3 1/2 Year Old Wont Eat at Dinnertime......

Updated on July 07, 2009
H.B. asks from Halethorpe, MD
15 answers

Does anybody have any advice for a boy that wont eat? He eats breakfast, usually. Lunch too,(cuz it's usually pb &j!) He ate lots of stuff for a while, though veggies were always tough...but all of a sudden, he balks at dinnertime, even when it's stuff i know he likes! I'm not one of those "clean your plate!" mom's. I just expect him to taste everything and if he doesnt like it, that's fine. But he is a strong willed kid. And i make food that is usually "kid friendly". We've tried just letting him get up and saying no snacks then. We've tried time-outs for his outbursts of refusal. And we've even left him strapped in at the table and SOMETIMES he gives in. But i hate all the battling! He also is hypoglycemic so it's difficult to refuse him food after he skips dinner because he gets shakey (and grouchy) when he doesnt eat. I wish he would just EAT!!! I am also not the type of mom to give in and give him something separate to eat-that isnt going to teach him to eat meals. Not to mention, i work full time, so who has the time? HELP!! I dont want him to live on pb & j and pizza!

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D.S.

answers from Washington DC on

Lots of good advice, I agree if he's eating two good meals a day, go with it. And include fruits and veggies for snacks. Is there something healthy you can keep in the fridge as an alternative at dinner time? One week a month my son doesn't eat much dinner and I offer him oatmeal and he eats it. It's whole grain oats, raisins, milk and cinnamon, so I think it's a pretty good alternative. It keeps in the fridge for a week! Good luck!

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C.J.

answers from Washington DC on

my approach is similar to megan's. kids this age don't always need the same amount of food every day. if my daughter doesn't eat the food goes in the fridge. when she tells me later that she is hungry for applesauce i tell her that she is hungry for food and i give her dinner. it's how i discovered she preferred ravioli cold. good luck!

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R.H.

answers from Norfolk on

It's the age my daughter and my nephew do the same thing. pack all his nutrition in breakfast. Offer oatmeal or something else healthy. Eggs, pancakes, oatmeal, cream of wheat and plenty of it. Give him all he wants. Plus give him things with his PB&J sandwich. yogurt, peas corn or other sides. it's more likely to eat it during the day.Good luck we're just working out of this with my daughter and she's almost 7yrs old and my sister still has this trouble with her son and he's nearly 8yrs old.
What my mother says is it's not natural for people to eat a big dinner. Children are taught to eat big dinner but some just don't conform. So don't push it give them something small. feel comfort that they won't be fat like some of us. good luck

S.T.

answers from Washington DC on

so stop battling! he's eating two good meals a day, which is great. whether you decide to put his meal in the fridge and give it to him later if he gets hungry (a fine idea) or let him be shaky and grouchy and come to his own realization that dinner is a good idea (also a good idea but harder to do with a hypoglycemic 3 year old), either is better than strapping him down or punishing him. you don't want to set up a scenario where you are always battling over food, it's a pattern that will create habits that will plague him his entire life. i totally agree with you that no mom, especially one working full time, should ever be a short order cook. have him sit at the table with you, and if he gets hungry later he can eat then. but if he's eating healthy at breakfast and lunch he will NOT starve from skipping dinner and the fact is he is probably just not hungry. there are things you need to insist on, but you can't force hunger. trust your child.
khairete
S.

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D.J.

answers from Washington DC on

Is he getting enough sleep? My son won't eat because he is too tired and cranky at dinnertime.

My son started giving up his nap at 25 months, and almost never takes a nap now that he is 3, but by dinner time he is too tired and cranky to want to eat. I usually get a few bites down him.

I wouldn't worry about PB&J and pizza too much. You can try and make those things healthier. Like use whole wheat bread, peanut butter made with JUST peanuts, an all fruit spread instead of jelly that's mostly refined sugars.

I was picky and my mother use to tell me I was going to turn into a grilled cheese sandwhich.

Sometimes I use a barter system if he wants something in particular. Like if he want a piece of bread, he has to take a bite of something else for every bite of bread, and I hold the bread.

Also, I think the best idea, if he eats the other meals better like my son, is save his dinner for the next day at lunch. Then heat his dinner up for lunch, and let him have the PB&J for dinner.

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S.C.

answers from Norfolk on

That's the age. My oldest would only eat chicken nuggets and mac&cheese for what seemed like FOREVER! I would make our regular meals and try to include something he liked. I would also make extra of his favorite so if he wouldn't eat anything else on other nights I could just microwave leftovers. Also if your really look at how much food your child needs he might be getting enough. Try not to stress out too much. Like my pediatrician said "if he is hungry he'll eat!". Good luck!

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A.C.

answers from Washington DC on

Try smoothies if he will not eat. You can secretly add in things you don't think he is getting otherwise. But truely he will not starve himself- let him eat what works.

