When Your Preschooler Wants to Eat All Day

Updated on November 05, 2012
A.F. asks from Bellmore, NY
21 answers

I have a beautiful three and a half year old daughter. She is normal in weight which is around 32 pounds as of her last doctor's visit. She is tall for her age but has a little belly. When Alyssa is home with me on a day off from daycare or on weekends, she constantly will ask me for something to eat. She tells me she's hungry after eating two bowls of cereal and a waffle.

The big problem is that she usually wakes up very early, always has. She will wake up by 6am and immediately want to eat breakfast. By 8:30 or 9:00 she's telling me she's hungry again. I truly think she is bored and doesn't know what to do. This concerns me because it isn't healthy and I get frustrated with her.

I try telling Alyssa her tummy is full and sometimes she accepts that. Other times she has a tantrum over the matter. I think she needs a routine and needs to know what she will do "next." I try to do things with Alyssa on the weekends like bring her to the park or take her bike out. She loses interest in the bike quickly. Alyssa is an only child right now but she is not very content being alone so she wants my attention often.

If you have any advice about how to get Alyssa's mind off of food so frequently, please let me know. One other thing, I often allow her to have a treat after dinner like cookies or ice cream. She will rush to eat dinner and then nag me for the dessert immediately after just a few bites of food. She will cry and have a tantrum over it too.

Thank you for the advice!

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So What Happened?

Thank you for all great responses. First I want to point out that I do offer Alyssa fruit all the time. She often wants to eat when I pick her up from daycare about 4:30. And I understand that as I am a snacker too. Right before dinner, I will offer her fruit and she seems content. Secondly, Alyssa is a very picky eater and rarely eats vegetables but I do try to make them most nights. Thirdly, the schedule thing I am trying to figure out. I play games with her now (just bought Candlyland) and of course we read, visit the library or I take her to the park (weather permitting). I find it is difficult to keep her busy on weekends because I don't know how to create a schedule just for her. Money is tight now and there are only so many free or almost free things to do. I have taken advantage of trekking into the city to a museum that was free admission because I borrowed a museum pass from my library. As for playdates, we have them more in the summer it seems when we stay at a lakehouse with friends who have young kids. At the daycare, I have become friendly with one mom and we've had playdates. I never see the other parents though when I pick up Alyssa to ask for a phone number. So for the most part, Alyssa is cutting up pieces of paper and gluing inexpensive craft items to keep busy. She has been coloring a lot this past week and that is something she doesn't do often. Other than that, once in awhile I take her to indoor play groups, a Chuck E. Cheese or the occasional play date. I do hope as a Christmas gift to Alyssa, both grandparents can chip in for a dance or gymnastics class. That would be fun to do on the weekend.

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answers from Columbus on

Oh my goodness, we have "Second Breakfast" around here all the time. I just tell my son and daughter that second breakfast can only be a banana or an apple or something. Pair it with another small glass of orange juice, and they're good to go.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

Well, personally, I would feel very sick after two bowls of cereal and a waffle. As in a diabetic type sick feeling. That's just too many carbs and then she'll want to eat to stabilize the sugar spike.

I recommend you add a lot more protein to her diet.

3 moms found this helpful

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answers from Miami on

She is probably growing through a growth spurt. My kid gets a bit like that when she is. Get her into a sport on the weekend but dont just drop her off and leave. Be there with her watchher spend time with her. Then take her out to lunch or pack a picnic and go to the park.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

Preschoolers do like to "graze" I wouldn't worry to much about this. You said she is a healthy weight and size for her age, that's great!! Make sure she has protein at every meal and give lots of snacks like fruit, nuts, carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes etc. Do NOT limit her food intake, do not make her feel deprived! Do not worry about her weight!! Just because you worry about your weight -do not worry about hers, the typical child has a round belly, looks a little chubby but it is mostly their organs which in proportion to their little bodies make them look like they have a belly. Another sweet snack I give my son during the day and after lunch are dark choc covered raisins, yogurt covered raisins, choc covered nuts. I feel like it's nutrition and he gets a sense of having a treat.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

Perhaps more filling options like protein would keep her full for longer but wanting a snack 3 hours after eating is normal to me.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Augusta on

she's prob going through a growth spurt.
Try upping her protein sounds like she's getting a lot of carbs and all carbs do is turn into sugar in her body. Try egg and sausage or bacon with that waffle instead of cereal. We've cut cereal out of our diets here because all it is is empty calories and sugar.
Those carbs won't keep her full very long.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Wichita Falls on

What we have done is keep careful tabs on the calore dense foods (high carb, high protein, high fat, low fiber) and made sure the servings are appropriate for their ages. After that they are allowed and encouraged to eat fruits and veggies for snacks. If they complain that they are not hungry for, say, carrot sticks, I tell them then they are not really hungry. I also limit dessert to once a week, and none if they whine about it. We have very few fights about food now.

