Five Year Old and Snacking/Food Issue

Updated on June 16, 2014
A.F. asks from Bellmore, NY
21 answers

My five year old daughter is a picky eater down to the only kind of macaroni and cheese she will eat. She is a healthy weight even though she likes to watch T.V. or play on the iPad often (I limit both.) I think when Alyssa is bored she wants to eat. She wakes up so early on weekends and days off from Pre-K anywhere between 5 am and 6 am. Alyssa would snack all day if I let her. I often think because weekends tend to be very unstructured. Right now she isn't involved in extracurricular activities. My husband and I put her in a soccer class but she was happy when it ended. Sometimes classes (dance, gymnastics, etc.) are pricey and we just had her baby sister two months ago. I tried putting Alyssa in a dance class two years ago and all she did was cry.

I was embarrassed today visiting a friend when all Alyssa did was ask for food the whole time. Granted it was tempting with chocolate cake, cookies and pretzels in sight. However, she had already had a piece of cake. I fed her breakfast before we left (cereal and two hard boiled eggs; to get her to eat protein other than peanut butter is difficult) and the "play date" began at 10:30. She was asking for lunch as soon as she ate the cake and two cookies! This play date was more for me as the mom had a baby too. Her oldest child was two and Alyssa was not very good with him (not used to two year olds.)

It's even harder when we travel to a lake in NJ and stay over with friends (kind of like camping except in a Bungalow with a bathroom.) We spend time with friends summers there not every weekend but sometimes (less now with a newborn.) It is very unstructured play. Basically we use our boat and swim. I do bring toys and coloring books but half the time Alyssa doesn't even look at the things I bring her. She doesn't know what to do with herself. There are two girls around Alyssa's age to play with but yet when she sees food out or she's bored, she wants to eat. It's hard to say no at times then when the other kids are snacking. I have to let things go a bit otherwise I will have a bad day arguing with Alyssa over why she can't have more chips, cookies, etc.

I have to admit that this is probably a learned behavior which deeply saddens me. I have always had issues with weight all my life. I am struggling now to adjust to staying home again with a baby and getting my own head on straight to realize I am not pregnant anymore. I love sweets, barely eat vegetables and could snack all day if I let myself. Alyssa will eat some vegetables though. Lately Alyssa has made comments to me about my weight which I know she doesn't mean to hurt me. She is just aware that I am not pregnant and my clothes don't fit well. Kids are blunt!

I try to teach Alyssa that when her tummy is full, she needs to stop eating. I'll tell her a meal is over and she can't have anymore food or only fruit. I know kids typically like to pick and snack at this age but it's to the point that she will always ask for food all the time, even at a friend's house for a playdate. How do I handle this situation? Thank you.

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So What Happened?

Thank you for your responses. I agree that I need to come up a meal schedule with healthy snacks. I do give Alyssa fruit often. I want to point out that most of the time she has good manners. I had a talk with Alyssa before we went to my friend's house about not asking for food. Kids often have a mind of their own. Regardless of the fact that most of the time the only house we visit is my parent's house ( play dates at friends' homes are just rare; we meet at places), Alyssa is used to asking my mother for food so I guess it comes naturally. I will work on this with Alyssa.

Featured Answers


answers from Indianapolis on

Stop buying junk.

Give her real food. Then all the snacking in the world won't matter.

If it's not an appropriate time to eat then tell Her so.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

Sounds like she is a grazer. I would let her graze only good healthy foods. Not everyone likes three meals. Now if she only wants junk food, grazing would not be allowed. My granddaughter likes to graze some days. It's fine with me but it's good food.

3 moms found this helpful

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answers from Portland on

I think it's time your little girl learned some manners, both around making comments about the appearances of others, and about the fact that there are times for eating and times which are not meant for eating.

And there's also the 'I'm bored' issue, which I'll get to.

If it were me, I'd first create a reasonable schedule of five eating times: two snacks (one morning, one afternoon), breakfast, lunch and dinner. Eating at regular times means that the child can consistently count on my saying "oh, we'll have snack in twenty minutes, go play now" and they know I will follow through.

