Our 3 Year Old REFUSES to Eat Anything but Junk.

Updated on August 03, 2015
B.L. asks from Weimar, TX
21 answers

We try to offer different foods and he won't even try them. I know he is underweight and we are getting really desperate and nervous.................................

What can I do next?

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So What Happened?

Oh my, I just replied to this and didn't push the right button. Yes, Diane B, this is ONE of my grandchildren. His mom is a stay at home mom with a 4 year old, 3 year old and 9 month old. Believe me when I say she does prepare heathly meals. they drink lots and lots of smoothies with only the most healthy ingredients. This particular child weighed 9 lbs 2 oz when he was born and ate, ate, ate until the age 2 l/2. He does eat apples, oranges, but not meats or vegs. Won't even try. He does have allergies, so maybe that does play a part. He is also very slow with his talking and has NO interest in potty training. Yes, as a grandparent, I am concerned. He does have a drs. appointment coming up soon, so maybe we can get some answers.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

If there is no junk, he will not eat junk. We completely avoided the problem by never having junk in the house. I would simply eat a balanced healthy diet and feed him exactly what you are eating. This will likely improve the diets of everyone in the house as well because you will all be eating better.

9 moms found this helpful


answers from Columbia on

Only offer him what you want him to eat. Eventually, he will.

If you always give in because you're afraid he'll refuse to eat forever and ever, and feed him junk, all you're doing is reinforcing the idea that if he waits long enough, he'll get his way. Don't give in. He's not going to starve himself to death.

3 moms found this helpful

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answers from Washington DC on

3 year olds are learning about the world, and what they like and don't like, and what they can and can't control, and how 'no' works, and what happens if they don't comply.
it's a very exciting, heady, adventurous, frightening time for them.
a 3 year old who is never offered junk won't eat junk.
parenting is an essential component for 3 year olds. they don't have the experience or reasoning capacity to make good choices every time.
i'm sorry, but it's ridiculous to let a child barely out of toddlerhood make his own decisions about something this important.
remove the junk from the equation and parent this child appropriately.

9 moms found this helpful


answers from Lakeland on

This is the old school way of doing it. No junk food in the house and your child will eat whats offered. End of story.

When I was growing up my parents would have never put up with not eating what was offered. If you didn't eat you went without and that NEVER lasts long.

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Columbus on

What's always worked in our house is this "you get what you get and you don't throw a fit" meaning: you either eat what is offered (w/o complaining) or you wait until the next meal (w/o complaining.) You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make them drink. I've never understood how this is able to become an issue, you are the adult, the one in charge, the boss; offer a variety of healthy foods and healthy foods only, the child will eat something when he realizes that he is not in charge and his only options are to eat what is provided or go hungry.

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

I agree with the others. He won't eat junk if you don't give him junk.

What kind of junk are we talking about? There are lots of junk foods that can be made healthier. Make your own chicken fingers, fish sticks, French fries, mac-n-cheese, pizza. Buy the best hot dog wieners and whole wheat buns, or low sugar cereals, or natural peanut butter, low sugar jam on whole wheat. You can still serve fun kid food and make it healthy, but don't make it every meal either.

I found the best way to get my kids to try new foods was to take them to buffets and let them choose. They always tried something new and usually something fairly healthy.

Kids generally won't starve themselves. Stop offering junk to fill up on and he will get hungry enough to eat something new.

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

ETA: I just looked back at your prior questions. Is this your grandson you are talking about? 3 years ago, you wrote questions about your infant grandchild. So are the parents as worried as you are? Does the child just not eat for you, the grandmother?

Original post: There's not enough info here. Is your pediatrician desperate and nervous too? Does your child have Failure to Thrive syndrome? Is there a sensory issue or a problem with swallowing? I'm guessing not. Or are you just a nervous parent with a child below the 50% mark?

If your doctor is worried, then you follow that advice.

If your doctor is not worried, then please understand that a 3 year old will not starve if he misses a meal. If he is hungry, he will eat. Do not give in to tantrums.