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answers from Springfield on

If she says she's hungry, offer her a healthy option. Preschoolers appetites crack my up. One day they eat twice as much as an adult, and the next day they survive on two bites. Makes no sense to me! I try to trust them that if they say they are hungry, they are, if they say they are full, they are. It's important that they listen to their bodies.

For the most part, if you just offer healthy options when she says she's hungry, if she's hungry she'll eat, if she's board she'll say no thank you and find something else to do. Don't sweat it!

Dinner/dessert is very different. If she is only eating a few bites, then she probably is still hungry and just really excited about dessert. Totally normal, but you do want her to eat more dinner. You'll probably need to feel your way through this one. Some parents have dinner at 6:00 and dessert at 8:00. That way it doesn't matter how fast they eat dinner, dessert is still not until 8:00. You could also try requiring a certain number of bites of everything.

She sounds very normal to me.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

Kids at that age are growing CONSTANTLY, so she may be hungry often. You have to control what goes into her mouth. If you don't want her eating certain foods, don't buy them for yourself. It just makes it easier.

We hardly ever have desserts. I don't know why, but it's a very occasional thing. My best answer to THAT is if you're too full to finish dinner, you're definitely too full for dessert.

Have fruit she likes for the between meal snacks. My son eats strawberries, blueberries, bananas, mango, grapes, apples, cheese sticks, yogurt tubes. I do have junk food around sometimes, but that's not as frequent, and I manage portion size and tell him he has to eat something else if he's already had a container of cheese curls.

ADD: Try to balance the food -protein, grain, fat. I'll give my son apple slices and a cheese stick. Or peanut butter/jelly crackers. Cheese sticks are great because you can add them as the fat/protein to fruit, breads, etc. for a bit more balance.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

Growth spurt, real hunger, and long days -- as you and others note.

My initial reaction as I read was that she might be hungry after waffles and cereal because she hasn't had enough protein. Start her day with a big hit of protein -- eggs (if she doesn't like them, find ways to cook them so she will, because they are huge protein providers), waffles with extra protein (Van's brand makes some) and so on. Protein is more filling than starches; the latter convert to sugars in the body much faster and burn off, while protein provides longer-term energy. Ensure she gets a lot throughout the day: Nuts and nut butters or soy nut butter and edamame (soybeans) as you prefer, meat if you eat it, eggs if you don't, etc.

I would turn dessert into a once-a-week thing. She has gotten used to expecting it often and that curbs her desire to eat her real food at dinner. She will whine and complain but if you just are calm and stick to your guns she will learn that dessert is not every night, or even every other night, but once a week. An occasional treat is fine during the day, too, but sugars at bedtime (and desserts are practically at bedtime for a kid this age) are not a great idea anyway since sugars provide a short-term rev-up to their systems right when they need to relax. Again, if she wakes hungry, ensure she gets a big protein hit nearer bedtime, not sugars and starches.

You say you think she needs a routine, so clearly you know her well -- give her that routine! And meanwhile give her a lot to do -- she is old enough for lots of appropriate crafts and other activities so she is not eating out of boredom. Sit down and list what you can do with her and especially what your menus and snacks will be for a week. Research nutrition and have fun with it.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Austin on

I think your point about being bored is a good one.....

Maybe you need to set a schedule for meal and snack time... put it on a poster, with a picture of a clock face so she can see and compare what the clock face will look like when it is time to eat again....

Find out what the schedule for snacks and meals is at daycare, and set that as your home time snack/mealtime, also.

That way, you aren't the "bad guy" keeping food from her, and you can just say.. "See the clock? It isn't time for our snack. Let's go draw a picture..."

I'm not saying you don't pay attention to her, but I think you are right that her wanting food is a way to get your attention..... at daycare, there is always something going on, or at least other kids to help keep her attention.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

My son, who is 3, does this too. He eats breakfast at home, has a snack at preschool and is looking for food right when he gets home at 11. It was always "I'm hungry!" Well, he just turned 4 and turns out he grew 3 1/2 inches in the past year. No wonder he was so hungry! I say give her snacks when she wants them, but make sure they are healthy - fresh fruit or veggies. She can eat as much as she likes of that right? My kids love grabbing a banana or grapes or something.

We also let the kids have a snack if they eat their dinner and it's always "how many bites to I have to eat to get a treat?" I think this negiation goes on at most houses.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Oklahoma City on

Personally if a child is hungry they should eat. She may not be getting the nutrient her body is lacking. Sometimes kids will go out and eat dirt because they need some nutrient that the dirt has. They aren't getting it in their diet.