Eating ONLY happens at the table. Never in front of tv/media (unless it's a special occasion, like popcorn for a movie). This is about building habits for mindful eating. Doing meals as picnics or such is fine, too; my rule for the kids is that we eat sitting down, not doing much else.

I'd pack up some snacks for playdates for now. Carrot sticks, almonds, healthy foods-- and make those available. Children at this age should be taught not to constantly ask for food. Let her know that if there's a playdate, she should come to you if she's hungry, not the host. There is also the old adage of "enough is enough" and if she is whining for food and not playing, then it's time to go home. Of course, it's less fun for us parents when we have to leave off our socializing, but honestly, with my son's young friends in first grade, it's really difficult to have picky eaters in my house who complain about what I have to offer and ask for other things. My approach is generally "no kid ever starved with a plate of food in front of them" and if they don't want *anything* that's out there (kid friendly foods, fresh fruit, cheese, nuts, crackers, pretzels, etc) that's the child's problem.

(I say this as the mom of a picky eater myself, he has been taught to eat what is available, period, and not to nag for other things.)

I would talk to her about why we don't make comments about people's appearances in an unsolicited way. And be firm about this. At this age, my son knew that if he had any questions about someone's appearance, he could ask me when we were alone, just in case it would be embarrassing for that person.

The other piece I want to address is the boredom. You may want to consider if the media time is giving her too much entertainment/structure so that she is a bit at loose ends regarding entertaining herself. Does she have open-ended art supplies :playdough, paper, crayons,-- I know quite a few kids who eschew coloring books entirely because they want to draw instead-- pipe cleaners, beads, hole punch with fasteners to cut pieces of paper and attach them to each other? I found that my son stays far busier with the bits and pieces we have in our 'found objects' box (tins, spools, containers, all sorts of recycled materials) than he will if I just give him a toy. Creative play with loads of masking tape and such is far more interesting.

Teach delayed gratifiction: "yes, you do want that muffin and we'll have it as a treat this afternoon, for now, I have X, Y, or Z and if you are hungry, I'm sure one of those choices would be fine."

Define treats and set a limit: one treat per day/every other day-- whatever you and your husband agree to and will stick with a limit. I personally do not do 'dessert' all that often, it seems to spark power struggles at dinnertime, more often than not. Instead, I might do a small treat after the usual afternoon snack, and then if they don't eat much, not a big deal, dinner is coming soon.

So, quite a handful of ideas. Whatever you do choose to do, stick with the plan for at least two weeks before deciding 'it doesn't work'. I don't know what it's like in your house, but we let our son get out food for himself ONLY after asking an adult. We have some structure and rules about food in our house and have since he was little; this helps to eliminate a lot of potential arguments. I often see kids get out foods from their pantry, only to have the parent then have to tell them no and a bunch of negotiation. My rule is simple: if you get it out without asking, you might put it back and try again; if you argue with mom about it, you can watch me put it back in the cupboard and NO, you won't be having that this time. Consistency!

ETA: we do what Fanged Bunny suggested about some foods. Mac-n-Cheese for one-- Kiddo gets one box per week and can eat as much or as little as he likes of it, but when it's gone, it's gone. Same with yogurt. That kid is crazy for the yogurt, so having a finite amount until Sunday (shopping day) is perfect for limiting without having to say No a whole lot.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Toledo on

Do you give her a mid-morning snack and a mid-afternoon snack as well as breakfast/lunch/dinner? Most kids her age need to eat every two hours. Their blood sugar really does drop after about two hours, and they need to set to raise their blood sugar and be able to function well.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

Maybe its time to speak with a doctor/ dietician/ nutritionist. Bravo for you for recognizing that you are part of the problem. Take the necessary steps to foster a healthy attitude towards food in your daughter.

You know your daughter best, would it help if you told her that you would only be getting say 1 box of cookies a week and she was in charge of how many she ate and when, but that you wouldn't be replenishing the box until next XXday? If the food is part of an underlying power struggle, this might help.

You can have structure and have it be cheap. Go for a walk, ride a bike, do some coloring, collect pine cones/ leaves, ride the subway, etc etc.
You can also allow boredom to be her problem. If she finds herself bored, you've got some suggestions on what she might do to entertain herself, or you would be happy to assign her some household chores.