I had a picky eater with some mild texture issues. I was excellent at hiding nutrition in things like pancakes and French toast, and at making my own chicken nuggets with wheat germ and flax seed. I also give a comprehensive, complete food supplement (not just a multivitamin) that was delicious in milk or yogurt or pudding. It fills in all the gaps.

Stop making mealtime a battleground. Don't buy chips and pretzels and junk breakfast cereals - "We don't have any" is what you say. "I'm having some delicious apples and walnuts and I will share with you." Mealtime is a pleasant and desirable place to be - if he doesn't want it, he can be excused from the table. No begging, no bribing, no showing any anxiety or stress at all.

Use a sectioned plate or even an ice tray - each compartment can hold any of the following: yogurt, cheese cubes, whole wheat pasta, healthy meats and fish, avocado, hardboiled egg, various fruits (berries, melon, banana) and veggies (sweet potatoes, peas, carrots, and so on). Colorful choices and fun tastes/textures with a wide variety. What he does not want goes back in the fridge until later.

A 3 year old doesn't run the show. Make sure his caregivers have absolutely no option to go to cookies and crackers and ice cream.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Salinas on

You created the problem and now you don't want to fix it because it would require that you listen to him complain about what you serve him. He'll complain, refuse the healthy food and your lives may be miserable for a while. Then he'll eat what you serve him because he will be hungry.

Depending on what you consider "junk" he might be underweight because he isn't eating a balanced diet. Feeding him junk food alone is far worse than having a kid who eats healthy food but is still underweight.

Come on Mom & Dad, this one is entirely your fault!

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Miami on

"...we are getting really desperate and nervous..." and THAT is why you gave your child junk to begin with.

If you hadn't given him junk, you wouldn't be asking this question. You might be writing in asking how to get him to eat more because he's underweight. But at least he would have been healthy.

This is your doing and it won't fix itself overnight. My own husband kept fixing my older son fish sticks because he liked them so much the first time he cooked them. I had to take him to a session with the pediatrician to get my husband to understand that you don't just feed a kid what he wants because it makes him happy. You feed a kid food that is HEALTHY, and that doesn't mean fried fish every other night.

Ask your ped for a few sessions with a pediatric nutritionist. Work on this thing. You will need to actually be creative. And you'll have to throw out the JUNK in your house so that you can't fall back on it. You also have to stop making food seem like the most important thing in your child's life in front of him. You will have to use some "psychology" about this too.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

So find out what the common thing is. Is it a texture thing? Does he have allergies? My SS actually has allergies and a condition that makes him have a horribly sensitive gag reflex so he's picky about food because mealtime can be a minefield. Took us a long time to figure that out, though.

Do you offer food and let him whine and cry about it? We tried to walk the line between "you must eat" and "you don't have to eat something you hate." My DD is allowed to eat raw veg vs cooked. No problem for us to put it aside. She doesn't like pasta with sauce, so sauce is always on the side. We are all capable of adding to our own food. If we make stir fry, we allow her to pick the parts she likes, as long as it's reasonable (some meat, some veg). Salads are always an option. Fruit if she's eaten most of her other food.

We've put food on DD's plate and if she doesn't eat, then that's it. We don't roll out the food over and over or make her sit for hours, but that's what she gets for that night. If she's hungry later, I might allow her something like a cheese stick or a piece of fruit, but no candy, soda, juice...Healthy food, and something SMALL. She doesn't get to trade dinner for snacks.

Kids have very little they can control, so sometimes it becomes a power struggle. DD can ask to be excused, but then she knows what she does or doesn't get later. If she gets upset later, we remind her simply that she made a choice. She rarely gets upset later, and now if she doesn't eat, it's usually that she is not feeling well.

The other thing is how much does he graze? If he grazes a lot, he may not be hungry for dinner. Make snack time deliberate time vs whenever he asks.

