found this helpful

From my experience with my second child if I let her eat foods with sugar in them, she fills quickly and then is hungry again very quickly. The sugar triggers a full response in her quickly but then it wears off quickly and she's starving again soon.

If I feed her cereal in the morning, you can bet she will be begging me for something to eat in an hour.

On the other hand, if I feed her a scrambled egg and a piece of sausage she isn't hungry for hours. I have found that I have to make the main part of her diet protien with just a little sugar.

I can give her toast with jelly with the above breakfast and it's fine, but she has to eat all of her egg and sausage or she' hungry fast.

If she eats even one hershey kiss or a few chocolate chips I can't get her to eat her dinner an hour later. But then an hour or two after that she's crying because she's hungry.

For her I have to limit her sugar...I try to get her to eat her pancakes with applesauce instead of syrup. I make the pancakes with pumpkin to add some nutrition.

I make the kids grits with butter and salt...no sugar.

I limit cereal to about 1/4 of a cup and just as a snack...and only maybe twice a week.

If I give her a fruit snack pack, it's after she's eaten a good lunch with lots of protien.

My second child is very tiny and very petite. She has a terrible sweet tooth though. I don't have as many problems with the oldest child.

It's tough.

Only other question I would ask would be: is he eating everything you put out for him...or just picking at it and then telling you he's full. If he's just grazing, that's why he's always hungry.

I know the general consensus these days is to let little ones eat very small meals five to six times a day, but I think we are doing our children a huge disservice by allowing that. Once they start first grade, they won't get a mid-morning snack. They will have to eat breakfast, lunch, and maybe a snack when they get home before dinner. That's three meals and a snack. That's pretty much how we will have to eat for the rest of our lives if we work.

My opinion is that we serve them better by training them to eat in that pattern pretty much from the start. If a child is hungry between meals when they are tiny, then give them a healthy snack but one that is very small (they do have tiny tummies after all)....but as they age and get ready for school they need to eat like they will have to eat for the rest of their lives.

I generally put a tablespoon of three or four things on my children's plates. They must try everything on their plate, period. If they don't care for something, they don't have to eat it all...but they know if they don't clean their plate they don't get a treat and they aren't allowed any kind of snack between meals.

My oldest, who is six, has learned to eat everything regardless of whether she likes it or not. She will just clean her plate 90% of the time. She wants that little treat which might be a tiny scoop of icecream, a cookie that we made together, a popsicle in summer, a piece of candy during the holidays...

It's tough and every child is different.

The important thing is trying to get them to eat healthy foods, not use food to medicate themselves when they are sad or bored, and not over-eat just because it tastes good.

Could he be bored? Is he seeking your attention maybe? Does he have lots of games and activities to keep himself busy? We bought our girls a bounce house for the basement this past Christmas (actually grandma did). That has been a great investment. The kids jump in it constantly. Not only are they getting exercise, but it keep them entertained in the winter months when they can't go outside. It's great.

Oh well, let me stop rambling.

1 mom found this helpful

It may be that he needs a solid routine of what he can eat and when. I know that when my kids are home and inside on these cold winter days, they would eat all day if I let them - and they love fruits and vegetables, but I still think some of it could be boredom or just comfort. So instead, we have basic parameters on what and when they can eat.

Set up a picture calendar for the days activities, including meals and snack times. When he wants to eat out of the schedule, remind him and distract. Give him plenty of water since he may just be thirsty.

Also make sure his meals are complete with proteins, carbs, etc.

Has this been going on for a while, or is this something that recently started? I have a son who just turned 4 and for about 2 months he was the same way. I think it was a growth spurt or something though because all of the sudden he stopped being hungry all the time. I swear, for a while there every time I turned around he was asking for more food! This is of course just a suggestion, but give it a couple months and try to get him to snack on as many healthy things as you can. (We had a lot of goldfish crackers, raisins, and other fruit around the house for a while.) That's about how long the stage went for us. Other than that, I don't really know what else to tell you.

I highly suggest the book, Love and Logic. Christian based parenting ideas and they work. My son sounds very similiar to you..one idea I used was to have a shelf in the fridge and one in the cabinet of "free foods" that he could eat at other times than meals. They were all low calorie, healthy snacks. If that didn't satisfy him, then I would gently say,then you must not be hungry. Sometimes he ate, sometimes it didn't.

My son is almost 3 and is doing the exact same thing!! I thought I was the only one. He rarely eats a full meal at one time, he mostly "grazes" as I call it all day. He too is constantly asking for something to eat, he is not overweight by any means and is perfectly healthy according to the doctor. My 4 year old daughter is not like that. I am not sure what to do either so I am looking forward to the responses you get.