F. B.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

I have 2 separate answers here.
1) at home, if she wants to snack say yes, but only for certains foods. For example, one of my kids almost never makes it to dinner time without snacking (and we can't move dinner up because of work). So, if he comes to the kitchen and asks for a snack, I say "sure, you can have a snack. Do you want apples or carrots?" If he says he wants a cookie, I say no, if you are hungry, your choices are an apple or a carrot. Sometimes he ruins his dinner, but I don't really care if he ruins his dinner by eating too many carrots.

2) at other's houses, five is definitely old enough to start teaching manners. And good manners say that you don't ask for food. You can say yes if it is offered to you, but you don't ask. If you are thirsty, you may ask for a glass of water. That's it. Talk about it. Role play it. Whatever. But it's not too soon to teach what is appropriate and not appropriate when you are a guest in someone else's house.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Santa Fe on

Don't feel too sad...she is only 5 and she can learn a more appropriate eating behavior. But you have to not give in. You have to be very black and white about it. Make a schedule and stick to it. Breakfast at 7, snack at 10, lunch at noon, snack at 3, dinner at 6. Then every time she asks, begs, cries, screams for a snack remind her the schedule and make he wait. Then the other hard part is try to have protein and healthier foods for snacks because sugary snacks will make her crash and crave sugar and want snack on more sugary foods even more. Snacks need to be things like raspberries and mixed nuts, apples and peanut butter, yogurt and crackers, cheese and pears, a smoothie and a hard boiled egg, bread and butter and oranges, etc. Serve with a cup of milk. Be very black and white about it even if it means she has a tantrum for an hour. It will be hard for her to get used to the new normal. Make sure meals are hearty and healthy and homemade!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

My kids are all grazers. When we're home they are constantly eating. I don't mind the grazing. I try to keep my house stocked with healthy foods they like - lots of fruit, yogurt, cheese, applesauce, etc.

Do my kids eat junk? Yes! Potato chips are delicious! A snow cone on a hot day screams summer! And that free cookie at the grocery store (even at 7am) Yum!

I don't label the junk as "bad". I don't limit food ("You can only have one treat a day"). I just try to make sure 80% of what everyone eats is good stuff.

I wouldn't be embarrassed by your daughter asking for food at a playdate. I'm 44 and if there was a plate of cookies on the counter at a friend's house, I'd ask for one! If it really bothers you, next time bring a snack for your daughter and make it clear that she's not to ask for food, but she can eat her own snack if she's hungry.

When your daughter's in school full time, her days will have more structure and her eating will be more scheduled. Enjoy this unstructured time. Try not to make food a battleground.

One last thing: when I was busy with a new baby I always "rotated toys" for my older ones. Before I went to bed I would put out something they haven't played with in a while. One day it would be blocks, one day it would be trains, one day it would be art supplies, etc. It kept my older ones happy and entertained while I was busy caring for an infant. You can also find "new" toys for very little money at yard sales. You can put out something "new" every so often. This will help your daughter be less bored during the day when you're busy with baby.

SAHM of 5
14, 12, 6, 4 & 2

2 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

My youngest has always been a constant eater, morning, noon and night. I don't know if it's because of her ADHD but I have always called her my little hummingbird, because she eats and eats yet maintains a nice healthy weight and shape.
Just keep the fridge and cabinet stocked with good, healthy, low calorie, low fat foods and let her graze to her heart's content. Nobody ever got fat by eating to many grapes and baby carrots!
I do not keep things like chips, cookies, ice cream on hand in anything other than very small amounts because I KNOW she will eat it all too quickly (and I don't like to be tempted either) so we usually go out for things like that. An ice cream cone after school for example, instead of bringing a gallon home from the store. And the only time my kids get soda is when we go out to eat, NEVER at home.
Remember mama, you are completely in charge of what food comes into the house. Let her make her choices from what YOU provide.
ETA: as far as asking for food at others' homes, that's more a lesson of manners. Just remind her that it's not polite to ask for food unless offered first. You may have to remind her several times, but she'll eventually get it!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

