23 answers

My Son Won't Eat!!! - Bellingham,WA

Okay, I know you've heard this all before, but my son is the horrible about eating. His diet would be (if I allowed it all the time) peanut butter and honey sandwiches and when I break down and make it, sometimes he won't even eat that.

The doctor says he's healty and he gets a multi-vit. everyday. I tried the Pedisure thing, but he got to know if he didn't eat he'd get a "milkshake".

My husband works late hours so we never have a chance to sit down as a family. I usually make my son a kid friendly TV dinner, hoping he'd get something in his system.

He doesn't go for hiding the vegs in other food, he just won't eat that either. He's gotten time-outs for screaming and crying at the table about the food, earlier bed times, and even toys taken away, to no avail.

He doesn't get sweets, unless he eats all his meal, then he gets a little dessert. He gets one snack of crackers and juice between breakfast and lunch, hours before.

What more can I do? I'm at a total loss. Please help me!
Thank you!
K. S.

What can I do next?

So What Happened?™

Well, I haven't had a chance to try anything yet; it's morning and he eats breakfast just fine. But I will try everything you all say. Thank you all so much for the help. I'll let you know what happens.

Featured Answers

Best thing that my Dr. said years and years ago that really helped me, when my kids only wanted pb&j or mac & cheese was: "They won't starve themselves to death" That really stuck for me. It really is just a faze. Just keep offering the food. He really will eat and eat good when he is hungry. When you don't fuss about it he will relax and it won't be a "power struggle"

1 mom found this helpful

I'd cut out the juice since he doesn't need the sugar, and unless it's tomato juice it doesn't really add much nutritionally.

Then not make it a battle. Serve dinner for both of you. Sit down together for dinner. Talk about nutrition of balancing fruits, vegies, dairy, meat. But if the doctor says he's healthy I wouldn't worry about it. Make simple foods and eat them and enjoy them. And don't let him watch tv while you eat.

1 mom found this helpful

More Answers

K., if you have checked with your pediatrician and your son is growing properly, then don't worry about it. Kids are pretty good regulators of what their bodies need and they go through phases regarding food intake. Sometimes they eat a ton and you wonder where it's all going, and other times they eat like a bird and you wonder if they are getting enough. If they are hungry, they will eat. If they are thirsty, they will drink. So long as the doc says everything is okay, then try not to make a big deal about it at meal times, just give him his food and let him take care of business (of course with a little encouragement, but no arguing). I bet you anything, pretty soon you won't be able to fill the guy up! Good luck! :)

Me: 35 yo married SAHM of 3 boys...7 1/2, 3 1/2, and 22 months.

1 mom found this helpful

I agree with others. Feed your child what you eat. But i do agree with your kid veggies out of TV dinners BLAH. lol.
Some younger kids like ketchup or ranch dressing with everything. Have you tried that yet?
Mine would dip chicken into there ranch dressing. Or ketchup with scrambled eggs. Some like dipping there steak into there gravy/mashed potatoes

1 mom found this helpful

I read something in a book the other day that may help you. The book is called "Making your Children Mind without Losing Yours" by Dr. Leman. It makes a lot of sense and he does cover the picky eater and here's what he suggests you do. (Note: this doctor has many years of experience in private practice and has written several books).

At mealtimes, give your child his food (you may offer 2 choices if you prefer), if he refuses what you are offering then he does not eat, throw it away in front of him. Let him leave the table, go play, whatever - do not punish or yell at him. He'll probably come to you wanting to eat before the next scheduled meal - tell him No, dinner is in a few hours, you'll have to wait until then. He will probably complain, cry, hold his tummy saying he's so hungry BUT you have to stand firm. Going a little hungry will not hurt a 4 year old and he is learning a lesson - he eats what is offered or he goes hungry until the next meal. And when he comes to dinner do the same thing, chances are he'll eat what you offer because he's hungry. And don't make a big deal out his eating his dinner, just accept it like a normal meal. Hope that helps. It's certainly something I would try if my son were to behave like that about meals - he's only 16 months now, so I may still get the chance. :)

1 mom found this helpful

If the peditrician says he healthy, he may not be hungry. If he has leveled off and is not having a growth spurt, he may have a smaller appetite. Write down everything he does eat in a day and then call the peditrician and relay the list to them to see what they advise. If and when he gets hungry he will probably let you know. My oldest, who's now 15, only wanted to eat pb sandwiches when he was 2 for months. It's a good source of protien, so just gave in. Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful

My response is pretty much the same as the others - your son will eat when he's hungry. As long as yoru doctor has ruled out any medical conditions, and he's healthy and growing, he sounds pretty normal to me. My son (same age as yours) will go through periods where he hardly eats anything at all, then there will be a week or two where he'll be eating all day long (which is when I usually assume he's going through a growth spurt). I don't make him anything special (well, okay - sometimes), so if he doesn't eat what we're eating, then he doesn't eat at all...