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C.D.

answers from Washington DC on

I don't think food should ever be forced. Like the other Mom said, just pack his breakfast and lunch with the nutrients he needs. His body is telling him what he needs and sometimes when we force them to eat the amount we think they need we are training them to overeat. It's hard for me too to not tell my son too to eat his food. Even now my son is 7 and somedays he eats only oatmeal for breakfast, some fruit for lunch at school and maybe a little bit of meat at dinner then other days I feel like I have to put a lock on the kitchen. LOL. I also work full time so I know how you feel worrying he isn't getting enough and not having time to watch him eat every meal. But this is part of him maybe being independent. My son was able to get himself snacks like crackers, precut fruit I had in the fridge and other easy healthy snacks when he was 2 1/2 and he liked being able to do that. My son also got more excited with me being home too so that I think may have had an effect on his appetite as well. But good luck. I think that as long as there is a next meal he will be fine not eating dinner. Hope I didn't sound too preachy.

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P.G.

answers from Washington DC on

Good advice so far, I would just add that what worked for us with a very willful, very picky, very sensory-charged child....for years...was to give our technique a name he well-understood: the ONE BITE RULE.

So at dinnertime when all he wanted was X, we placed X on a plate just out of his reach, and placed a plate with more nutritious, complementary or new items in front of him. To get X, he needed to take one bite from each of the other items. Just one bite. It was astounding to see how often he enjoyed a new item or an old one prepared differently, but which he would never have sampled if left on his own!

I would not suggest physically confining a child at the table--this could really backfire with every meal becoming a challenge, a taunt and clever psychological warfare, and him eventually having serious feeding/eating problems. Just try "one bite"---make a joke when he refuses and say, "you can even hold your breath and just swallow it with milk. Just one bite and you can get down if you want. Honest." If he balks or absolutely refuses, don't fight; don't keep commenting or cajoling. You finish YOUR meal, and then take him down without any food. He will be hungry at the next meal. Only offer liquids before bedtime. He will do better at each subsequent meal when he realizes how easy it is to get his desired food(s) and that you will not play his "waiting game". Eventually it is your company he will want and he will stay to get his preferred item X. Things will even out and you can all enjoy your meals again! Good luck.

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M.C.

answers from Washington DC on

Do you ever let him plan dinner? Maybe lunch and dinner are a bit too close for his system and he just isnt hungry when you sit down to eat. When my son does this to us, we put his plate, as is in the fridge, and then when he's hungry later, we pull it out and warm it up.
M.

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S.M.

answers from Washington DC on

Give him some crayons and a workbook at dinnertime -- have him sit with you, but take away the pressure of eating. Try not even putting a plate on the table for him. It might just be a power struggle.

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A.L.

answers from Washington DC on

My grandmother, an amazing person in addition to teaching child development at the college level, used to say that if you can get your toddler to eat ONE solid meal a day, don't sweat it. I'd say if your son is eating a good breakfast and lunch, don't worry so much about dinner.

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S.M.

answers from Washington DC on

Hi H.:
My almost 4 year old son started that battle several months ago - I feel your pain. I did/do most things you have done to get him to eat that 3rd meal - thinking he needs it. Then my husband who has been a personal trainer said that he is actually naturally eating the way we all should. Whick is a big meal at breakfast, same or a little smaller at lunch, some snacks and taper off eating at the end of the day. Little bodies really do know what they need and they stop when their calorie requirement for the day has been met. On the days where he is saying he is hungry at dinner time - but not eating and wants snacks foods instead I just let him know his meal is there and that is what is to eat when he gets hungry. But we do have him sit with us for family meal times anyway. I noticed a pattern with THAT particular behavior. We sometimes eat late - like 7pm by the time everyone is home and ready to eat dinner.(I think he was just too tired to care about eating) So I started feeding our [email protected]____.com he is eating dinner more consistently.(And then there's 2 1/2 hours before time for bed so he is ready to sleep instead of still digesting his food.)Don't know if you are late diners - but recognizing that pattern in our house has made a BIG and peaceful change at meal time. OH - then when Daddy and I eat - Jameson is done and it's time for him to have a little desert if we have it that night. Then mealtime is pleasant for my husband and I. Hope that helps! S.

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K.L.

answers from Washington DC on

A child will not starve themselves. He may simply not be hungry. Many drs push the theory that your body craves what it needs, so perhaps he just doesn't "need" that meal.

As L. as he is eating balanced meals and snacks when he does eat, I wouldn't stress. Pushing the issue and trying to force him to eat can make things worse.

If he consistently eats pb&j, have you tried offering that as dinner and dinner for lunch (perhaps the food he didn't eat the previous night).

Trying to "hide" veggies and stuff may work. Smoothies, meat loaf, fruit on the pbj sandwich, etc.

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E.K.

answers from Washington DC on

H.,

I have not read most of the other responses, but I only make one meal at dinner also. My daughter is the one who usually doesn't eat dinner. She is a nibbler, she eats breakfast and lunch, and has snacks in the morning and the afternoon. By the time dinner comes around, she is not hungry and may only one or two bites of dinner. If you think about it though, that's the way to go, cause after dinner, you just go to bed in a few hours. I usually leave her food on the table so that when she says she is hungry, she can eat some of her dinner. We also have smoothies for desert, although the favorite snacks in my house are fruits and veggies.
Believe me, he wont lose anything by not eating dinner. He will eat when he is hungry, don't worry about it.
Enjoy your expanding family

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