My son is a grazer. Always have healthy food available for him and he can have it. No power struggles. Yogurts, nuts, fruit, whole grain crackers. I always bring a snack to a at date and he understands never ask for something when a guest at someone's home except a drink of water. Check out Dr Sears website and blog. They discuss grazing and the positive connection to healthy life long dietary choices. Don't be afraid of frequent small meals. That's how little tummies are made. Also, just a side note, most older children would not enjoy playing with a 2 year old. That's a big difference in development for most kids. Play dates can be hard with young kids without an activity ( swimming, ball outside, art and crafts etc). They don't always naturally find something to play together with out help such as suggesting play kitchen or sand box. Most kids would ask for more cake! It all sounds pretty typical of most kids to me.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

I would work on telling her that it is not snack time and she needs to wait. I would also tell her it is impolite to ask for or demand food at someone's house. I would tell her she can ask for a glass of water if she is hungry because many times hunger is really thirst. Everyone (mostly) likes cake, but it is rude to ask for it. You don't know if it is for you or someone else. I think that her asking at people's houses is as much teaching her to be respectful as it is curbing her hunger.

I also tell my DD that she must eat healthy food first. So what if so and so at the barbecue is eating nothing but chips? MY child needs to eat fruit or cheese or a hot dog before she can have cookies and candy. And, frankly, arguing about that starts at home, where you can teach her that a tantrum means no snack, so can it. My DD will ask for candy and she knows if she throws a hissy fit, then she won't get anything, period. She may sometimes get one small piece if she's behaved and eaten well.

ETA: Chips and candy and such are a "sometimes food" and carrots, etc. are "growing food". I got that from DD's preschool. She seems to understand that too much junk is not good but these other things will help her grow and be healthy. There's a Doc McStuffins book about the bubble blower that gets gummed up with the wrong stuff. Consider reading it to her or finding that episode. It's a way to show her "you need to fill yourself with good stuff to play well."

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Denver on

I'm curious as to what kinds of food you cook for meals? If you use a lot of convenience foods, sauces from a jar, bottled salad dressings, dinners from a box, canned soups, seasoning packets, mixes - basically processed foods - you'll find that nearly all of them have sugar and useless fillers in them, and are not likely to satisfy hunger. What they are likely to do is create cravings. Sugars can be listed in many forms (anything ending in "ose" or "itol", and anything listed as "syrup", as well as the easily recognized words like sugar, honey, etc). Try cooking healthy foods and having your daughter help you. And read all the labels on the foods in your pantry and fridge. If you see sugars and additives and foods with no fiber or protein, that might be a clue to why your daughter is hungry.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Colorado Springs on

A granddaughter did that to me when she was that age.

I have some food at my house that she doesn't usually have at her house. As soon as she came over (and her parents left), she would start in with, "May I have a snack, please?" So I'd give her what she wanted. Fifteen minutes later, she would say, "May I have a snack, PLEEEEEZE?" I finally got the picture and started answering, "NOOOOO" (with a smile).

I agree that you need to keep real food, not junk food, at your house. Set the example by eating the good stuff (did you know that if you stay away from sweets for a week or two, then, when you taste them again, they're not going to taste so good? True!). Set definite snack times for yourself and for your daughter, not just whenever she wants it. Teach her that when she is at someone else's house, she does not ask for food or drink (except perhaps a drink of water) - she waits until something is offered. Stop talking about your own body image, even to yourself (in case it comes out of your mouth by accident).

From what you write, it sounds as if maybe you're an emotional eater. I am, too. That's a tough one, but you can learn to recognize when you're really hungry and when it's a non-hunger need. If you can conquer your own habits, your girl will go right along with you. I'm in your cheering section as you tackle this.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

Before every snack must come a healthy food. If she says she's hungry offer carrots or banana. If she says no to those two choices then she's not really hungry. (dont overwhelm her with open ended, just give two healthy choices) If she eats the healthy food, she can have a treat. (pretzels, popcorn, goldfish, cheezits and sugary cereals are treats just like cookies, cake and ice cream. set a limit of two treats a day and and let her have healthy food. And I agree, she's old enough to learn it's rude to ask for food at other people's houses. Just wait to be offered.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Honolulu on

A 2 year old and 5 year old are very different developmentally.
Not all kids, are good with YOUNGER children.
And an older child should not be expected to entertain a 2 year old. A 2 year old is only in the "parallel play" stage. They have no social skills nor are they aware of things like a 5 year old is.