You do know that in child care they are eating something every 2-3 hours right????

She eats breakfast then gets a morning snack most likely, then lunch and nap time, as soon as they wake up they get a substantial snack that is intended to tide them over until dinner time. That means for some of those kids it could be 7pm before they eat. Then if they are hungry and they haven't been picked up they might get some crackers or something light to keep them from being so hungry around 5pm (ish). They eat a lot during the day. The state requires that a child be offered food at least every 3 hours, 4 at most.

She is at that age where a pre-schooler suddenly has a growth spurt and the don't look like your little kid anymore. They start looking like a schoolaged child. She is about to shoot up and all her 4's are going to be capri's and falling off her at the waist...lol. Her feet won't come close to going in her shoes, her tops will fall off her shoulders but her belly button will be shining.

It's just one of those things. She is a growing person who is stocking up on nutrients.

Most kids go through stages. They grow, then they stay that size for a while, then they start eating and eating and eating. They chub out and we worry they are getting fat so we start putting them on a diet of more nutritious foods and talk about not letting them eat so much, but they need that stock pile of food and fat. Then their body reaches what it needs and overnight they shoot up and can even look different when they wake up.

This happened last night. That's why it's on my mind so much today. My 5 year old has been eating non stop for a couple of weeks. He's eating and drinking a lot. I know what this means and I have been getting out the next size up stuff and sorting through it.

This morning he got up and came in the living room. His pj pants are shorter than they were last night, his shirt was over the waist and I think he grew about 2"s. He also has a leaner face. I noticed his face first off, he looks like a different kid.

So feed her. Give her high protein foods right now and see if that helps. Maybe some more complex carbohydrates too. That's always a good mix for a growing kiddo. So maybe some spaghetti with a meaty meat sauce with some garlic bread.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Columbus on

First of all, I would cut out junk foods as dessert -- I started down that path and it became a nightmare to break. So the kids have to have a piece of fruit any time they are hungry for a snack or dessert. If they eat a whole piece of fruit, then I will consider cereal or whole grain crackers. Candy, cookies, cake, etc. are a very rare treat, like maybe once every week or two at most, and if they've eaten what I feel is enough, then they can fill their bellies with a glass of milk -- they protest, but it almost always works. I do try to recognize growth spurts -- there are times when they absolutely cannot stop eating! It can last for several days and then it levels off, so I try to respect those times. I also recognize that if the TV is on, the desire for food is higher -- not so much because they're munching, but because they are trying to justify more TV time (sometimes we'll watch a movie during dinner and if we say it's time to be done, they'll say "but I'm still hungry"! Miraculously, when the TV goes off, so does the appetite.

Crying and tantrum is her way of getting what she wants. Don't give in or the problem will get worse. I would tell her that if she can calmly occupy herself with something she enjoys for 20-30 minutes, then the two of you can revisit the snack issue (either the hunger will go away or, if she's genuinely hungry, she can have a healthy snack at that time -- if it's a habit, the hunger will go away).

You are right to be concerned with her habit building and eating out of boredom. Have you tried a sticker chart for eating at appropriate times? Have you tried a food pyramid that she can fill out with stickers and mark off when she's had foods from the appropriate food groups? Or you could have her help pick out healthy snacks and make a chart of how many snacks she can have in a day. Engage her in controlling her food and she'll be more likely to adhere to your rules.

Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

Some kids are naturally grazers. That's OK.
Kids have that nifty ability to stop eating when they're full.
Google "toddler tummy" and you'll see that is also completely normal.
As long as you're giving her healthy foods, I don't think it's a problem.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

My kids are all snackers or grazers and I am pro-actve and make them some sort of snack for in between each meal. Breakfast, sometimes 2nd breakfast (piece of toast or banana), morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner, after dinner snack. I am OK with this and if they are hungry, it is MO that they should be allowed to eat.

~The only thing I have to say is that the 2 bowls of cereal and then a waffle seems like a lot for just one sitting...or is this spaced out some? and seems like a lot of sugar, depending on what kind of cereal (my 4y/o is a fruit loop fan and we all know that is just colored sugar circles but I let her eat it b/c I also know she will eat it along side a piece of toast and some OJ and even a hard boiled egg w/a sprinkle of salt)? Maybe introduce more eggs in the morning...or yogurt and granola and a banana? Something like that?

It is never to late to get her to eat veggies and I hope you haven't given up hope that she will like them and eat them...b/c it has been my experience that if you offer something to a child repeatedly eventually they will try it and most times (as long as its not one of the strong taste/texture veggies like brussel sprouts or spinach) actually like it, especially if you offer it with a 'dip' of some kind. Hummus, PB, plain yo-gurt, salsa, ranch, cheese sauce, spinach dip, even other smooshed veggies? One of my kids favorites is raw snap peas and/or raw cauliflower dipped in mashed sweet potato, strange but I don't care, I gladly make it for them!

