Preschooler, Food and Tantrums

Updated on June 22, 2013
A.F. asks from Bellmore, NY
11 answers

My four year old daughter is of normal weight. I think she is typical of a preschooler who likes to eat carbs like pasta, bagels and crackers. She also has a sweet tooth which she got from me. Sometimes, like today, Alyssa has tantrums when I won't allow her to eat as much as she wants in terms of junk food. Alyssa always wants to eat dry cereal in the morning and it's relatively healthy, like Special K or Honey Nut Cheerios. So she ate some cereal. An hour or so later because kids were allowed to come to work, she ate a half plain bagel. I brought in Munchkins, so she ate two of them. Then someone gave her an ice. Alyssa had a tantrum in front if my coworkers because she wanted more munchkins and I told her, her tummy was full. I held firm and gave her some fruit salad. I know Alyssa is used to eating a lot for breakfast but she needs to learn at four that she has to stop sooner or later. It is frustrating to make her understand when she is full. On the other hand, I think I'm pretty lenient when there are kids and treats. Please advise, thank you.

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So What Happened?

Thank you for your responses. I'd like to point out that I rarely allow Alyssa munchkins or any other junk food for breakfast. It was a special day, my last day of work and we had treats. Obviously, whenever there are children and treats around and adults/children are eating them, you can't not allow your child to eat them. But you do need to have a limit.

Also, I do try very hard to get Alyssa to eat protein. I offer her things like eggs, cheese and peanut butter. Alyssa rarely eats eggs, once-in-awhile. The only cheese she eats is the cheese on pizza or parmesan cheese on her pasta. She refuses to eat grilled cheese or cheese sticks. And she used to eat Poly-O string cheese much younger.Alyssa does enjoy peanut butter which is a savior for lunch. But she enjoys them on crackers. I just wanted to know how to change her eating habits slowly (this did not develop overnight) and reduce the tantrums when I say no more junk. P.S. I usually do not give Alyssa junk food until after dinner. That has become a big habit, expecting dessert after dinner. When we're home or on weekends, I give Alyssa a lot of fruit. Sometimes she does eat pretzels, goldfish or a granola bar but not bowls and bowls of ice cream or ten cookies! As for vegetables, we have to work on that more.

More Answers


answers from Hartford on

Well, not for nothing but you did give your daughter junk. She didn't have a filling breakfast... she had carbs without having them paired with fruit and protein. Then you piled on more empty calories in the form of more carbs plus "ice" which is really sugar water.

So. No real food until you offered her fruit. No mention of giving her anything to drink. But you expect her to have been feeling full? On very little?

Of course she was hungry. Of course she had a tantrum. But the tantrum was not her fault. It was yours.

Plan ahead next time. Pack real food. Bring peanut butter, a cooler pack with yogurt, fruit, some veggies, cheese squares, rolled up turkey, hard boiled eggs, etc. If you have to let them have Dunkin Donuts, stop and get those little Wake Up Wraps that have egg and cheese (and bacon). The pita breads come with cheese and egg whites with veggies. Much better options in the morning with fewer carbs and more protein.

The best way to handle a tantrum is to avoid one in the first place. :-)

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I agree with the other posters who suggest protein. Sounds like that's the missing ingredient.

Cereal with milk or a lightly-sweetened yogurt or some eggs (in any form she'll eat them). When she's with you, just nix the junk food-- munchkins are loaded with chemicals and good for no one. Instead of fruit salad, offer a string cheese or hard-boiled egg.

Our family rule is simple: one sweet per day. Two if it is a very exceptional day. For example, our son made cookies with me this morning, so he got to have two small cookies and later, a cherry ice. That's it. In between, he's had almonds, celery, carrots, some pasta salad (with cheese) and more nuts with the ice. You must pair carbs with protein or you risk raising a future diabetic. Her blood sugar is not being relatively regulated, so I can see why she had a meltdown.

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answers from Washington DC on

If she is not a normal weight do you mean she is overweight?

I would teach her portions and tell her she needs growing food before treats. My DD can earn some treats if she eats her growing food first. Didn't eat a good dinner? No treat. And if she has a fit about it, she can go to her room b/c I'm not listening to it.

So it's two-fold. It's teaching her "you may have two and that's it" and "I MEAN IT when I say that's it." If she has a tantrum and you give in, then she will do it again. So if you want her to knock that behavior off, you need to work on that all the time - food, tv, leaving a party, whatever. I don't respond to whining or tantrums. If DD wants to stomp her foot, she gets told to knock it off or go down the hall. I just now calmly told her to turn on the fan herself. Then I ignored her. She eventually got up and did it herself. No tantrum.