I would say that a yogurt and 1/2 a cup of orange juice is not enough food for him. Give him oatmeal or peanut butter and jelly toasties or eggs and sausage with toast. Do not let him have any snacks between meals if you are making sure he is eating enough at each meal. Maybe one late morning and one late afternoon snack of healthy items only, such as apples with nut butter, mozzarella sticks and crackers, trail mix and a glass of milk, yogurt with granola, carrots or veggies with dip,turkey slices with a cheese stick or slice of cheese, a fruit smoothy with a small bowl of dry cereal, fruit with yogurt dip...there are so many snack choices that are "real food"and "healthy food". Do not buy sugary snacks or chips and junk. He will learn to eat healthy foods and he should be satisfied longer. Also, just one glass of juice per day is what our dentist told us...I did that anyway! Offer milk or water after the one cup of juice. Good luck to you!

Hi C....I read a few other posts and there are some great ideas...one thing that I have to agree w/ is the "buffet" idea. I run a home daycare and am an asst. girl scout leader and we recently had a guest speaker come to a girl scout meeting and discuss eating habits and health and one thing we learned was that "grazing" is actually ok and good for little ones. They might be more likely to try new things and may actually eat more than they would sitting down to a meal. I am all for teaching kids to eat at the table as a family and not making special meals for those who may not like what we are eating, but...for your own child...he may just not eat a lot at once, but need to eat more often. One suggestion I learned was to take a 12 cup cupcake tin and fill each cup w/ a different fruit, veggie, nut, whatever...keep it colorful and introduce new things...and leave it out for awhile and see what happens. You might be surprised! This is one of the most frustrating things...eating!!! So, best of luck!

My 2 kids have both done this at times and I've chalked it up to a growth spurt, but my little 5 year old girl had done this so much more frequently that I have tried myself to figure out a cause. I can tell you from my experience, it seemed to be attention seeking. She knows thath as a mom I have to feed her. She knows I have to stop everything to do so. She likes when she can call the shots too. If she can get me off the computer or away from her brother by claiming that she is starving (several times a day even though she gets her 3 meals and 2-3 snacks)she will try it.
See if you can distractg him from the food by playing a game or reading a book for awhile. If this feeds his "hunger" then you might have the same thing going on. Bottomline at our house, I've just trie dto make sure we have time together first before I get invloved in something so she feels content.


I am a first time mom but been around kids all my life--My cousin has a 4 yr old girl and I babysit for her and she was constantly hungry also. I definitely think it is a growth spurt. Kinda funny story the first day I was watching her when she started going through this hungry stage she told her mom I starved her-But actually she ate many, many, times. Just like you said all good stuff..Good luck

M. B.

So, I guess this is more of support than any thing else. I am also interested to see responses. I too, have a 3 year old that is constantly wanting to eat. I have excused this as 'growing' and as boredom. I think the fact that we are slightly trapped in the house for so long during this cold weather contributes to this b/c I don't remember noticing it during the summer. Right now my son is eating strawberries, 1/2 bagel and already had cereal an hour ago. I at least try and tell him most of the time that he can have some fruit or carrot sticks if he is still hungry, but I get what you are saying- !!! I am with you, and anxious also for suggestions! Best!

Hi C.,

We have had a similar problem with our little guy. He wants to eat all day and this has been going on since he has been able to walk-he is now almost 3. He is tall and thin too. Our doctor told us that we could provide him with his own "buffet" which consists of fruits, veggies, crackers etc. that we leave on a plate for him to eat when he wants it. We usually put one together in the morning and then one in the afternoon. Basically he is a grazer. He never ate much at one meal, but wants to eat all day long.

I hope this helps.

I've been shocked at how much food my almost-3 yr old has been eating lately. She will eat adult-sized portions for a meal and still BEG for more food. I compared notes with my friends who have kids the same age and they said their kids are doing the same thing. I think it's a growth spurt associated with the age. None of our kids are getting tummys...they seem to be honestly hungry!

Sometimes I "test" my daughter and offer her a food that may not be a top favorite (after a full meal, I'll offer cottage cheese or more carrots, instead of more fruit), and more times than not, she'll accept what I'm offering. (And I'll also give her more fruit too!) I don't know what to tell you about your son's tantrums, but I am now erring on the side that my daughter is actually hungry and giving her more food. Good luck to you!