But yeah - I'd lay off those Pediasure shakes. I'm sure he learned to take advantage of that pretty quickly! Plus I might worry that if he has a few of those a day on TOP of a multivitamin that you might risk his getting too much of certain vitamins (though I don't know exactly what's in Pediasure).

So don't worry! As someone said earlier, your child will not starve himself. He'll eat when he needs to...

1 mom found this helpful


I also have a very picky 4-yr-old, followed by an even pickier 1 1/2-yr-old. The best strategy I've found is just to make sure that most meals contain a "new" food and plenty of healthy choices. I set the timer for 30 minutes, let them eat what they're going to eat and leave it at that. I tried getting angry with my older one, but like you I found no success whatsoever. It's been a very slow process, but once I stopped stressing out about mealtime, so did my son. As long as he's healthy, the doc says try not to stress.

Another thing that helps is to let him watch you make healthy food choices and let him see you enjoying your food. He may even be brave enough to try a bite of mommy and daddy's stuff.

Good luck and stop stressing!

1 mom found this helpful

I'd cut out the juice since he doesn't need the sugar, and unless it's tomato juice it doesn't really add much nutritionally.

Then not make it a battle. Serve dinner for both of you. Sit down together for dinner. Talk about nutrition of balancing fruits, vegies, dairy, meat. But if the doctor says he's healthy I wouldn't worry about it. Make simple foods and eat them and enjoy them. And don't let him watch tv while you eat.

1 mom found this helpful

My son (now 8) went through a picky eating state early on. Our strategy was to not make a fuss about it, but also to not cave in and serve special stuff. We made dinner, which may have included items he "didn't like" or refused to eat. Any whining was mostly dealt with by saying that this is what's for dinner, it's the food on your plate, eat it or don't eat it, but there certainly doesn't need to be any freaking out about it. We didn't make any special food just for him, and other than a rule of trying one bite of everything served, if he didn't eat a certain thing on his plate, or didn't eat anything else, that was fine.

The reality, I find, is that kids will eat when they're hungry. Maybe he's trying to push boundaries for awhile, maybe he's going through a stage or phase where he just isn't intersted in eating or isn't feeling hungry. If your pediatrician says he's healthy, I would just let it go. Offer him nutritious items for snacks and meals, but don't get into a battle over it; that will just escalate the issue into being about who can 'win' the battle - we all know that 4-year olds can be irrationally stubborn! When he's hungry, he'll eat, no matter what you're serving.

Any melt-downs or tantrums should be sent away from the table, I think. Emotions are great and I encourage them, but the family table isn't the place. If he's upset, have him get down and go to his room - not as a punishment, but just as a "hey sweetie, it's okay to be upset, but you need to take it to your room. When you're feeling better, come on back".

I believe that kids are just little bundles of feelings and thoughts and opinions and emotions and they're learning every day to sort through them and figure out who they are. It's our job as parents to provide boundaries, so they feel safe and can clearly see where those limits are and work on keeping themselves within them. Consistency and maintaining your own even, understanding tone is the key! :)

1 mom found this helpful

Best thing that my Dr. said years and years ago that really helped me, when my kids only wanted pb&j or mac & cheese was: "They won't starve themselves to death" That really stuck for me. It really is just a faze. Just keep offering the food. He really will eat and eat good when he is hungry. When you don't fuss about it he will relax and it won't be a "power struggle"

1 mom found this helpful

I've never had this problem with my 2 kids but a friend of mine had a son that did the same thing. She use to make 2-3 different meals for her son trying to get him to eat. In partial, you are training him that he doesn't have to eat, and that you are going to give him something he likes if he refuses to eat what you give him.
Just make one meal for the family. Offer it to him, but don't make him eat it. Tell him once dinner is done, he isn't getting anything else till breakfast. If he doesn't eat because he doesn't believe you, he'll really believe you by breakfast and he'll eat anything. It won't take long before he will decide hunger is more important than being picky.
But quit giving into his attitude. By constantly changing the punishment, you are confusing him and making him think you are not serious. I personally don't believe a child should be punished for not eating. So many people are overweight and their parents try to force them to eat everything and clean their plates, and now so many kids are overweight too. My husband is skinny and some nights he just isn't hungry and doesn't eat dinner. Your son might in time not be hungry for dinner too. But for now you need to just be calm, don't get angry and stop giving him a second choice. It might be hard the first one or two nights, but it won't take a third night and this will be all over.
Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful

This is an interesting fact. When I went to China in 2003 I asked a women there if she knew anyone that didn't like vegetables. She said she couldn't think of a single person that didn't like vegetable. That means that it's 100% about what you put in front of a child and what everyone else is eating. I agree with the other people that you should just take away peanut butter and every night give your child what ever you're eating. ANOTHER THING. IF YOU HAVE YOUR CHILD HELP PREPARE THE FOOD HE WILL BE MORE LIKELY TO EAT IT. I've seen my 3 year old eat things like cilantro, arugula (biter lettuce), pork (he's not a meat eater), and many other "adult-only foods". It really works, kids love to feel important and involved.