We offer DD something she will eat, something she might eat and a wild card, and ask her to try all of it. You can also just not buy the snack food. Go shopping without him (or have it delivered - it's usually cheap) and then when he wants gummy snacks, "Sorry, we don't have any. How about a banana?" We avoid soda by not having soda.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

If there are no medical reasons?
Stop buying it.
Take as old as time: kids will eat when they are hungry.
Not sure where a 3 year old gets "junk" other than from you and also not sure what you consider "junk"!

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

At 3 years old, he is eating what you are giving him. If he is eating "junk" it is because that is what you are providing him. He can't eat what isn't offered or is in the kitchen. Get rid of the junk, and start giving him a healthy diet. Remember, you are the parent and are in control, not the 3 year old.

It also sound like you might need to get him evaluated, just in case there is an issue, like a sensory issue, or an allergy problem. Ask the doctor to refer you to a specialist for a workup, and to a dietician for help with his diet. Then, do what the doctors and specialist tell you to do.

But remember, he can't eat junk if you refuse to give it to him. Stick to your guns on this. You are the parent, not him.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Santa Fe on

I have two kids and one is very picky and has always been that way. He's 11 now. He also has other issues in life...I'm sure it's all tied together. Anyway, I learned quickly not to fill him up on snacks. Not to buy junk food. If it's not in the house he cannot get at it. And to keep him busy. If it's almost dinner time and he is starving I will put out his veggie serving or some cut up fruit/veggies I know he likes. At times he will not eat anything out of sheer stubbornness. But other times he will chow on healthy foods and say they taste good because he is so hungry. It's not like I'm a food nazi...I now do allow him to have a treat like Doritos or Goldfish now and then or we make a batch of cookies or brownies. But when he was 3 I did not allow much junk on a day to day basis. We just didn't buy it. He was very stubborn then but he did have some healthy foods that he always liked. I just made sure there was a little of what he liked at dinner most nights (some cut up chicken, carrot sticks, rice or pasta). He had a very hard time at that age taking one bite of something he didn't like but now he is good at this. It took maturity. I say serve healthy foods, try to always keep meal times pleasant, don't worry, don't fret, don't cater to him too much, praise him when he tries things, and offer healthy snacks later if he did not eat dinner. My friend was so tired of her 3 year old being picky that she completely stopped serving an afternoon snack every day. Her daughter was allowed nothing but water between lunch and dinner. She cried at first and was pitiful, but she was so hungry she started eating dinner every night. She got used to the routine and became a much better eater. I was impressed with my friend's resolve.

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answers from Beaumont on

I think the key to this is to phase out the junk food. I like the idea below about sneaking in the nutrition. My boys, since they were little, have loved smoothies in the a.m. It's fruit, almond milk and protein powder. They also love watermelon slushes. Lots of ways to sneak in the good stuff.

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answers from Norfolk on

Don't have any junk, don't buy any junk, don't offer any junk.
Offer some fruit slices, some par boiled veggies with peanut butter or cream cheese, raisins, etc.
Avocado slices are great.
He can drink water or milk or very watered down juice (prune juice he can have un diluted).

What is his height/weight age?
Use a childrens BMI calculator.
It's common for parents to go through this with toddlers.
But their growth is slowing down from it's peak (they about triple their birth weight their first year and never do that again!).
Do a food diary of what he eats/drinks and usually you'll see they do a pretty good job of getting a variety of foods.

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answers from Fort Myers on

My son is 3 too, skinny, and very active. He eats salad every night with dinner and loves apples, he'll eat a few during the day. I allow him cookies and stuff that he shouldn't eat. There are days where he seems to have more junk than good stuff. When that happens, the next day his options of food choices are only healthy. He knows I'm not going to cave in if he cries. Hes not going to starve, if hes hungryhe will eat. Smoothies are a great way to sneak in broccoli and other vegetables.

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answers from Austin on

Yes, as someone else said, please give us more details. Does he eat at home, or does he go to daycare or a babysitter's home during the day? How thin is he? What are mealtimes like in your house? What kinds of foods do you prepare, and what does the rest of the household eat?