Try giving him more liquids. Sometimes thirst and a dry mouth can "fool" us to eat. This is true for adults and children. Make sure he gets alone time with you, and allow healthy liquids (purified water, low sugar flavored water, a little juice) to be more frequent than food.His eating throughout the day, as long as it's not excessive is the correct way to eat healthy, for anyone. Children's appetites tend to increase during growth spurts, too. I think he's fine, just keep healthy snacks available, and avoid empty calories.

It could be a growth spurt, our 7-year old will get like that where she's constantly hungry. Then there's times she eats like a mouse.

The only other thing would be to get him checked out for parasites or candida. Parasites would cause him to be hungry and wouldn't cause weight gain...but not good for his intestines! Candida leads to craving sweets all the time.

I'd say let him eat so long as he's eating healthy snacks. You can't hurt him with good foods...carrots, celery, apples, some yogurt, crackers, cheese...

Good luck!

My son just turned 4 and he started the same thing about two months ago. It drives me up the wall. he is constantly looking for something to eat, even if he just had some. For one I try to direct his appetite to something better than candy. He is good on eating apples and that helps it, because they fill him up for a minute.
I do not think you need to necessarily see a doctor. I just think it is the kids being indoors so much more these days, what is driving them nuts. The boredom makes them think of something to chew on. It also helps to simply not have those foods that they crave for in the house. What is not there, cannot be eaten and it is harder on you, because they will look for something else, but they will eventually give in and eat the healthy snacks, if nothing else is there. With my almost 3 year old it helped that I let him help cooking, so he eats that food much better and is full from the real meals. Hang in there, once he can play outside again and get good fresh air, it will get better. Good luck!

MAYJOR growth spurt!! This is totally ok. My son (7yrs) just started another one last week. Three months ago he barely ate anything, just the norm. If they are hungry between meals give healthy foods and not junk. It may last a couple weeks and then you'll notice too their pants/shirts are too small. :) Hang in their--but never stress when your child is hungry, as long as it is not hurting their health.

I have a 3 1/2 year old boy and a 1 1/2 year old boy, and they both go through stages like this. Try adding more protein-rich foods to breakfast, like you said yogurt (mix the container with some with plain so it's not so sugary) and try giving him a scrambled egg with a little salt and cheese. Eggs have lots of good nutrients, as well as 6 g of protein per egg, and if he's truly hungry he will just gobble it up! Others mentioned cottage cheese, and cheese and crackers are good too, as well as some fruit and lots of water or some diluted juice. I hope you regain some of your sanity with these tips- I plan to use some on my 3-year old when he wants to snack all the time too. I think the independence he'll get will help him take charge and take some leadership in his own life, which they crave, as well as learning to choose healthy things that are available in the fridge or pantry. Best wishes!

Try these ideas:

1. make up a schedule of when the kitchen is open and what will be served. Post this and follow it. If he asks for food at other times you refer him to the schedule. Take pictures of the clock at each time and post those as well.
My suggestion for a schedule for his age would be
wake up - breakfast - milk and one bowl cereal
9 - snack - fruit or veggie
lunch 11:45 - meat, grain, fruit, veggie, milk
pm snack 3 - any 2 food groups
dinner 5:30 - what family is served

2. Teach him about good for you foods, proper portion sizes, and food groups. Make up tickets for each day with the proper amounts of each food group for his age. http://www.mypyramid.gov has all of this info. For each food he eats he has to put a ticket in the eaten column. Make sure you show or have pictures of what proper portion size is, otherwise you might have him eating a whole bag of chips instead of a hand full.

3. put a closed sign on the kitchen and if he asks for food when the sign is out then it's a time out. I have a daycare boy that constantly asks what the next meal is. I think a lot of it is boredom. But this week I warned him that asking will get him a time out. Two time outs and gee, he stopped asking.

I say feed him. If he is not eating junk food and is not overweight, he is hungry and needs to eat. My boys are teens and still go through stages and growth spurts like this. I absolutely cannot believe how much they are capable of eating at times. Let him have a bigger breakfast, because he is probably truly very hungry when he gets up, and having a decent sized breakfast helps him start out the day right and maybe not be so hungry later. If he eats yogurt and/or fruit snacks, that is not enough for him, so I would expect him to want more after that. Keep offering him good foods and he should be just fine. He may grow out of his clothes soon like mine did when they had these huge growth spurts. As long as the food is healthy, and he does not gain weight and otherwise remains active, then it should be no problem. Just monitor to make sure he does not get into a pattern of eating just to eat, or starts asking for junk food.

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