So to answer your question, I would be proactive and get ready for her 'in between meal' snacks, make them somewhat healthy & maybe start offering them to her a lil' before you think she would want them...that should start to help with breaking the cycle/habit of her saying she is hungry all the time...b/c you are right, when left un-checked eating out of boredom is dangerous and not good!

And the gymnastics or dance class sounds like a fabulous idea...until then don't be afraid to crank up the radio and dance around with her just for fun, just the two of you...she will love it and it's unconscious exercise...bust out all your great dance moves, I promise she will copy/mimic you and what's the worst that can happen? When she goes to her first school dance she is comfortable enough to bust out with the 'running man'?! ---->Totally showed my age there! Ha!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Madison on

Not only should a child eat when she is hungry--that is important for a growing body, after all--but it is a mom's right to become concerned when the child seems to be hungry all the time and wants to constantly eat.

First, some children substitute food for boredom. So make sure your daughter is actively involved in doing stuff to take her mind off food.

Second, a food allergy or a food intolerance can make a child hungry. Or heavy metal toxicity can make a child hungry. My daughter used to be the same way. She was hungry all the time and wanted to eat and eat and eat. She was very active and always doing something, so it wasn't because she was bored. We discovered that she had severe heavy metal toxicity, so she chelated. We discovered that she had food intolerances, so we took her off the foods that her body didn't like. We discovered that her body wasn't getting the nutrients/vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes it needed to function and run correctly, so we switched the entire family over to organic eating, with a heavy emphasis on vegetables and lighter fare/wholesome food. Cut out prepared and processed food, dyes/food colorings, chemicals and preservatives, and GMOs. Switched to reverse osmosis water. In essence, totally changed how our family eats.

WHAT a big difference it made! Wow. It was like night and day.

Oh. And play hard ball with dessert. No dessert until ALL her food is gone. She is craving the sugar/sweet and isn't getting the nutrition her body needs. You have to be strong, but make sure she eats REAL food before she gets the special food. Dessert isn't always a sure thing; eating real food is what fuels the body, NOT dessert.


answers from Grand Forks on

She could be going through a growth spurt. When my kids say they are still hungy after a meal I offer fruits and veggies. Then they can eat as much as they want and I don't worry about it being unhealthy.
As for her boredom I would schedule regular playdates for her. She is probably very used to the schedule at daycare, and it wouldn't hurt to have a schedule for at home as well.



answers from Pittsburgh on

If she is hungry, feed her. I would switch to a diet of all healthy foods - primarily vegetables (including legumes), fruits and whole grains with some lean animal protein (meat, fish, shellfish, eggs) if you are not vegetarian. We have always had fruit for dessert. What will get her mind off food is not being hungry :). We do occasional treats - we will have dessert at a restaurant or go out for ice cream occasionally. That way - it is clearly special and not expected on a day to day basis. And there clearly is no more after a single portion is finished.

It is much healthier for her to listen to her body and eat when she is hungry, than to eat on a schedule - whether or not she is hungry. What the research shows is that children START with the ability to regulate their intake appropriately and LOSE that because of how we feed them. We do NOT teach them to eat the right amount - they start off that way.


answers from Columbia on

Feed her normal meals and snacks. My boys would try to eat the whole box of cereal at that age if I let them. You simply have to say "you've had enough." Little ones don't have any understanding of self control. You have to teach it.

One bowl of cereal and a banana is plenty for a 3 year old. When she's eaten a normal amount, don't give her anymore. Simply tell her she's done.

Stop making after dinner treats so often. Once or twice a week is enough.

Simply stop letting it be a big deal. Give her the healthy stuff...like I tell my 9 year old, not EVERY single thing you eat is going to be your favorite. Even if she refuses to eat what you serve, don't give her anything else. She'll eat if she's truly hungry.



answers from New York on

I remember one of my kids eating nonstop at that age too. Sometimes they are having such rapid growth that they really do need the fuel all the time. However, if you feel she's eating just because, and if it's interfering with her meals, I'd suggest a couple of things to keep her from grazing through the day. Don't just schedule meal, schedule snacks. Don't let them be spontaneous. So if she has breakfast at 7:00, let her know that she can have a fruit at 8:30 and a snack at 10:30, before lunch at noon. Let her know what time the afternoon snacks are too, and give her nothing at nonscheduled times. If she's trying to get away with just a few bites of dinner to have a treat for dessert, do away with the after dinner goodies. Let her have her treat as an afternoon snack, not tied to a meal time and just serve fruit or yogurt after dinner.

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