Your daughter probably wants to eat so much at other people's homes... because it is different/new/full of goodies and it is more exciting, to be eating at another person's home. On a PLAYdate. It is like a party. Exciting. Tempting. Fun.

Kids, of all ages, need to eat, intermittently throughout the day. That is normal. "Grazing" is actually a healthier way of eating. My son and Husband are like that. They only eat, until they are full. They eat when/if they are hungry. Sure, we have regular mealtimes, but they eat only until they are full. We as a family, do not make rules like a person has to eat EVERYTHING on a plate. That is unhealthy. A person should eat according to their body's cue.

Kids, graze.
Ditto Patty K and Ziggy below.

When/if my kids are hungry. They say so. They graze. Throughout the day. AND especially when going through a growth-spurt... they eat, constantly. Even 10 minutes after a meal. I know, when they are growing.

Also ditto Jaelyn A. below.
Just buy healthy foods. Don't have junk food at home.
You as a Mom, have to also be aware of your junk food eating.

Emotional eating, is not healthy.
Eating out of boredom is emotional eating.
Don't keep sweets at home.
Go and exercise. Take walks with your daughter.
Make healthy food.
There are TONS of recipes online.
Don't go grocery shopping and buy junk.
Having sweets are fine, in moderation. But not if it is the WHOLE POINT of the day. And not if sweets and junk food is always the focus.
Change your focus.

"Snaking" for example... DOES NOT MEAN JUNK FOOD. Snacking can be HEALTHY.
Try different foods.
Make different things to eat.

Does your daughter, even KNOW when her tummy is full?
Or when she is hungry?
If not, telling her that is not going to do anything.
Some people don't even know when/if they are full.

As a Mom, don't focus... on snacking on junk.
Don't focus on your loving sweets.
Eat vegetables. Make it. Buy it.
SHOW your daughter, different types of foods and healthy snacks.
Don't focus on all the negative things about yourself.
Show her, and talk out loud... about fun healthy ways of eating.
Don't keep focusing on the negative.

Know the difference between emotional eating, and healthy eating.
And focus on different foods.

Teach your daughter manners. When at other people's homes.
Teach her how a "guest" acts.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

Have you had her checked for diabetes or low blood sugar?



answers from Rochester on

She may (or probably is) actually hungry. If she is looking for food - she is looking for nutrients - not just satisfaction. She's too young to have a learned behavior to 'snack to satisfy something missing' yet.

Fruit doesn't exactly satisfy - it fills a sugar craving - which comes with a low afterwards. Same with cake and everything else with grain involved.

Including more non-meat protein sources for her will likely help 'fill' her (for you) and satisfy her cravings for 'food'.

With my boys, I make sure they go to bed with lentils or beans in their dinner - low-sugar, non-meat, non-nut protein sources.

Children have a hard time digesting meat - to the point where their body will focus on digesting that before it digests any other healthy food you put in there like spinach and carrots! Same goes for nuts. These are great ADULT choices to satisfy.

I don't think you need to work on anything with the girl - just getting her protein and vitamin sources she can use, and expecting sugar lows after giving cake, fruit, and other sweets, instead of satisfaction.

RBTI - Dr. Reams had a lot of information on this, many years ago.

Good luck,



answers from Seattle on

I think my daughter would do the same thing if I let her. Kids are pretty good at regulating their food intake, however I think that all goes out the window if they are eating sugar and junk food. They will just crave it more and more. I have the same problem with my two - and myself for that matter. My take on it is that the kids can eat any veggies they want if they are still hungry after the decent size snack or treat I let them have. If I let them eat whatever and whenever they want, they would be very unhealthy. I try to limit the junk that comes into the house too. That really helps. Also, at parties or functions I lighten up a bit and let them have a couple of treats so they don't feel deprived. I'd have some healthier, yet fun snacks on hand for those occasions when she is around other people snacking, but don't feel bad saying no to a snack if she has just eaten. I do think some kids need more direction about food. It's perfectly fine to say no to additional snacks and explain that her body doesn't need more fuel right now, since she has just eaten - or however you want to explain it without body shaming. I tell my kids often that any additional food and especially sugar will turn directly to fat. It's okay to tell them how the body works. We don't harp on them or make them feel bad, but we do explain the science of it. My kids are very active too, but no amount of activity can make up for genetics.