K., Hi my name is D. and I am the mother of six boys. they range from 23 down to 5. My six year old was doing some of that and to some extent still does. LOL If I would allow it he would live on cereal I found that alot of time if I sity down with him or maybe once in awhile let him eat in the living room as a treat he did better. He does ok most the time now. I hope this helps.

Okay, this one I know; I have 3 kids who eat everything I put in front of them, and love veggies. First, talk to him in simple tearms about why it's important to eat different kinds of foods (it helps him grow, gives him energy to play, and keeps him from getting sick). Then, TOGETHER, throw away the peanut butter, since that's his crutch. Do try to find other foods he enjoys, and DON'T HIDE VEGETABLES. Just eat them yourself. In fact, call them a treat or a snack when you eat them. Make sure you are eating and enjoying all kinds of foods in front of or with him. You may even want to reverse the tradition, give him a food he likes and say "when you finish that you may have one carrot". If your hubby works late, maybe you can have a family breakfast or even mid-morning snack together? Also, maybe you can start inviting friends (yours or his, or even older kids) over for meals. Don't make a big deal about how much better they eat, but do encourage them to make positive comments about the foods they are eating. If you do have a friend with an older child, recruit that child to help you; the 'big brother' factor does wonders! Bottom line: the more he sees those around him eating and enjoying other foods, the more likely he will be to try them. He won't like them the first time, or probably the second or third, but eventually he will find other things he likes....especially if he knows peanut butter isn't an options.
P.S. According to our pediatrician, kids can go up to one week without eating, and they will recover. Good luck!

Johanna has good advice. I'd add that once the meal is over put away the food and then there is no more until the next meal or snack time. When a kid is hungry they will eat.

It's important to instill good nutritional meal habits now because they will last the rest of his life. If he doesn't "get it" now he will probably have to learn them later, if he learns it at all, and it will be more difficult.

My granddaughter is in 1st grade and nutrition has been a part of the curriculum starting in kindergarten. That will help if he already has a positive focus on food.

And the most important aspect of making this work is to not make a big deal of it. This is just way it is attitude,tho it may be difficult, will help alot. It eliminates power struggles which is often the cause of eating disorders in later life.

Good luck! M.

I have a hard time getting my 2 year old to eat. Everyone tells me he won't let himself starve, he'll eat when he's ready. I say baloney. I don't like it when he doesn't eat. He has a few favorites that I like to make because I know he'll eat them. He loves mac n cheese with peas on the side. Last night I made chicken with angel hair pasta and corn once again he cleaned off his plate. I tried to do the tv dinners because I was so tired when I finally got home. We leave at 550 am (he is still sleeping). We don't get home until 7 pm on a good night (I don't drive we take buses). Good Luck I know it is truly frusterating and heartbreaking not having your baby eat.

Hi K.,

I had much the same problem with my little boy. He's a little younger than yours but I fell your pain. If you're anything like me, it warms my heart when he eats and stresses me out totally when he doesn't.

What I had to do was cut back on his milk consumption. I made sure he only had four 8oz. cups a day and he only gets them after he eats his meal.

Good for you to give him a vitamin. I do that as well.

Mine is still very picky. He eats PGJs everyday for lunch regardless of what else I offer. I can sometimes get him to eat a grilled cheese. He likes pizza and hot dogs (i try to buy turkey ones or oscar myer without poreservatives) and of course the chicken nugget (tyson is made with real chicken).

Dinner is the one meal I stress about. I try to make it kid friendly. For example I call meatloaf "meatcake". It also helps if he helps me make the meal.

As for veggies and fruit....he eats green beans, broccoli, apples, and bananas. Not much of a selection, but if he eats 'em....

I also found by asking him what he wants for lunch, dinner, etc..he's more willing to eat it since he picked it. If he doesn't eat it, then he has to wait for the next meal. Hunger is a good motivator. Trust me, they do not starve!

Don't know if this helps....

Stay strong.

S. P


This is a link to a book that was often recommended at the children's clinic where I use to work. It is a easy to read, practical book that seems to help many families with the struggles they have over food.