Someone once told me "No is a complete sentence." So if she says she wants more, just say "No." That's it. "No."

I would also schedule meal times. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, mid morning and mid afternoon for healthy snacks, if appropriate.

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answers from Honolulu on

Does SHE know.... when her tummy is full?
Or not?
Since my kids were toddlers, I taught them how to know their body's cues for hunger or fullness.
So that, they KNOW when to stop eating.

Or maybe your daughter is simply tired/over tired. Hence they get fussy. Or fussier.
Or it is a combination of her being hungry AND tired at the same time.
A young kid can't manage when they are like that.

Kids are also very active... and thus need to "graze." Meaning, little snacks throughout the day. If a kid is hungry and for long periods, they can get, low blood sugar. And this causes moodiness/fussiness/lack of tolerance and they get tired and can't concentrate.
I know when my kids are like that. Then I feed them. I don't time it. I know their body's cues and they know too.

Snacks don't have to be junk food.
And kids, typically need lots of carbs, but make it complex carbs... because they burn off so much energy and it also affects their brains.
If their system is running on empty or junk food.

Teach your daughter what is "junk food."

To me, your daughter seems tired.
Does she nap?
Being in preschool, makes a kid tired and they are listening and following directions all day. And after school, they are pent up and tired and hungry and deflate.

Is she eating lunch at preschool? Or after?

And, if she is hitting a growth-spurt... they get HUNGRY very often and need to graze. AND they may sleep a lot more and need to.
Both my kids were like that and per summer time growth-spurts.

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answers from St. Louis on

I think part of the issue here is the carb overload. There is no protein or good fats in this repertoire that she ate this morning and mostly all simple carbohydrate and sugar. Cereal is fine for breakfast but it needs to be paired with milk or almond milk, a yogurt, some peanut butter on a piece of whole wheat or flax toast.....maybe an egg or egg white on the side along with the dry cereal. These are things that are providing protein in the diet and also necessary good fats that help quell hunger, balance the amount of insulin that the pancreas releases, and keeps the body feeling full and energized. The carb meals are causing peaks and valleys in blood sugar levels and when not combined with proteins and good fats, they are simply....sugar! Complex carbs would be a better choice at this point and at this age as well. Starting kids eating well at age four is so much easier than at age fourteen when it's likely to go in one ear and out the other and it may also be too late for health reasons. It is a known fact that children today have more cases of diabetes than ever before and are more overweight and out of shape than you could ever imagine. Line up 10 school aged children and more than half of them will be overweight. It's the food we eat, the reliance on convenient packaged and boxed foods, and the accessibility of these foods and fast foods that contributes to this mess that we are in.
My kids are older teens now but the limits I set when they were just babies has helped mold their eating habits. I never fed them white bread. They always drank skim milk or almond milk. They learned to replace chips, cookies, and candies with fruits, nuts, and berries. I have never given my kids soda. I'm not saying that they have not enjoyed cupcakes, ice cream, donuts, and all that but these things were not staples in our house. They were special treats and not something I would put out for them as a regular scene in our house. It provided balance. I also had the rule that if you don't eat your regular meals, you're not getting treats and junk afterward to compensate for the bad choice of not eating. There were plenty of tantrums and also plenty of nights where I'm sure they went to bed hungry but none of them were starving and by breakfast the next day, the crappy attitude was over and their plates were clean! I would then remind them that I wasn't a short order cook and that tantrums for treats will get you sent away from the table and a stomachache until the next meal comes around. Tough love....I'm a fan of it. LOL.
Put the foot to the floor now and also start integrating proteins, whole grains, and more complex carbs into the diet before the carb attacks catch up with your daughter. Once the Carb and Treat Queens hit puberty, it's all downhill from there with a diet like this. They will pack on the pounds and the framework for diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease becomes a reality. You have a lot of time on your your child to eat differently now and stand your ground about any tantrums that come your way about changes in foods. No kid will ever starve themselves when they know food is readily available. She will cave and eat better when she realizes you mean business and don't feel the least bit guilty about helping her make good food choices for life!

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answers from Seattle on

You need to try to feed her some protein. Otherwise she's going to be hungry all day long. So, if she's super into carbs, try to add protein to it. Egg and cheese sandwich? Toast with peanut butter? Oatmeal with fruit and brown sugar? Yogurt? All of those things are pretty kid friendly kinda carby and have protein.

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answers from Miami on

A., the first thing I thought when I read your post was that your daughter is "hooked" on carbs. If you read medical reports about this kind of thing, they explain that your body can crave carbs and junk food even though it's not good for you.