answers from Portland on

Sit-down meals are actually a fairly recent layer of human social development. Cave-kids probably nibbled whatever they could get their mouths around all day long. Grazing is still the healthiest eating pattern for many people.

As a diabetic, I usually nibble during the day to keep my blood sugar from spiking), and my grandson, who has never been an "oral" kid, does best eating similarly. (Keeping blood glucose level is one of the healthier ways to avoid weight problems, including type 2 diabetes.) What works best for him is to keep a SMALL plate of attractive and healthy foods that he can snack from. He's a skinny guy who seldom eats a full dinner, but we know he's had good nutrition during the day. Sweet treats are saved for the occasional dessert..

I agree that she's old enough to understand that it is not good manners to ask for food at other homes.


answers from San Francisco on

One of my daughters is a "grazer." I think it's actually a pretty healthy way to eat, rather than sitting down and gorging oneself three times daily. The thing is, the grazing needs to be healthy foods, not chocolate cake. Tell her that if she's hungry, she can have an apple, or some grapes. Offer her carrot sticks or celery (maybe with peanut butter on the side). My kids love pretty much any type of fruit, and this time of year, they love cucumbers. You could offer her yogurt (the kind without added sugar). Let her fill up on foods that will provide healthy fuel for her. It's okay that she's frequently hungry, and it's okay if she won't eat a big, sit-down meal. (As an aside, I'd limit the mac-n-cheese - that stuff isn't so healthy if it's the Kraft type from the box.)

I realize she's a picky eater, but the thing is, she can only eat what you offer her, and if she's hungry, she will eat it. She's young enough that she can still be trained to crave healthy foods! :) If she's going to a friend's house for a playdate, you could offer to supply the snack, and then bring over a little veggie tray, or some fruit salad.

While you're looking at getting your daughter to eat healthier, this is a great opportunity for you as well, since health and fitness is something you're looking to work on. Get rid of the junk food in your house. Since I did that myself, I've really stopped snacking out of boredom. If there's nothing "easy" to eat, I have to stop and think about whether I'm REALLY hungry, or if I just want to eat something. You know? Anyhow, you can do it. This is easier than you might think!



answers from Los Angeles on

She sounds like either a grazer (they tend to eat throughout the day) or
her metabolism can burn it off.
I wouldn't tell her no to snacks like chips when she is at a party or play
date. She won't get that & it seems mean.
Try giving her something to eat every 2 hrs.
You can sneak protein in if she won't eat it.
You can, also, sneak veggies into her meals. (shredded carrots in the
meatloaf etc.). Check out Jessica Seinfeld's book from the library.
Sounds like she rises early so she'll be hungry in the better part of the day
As she ages, she'll get that feeling when her tummy is full.
Is she active? Sounds like she is.
Is she overweight? Doesn't sound like it so you don't have to worry.
Model good eating habits by eating well yourself.
Have things on hand like mini carrots & Ranch, applesauce, peanut
butter & toast, veggie chips instead of regular chips, baked chips, have
fruit on hand (apples, bananas, tangerines).
Let her see you eat well.
Make spaghetti & tacos w/ground turkey instead of ground beef.
Does she like cheese? Try some string cheese.
The key is to have healthy, tasty food on hand, eat regular meals on time, have healthy snacks (fruit, carrots etc), cheese & crackers, applesauce etc.
You can have a healthy snack between meals.
Eat meals on time. Go with times that work w/her & for your family not
just you.
Try apple slices alone. If she doesn't like that, then add a tiny bit of
carmel on her plate to dip into.
Always travel w/a little something for her to eat in your car/purse (fruit
snacks, Goldfish crackers, apple slices etc.).

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