ETA: if you need help with healthy meal and snack options, or with learning ways to make healthy meals from simple (not processed, not canned) ingredients, there are lots of great cooks on here who would be glad to help you. Don't be afraid to ask!

ETA again: Perhaps the smoothies are an issue. If this child's mother is offering lots of smoothies to the child, perhaps the child isn't getting accustomed to solid foods. Smoothies can be deceptive: they can have so many fruits in them that they can potentially contain too much sugar from fruits. They can contain too many servings of vegetables. And if they have added ingredients such as whey, protein powders, etc., they can be deceptively filling. Some of those protein powders may not be as healthy as they seem, or they may not be appropriate for toddlers.

Just as when people say their baby won't eat, but prefers bottle after bottle of milk and fruit juice (and then get good advice about limiting the juice and milk intake, because the baby is filling up on liquids), perhaps this toddler needs to have his smoothie intake reduced. He may be so accustomed to smoothies that his ability or desire to eat real food may be impaired. It's best to introduce real recognizable food to children, not food that is always disguised in smoothies, pancakes, muffins, and cookies, regardless of how healthy the ingredients seem to be. This child may not be tasting real carrots (cooked appropriately), or real green beans, or other real foods, because they're always served to him in a mushy liquid smoothie.

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answers from Austin on

More information needed.... what is it that he will eat? Is there any way you can "hide" pureed veggies in things like meatloaf, spaghetti sauce, etc.

What does the doctor say?

He may have oral sensitivity issues with certain textures, and such.

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answers from Sacramento on

Look up selective eating disorder (SED)/ARFID. If he acts afraid of new foods to the point of gagging or just plain refusing to eat, it may be beyond picky eating.

Our son was a super eater as a baby and toddler, but by his late preschool years he put on the skids and would hardly eat anything. It only got worse over time. By late 4th/ early5th grade he was so underweight he was on home hospitalization and in eating disorder treatment. They couldn't fix his fear of food but got him to eat more (with the threat of a feeding tube).

Look into SED/ARFID. We wasted a lot of time listening to bad advice that didn't work for this condition ("Just feed it to him. He'll eventually eat it. Kids won't starve themselves."). If this sounds at all like what he's got, you'll want to read up on it.

Regular doctors are NOT informed about SED/ARFID. It wasn't until we saw the eating disorder specialists that we finally meet doctors who understood.

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answers from Oklahoma City on

I have a picky eater too. She was always just underweight. The doc chatted to me a while and we tried several things. He finally told me that he figured calories were calories and that if she was eating anything she was getting something out of it. So we backed off a bit and let her eat more of what she would eat.

The more I backed off with trying to dictate what she would or would not eat the more she relaxed and would try new things.

I think you have to stop stressing about this so much and look at it objectively. He will eat but you don't want him to eat what "he" wants? Let him have what he wants and add to it.

My granddaughter will not in any way eat anything with a "veggie" in it.

So I don't tell her that spaghetti sauce is completely full of veggies. Tomatoes, onions, garlic, and more.

I don't tell her that pepperoni pizza has grains and veggies on it. She likes some things like that but I just do not mention what it has on it/in it.

By backing off and letting her lead the way she has found foods she likes. She cooks mac and cheese all by herself and when I make brownies I use half applesauce and half oil for the oil. It makes them a little heavier but they have less fat.

I find ways to sneak food in that she doesn't know about but I NEVER EVER put it on her plate and say she has to eat it in any way. That is only declaring war and both sides take their stance and the fight is on.

By taking a step back and looking at it objectively I found I was being a real dictator and she was reacting by taking a stand.

Now the other kids eat anything put in front of them. But her? Not at all.

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answers from Anchorage on

If he is eating plenty of fruits and not too much sugar then I would not worry about him. My youngest was a very picky eater, about the only things we could get him to eat for a long time were fruit, some cheese, cottage cheeses, and yogurt. He has outgrown that and eats more now, but is still very thin. Some kids are just made that way. I still dont force him to eat meat, it is really not needed if they get protein from other sources.

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