Good luck!

I can totally relate with you on this. My step daughter who was 4 at the time wouldn't eat and had a hard time going to the bathroom (#2). She was so picky on food and only would eat a very small amount. What we realized is that her body wasn't producing enough enzymes to digest the food she was hardly eating because she wasn't getting the enzymes in her daily food requirments. So I decided to try using food products through a company I've been with for the last 4 years that has food filled with organic whey,enzymes,ammino acids, and all the trace minerals combined with over 90 nutrients and more. We used meal replacement shakes that taste fabulous that contain more nutrients than a regular meal. To top it off it contains enzymes to help get rid of the food that basically wasn't coming out! By the 2nd day she was going to the bathroom twice a day and had a huge appetite. She hasn't had the problem of eating since and I truely believe when you put the right foods in your body the body will respond to crave more good foods. Especially children. They need the added nutrients from our nutrient deficient and toxic foods. If this sounds at all interesting to you I sincerely would advise every parent to have these products in there household. I wouldn't go a day without them, they have also done miracles for my body as well. Overall, your son could be very nutrient deficient and just needs the right formula to help him adjust his appetite. Best wishes to you and your family. I hope I can help.

My daughter is the same way, and my mom has told me (she has education in early childhood development) that my daughter will not starve herself. I just keep up with the vitamins, and when I do get her to eat something good for her, I go with it. Lately, she has really liked eggos for breakfast, with a little peanut butter and sugar free syrup. There is really no difference in taste with the sugar free syrup (I have tried it myself and it is really good). Also, I don't know if your son is like this, but my daughter likes to eat what I am eating, so I eat stuff that is healthy and always offer her a taste, to see if she likes it.

i also have a 4 year old that is an extremely picky eater. all he wants is cheese sandwiches or sometimes apples. occassionally he'll eat a pb sandwich or ham in his sandwich. oh and chips lol. thats it, except for wendys nuggets. i totally sympathize with you. i figure, if hes not getting what he needs, his body will tell him he needs it. just like we crave things when our body needs them (especially during pregnancies). i would just let him eat what he wants, but maybe once a day try and introduce something else. but start slowly. i just introduced the ham about 2 wks ago, added to the sandwich that he already knew he liked. and the pb i have to make him eat, but if i don't give him anything else, he'll eventually eat it (after much crying and whining lol). hang in there! i know kids who were that way, but grew out of it. i was told just let him munch thruout the day, since he won't eat normally, that way he gets food in his system. its hard, but eventually they do get over it lol.

Hi K.-
I can't use my experience, my son's a healthy food eater, but my sister had this problem with one of her daughters-- if it wasn't white or beige, she wouldn't eat it.
They were advised to NOT make food an issue, or it would backfire even worse (as you have seen, he won't eat at all) and that she was perfectly healthy 2,3,4... year old. Sometimes she wouldn't eat for a whole day- the pediatrician said it bothers parents more than kids and they eventually figure out being hungry isn't much fun. She did have to sit at the table with them and they only put a couple of bites of food on her plate at a time, and never said anything about it- especially about her not eating it. THere were no rewards or punishments, and after a short while, eating was no longer an issue. What TYPE of food remained an issue, so at 3 years they said she had to eat 3 peas, 3 pieces of carrot, 3 whatever was served, then 4 at 4 years & so on. When she did voluntarily eat something, they didn't make a big deal, Mom just said "thank you for eating ____" She's now in college and still a little picky, but she's also very healthy & happy.

As I write this I also recall a video I watched years ago about kids who wouldn't eat, parents learned through play therapy with the kids it wasn't about the food at all, but about another need not being met: not being listened to, & not enough attention or play time with mommy are 2 I remember. Don't get me wrong, I'm not judging, but sometimes kids learn that food is the only place where they have any control and when it no longer becomes an issue, they don't fight anymore.

My daughter is a little younger than your son, but to make sure that she is getting something healthy while we're going through this phase, I give her Pediasure. At least that way she'll get some nutrition.

All I can say is u are giving him time out and taking away toys and so on ....well with my daughter I just started this If she is having a tantrum well It does not deserve my attention.She only gets my attention if she does somthing good on her own like eat or pick up her toys and she is 3.This is working I will exnor bad behivor wont even look at her when she is being mad or somthing like that,but I do give time outs or somthing for throwing.

Just rember when u'r son does not eat what u want him to well take away snacks things that he does like (food) He will get hungury and eat what ever u put in frunt of him.

Also at the table make it a point to say good job son when he is good at somthing.

I found it is tipical for parents even my self to point out when a child is doing bad and forget to point out when good is being done....positave reinforcement

tell me how it goes!!!


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