I have to tell you that this summer, I'd get rid of pasta, bagels and cereal and all junk foods. I'd only have whole wheat bread or whole wheat pita bread.

You may have a battle for a couple of weeks with your daughter about not having stuff she likes in the house. No matter. Ignore her and put out fruits, veggies and lean meats anyway. She will not starve.

You can get some ideas about how to help her get used to this different type of eating by looking at Jerry Seinfeld's wife's book about children and eating vegetables. She "hides" vegetables in food. That might help at the beginning while she learns to change her eating habits.

If your daughter tantrums about food, she should be required to leave the table and go to her room. When she comes back to you asking to eat, give her the same food she tantrumed over. She'll eventually figure out that the tantrums do no good and she will eat with the family.

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answers from Chicago on

Well, my son was like this. We realized that he kept telling us his tummy hurt. We tried Gluten Free on a whim.. and it panned out for us. Yes, kids want a "snack" vs real food. I think most kids do, but I can easily deter him with the right foods. His attention span improved, his neediness for us has decreased he is doing very well. All the foods she had this morning were full of gluten. Try chex cereal, they have the honey version it is just as good as honey nut cheerios. Also, he can tell when he is hungry vs his tummy hurting.

Good luck.



answers from Toledo on

Kids are born with a natural ability to recognize when they are full and not want anymore food. If she is at a healthy weight and says she's hungry, then she's hungry. What you choose to give her to eat at that point is another question, but I wouldn't tell her she's not hungry.

I understand that the story you gave is probably an example, but if it is just a one time thing (your last day of work) I wouldn't worry about it too much. It's possible she would get a bit of a tummy ache, but one day of sweets isn't going to hurt her. And don't feel too bad about her sweet tooth. I don't think I've ever met a young child without a sweet tooth. I think they go hand in hand.


answers from Williamsport on

Are her only tantrums food-related? If you have a no tantrum household, food should not be any different. If one of my kids starts to tear up or pout over some food they get one swift warning and that's it because a tantrum would be disciplined like it would be for anything else. "Back to Basics Discipline" by Janet Campbell Matson is great for nipping tantrums.

As for her diet, cereal is OK (not great though-a banana and some strawberries would be better) as a no brainer for breakfast if it can get you going on your morning in a timely fashion, but for the rest of the day the carbs need to be only a small percentage of her meals. Half a bagel (is equal to about 4 slices of normal bread since it's so dense-lose the bagels except for rarely) should be with baby carrots, apple slices, fruit (not juice, but actual fruit) almond butter, quacamole, hummus or other fresh foods (NOT CHEESE-DON'T try to push fattening hormone-laden cheese) taking up at least 60% of her plate if not 75%. Kids LOVE CARBS (mine too) but it's your job to make sure fresh vegetables and fruits balance out the carbs and exceed them. And don't allow tantrums.


answers from Wichita on

You mention that today is a special day and thus, just one example. I totally get that. Those days happen. :)

On a typical day, you might start thinking about the amount of snacking she does. Is she grazing throughout the day, and thus, never getting full? Also, as you know, the type of foods that she eats will make a difference with how quickly she starts to feel hungry again.

Perhaps try to be a little more strict with timing. Have a good breakfast and then know that the morning snack will be at XX time. Afternoon snack will be at XX time. In between, pay attention to her requests for more food. Obviously, you don't want her to be hungry, so you may need to adjust what/when you're giving snacks. At snack time, have two or three healthy options set out. Let her choose which one she wants (or heck, she may want a little of each, and that's okay, too).

She's a growing girl, so there are going to be times that she needs to eat a little more.

On the Veggies, I used to struggle with this, because I personally don't like very many veggies. I commented on this to my mom several years ago, and she had a really simple answer that I now use quite a bit. Buy some small bags of frozen veggies (mixed veggies, peas, green beans, corn, etc.). Before each meal, have your daughter pick which one she wants. Pour a single serving into a bowl, **put water over the veggies (enough to cover the pile), and pop it into the microwave for a minute - 90 sec. Once it's done, drain the hot water off of it, and it will cool down enough to eat in another minute or two. It is SO easy to do. I always have the veggie sitting out when I tell my kiddos to get into their chairs. It is the only food on the table as I'm filling their plates, and they almost always have polished off the veggies by the time their plates arrive at the table. (and something unrelated, but fits...forget those expensive chip clips....just buy a pack of wooden clothesline pins for about $2 at the store and use those to close up each of the various packages of open frozen veggies before putting them back in the freezer to help keep the veggies fresh).

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