nbaglivo's picture

refuses to eat or takes hours at each meal

I have a 3 1/2 year old girl who has always been a difficult eater. She only eats a handful of foods and even with thise takes an hour or more to eat a meal. I am sorry to say that I have sent her to her room, tried a timer and alternatives, tried to talk about appropriate behavior, yelled, spanked, taken toys away, threatened - nothing works. I feel as though I am at the end, every meal 3x a day is a battle. I have to continously hound her to take a bite and it ends up w/ me yelling. She now has recently started gagging and throwing up her food. I let her pick what she wants and she loves to help me cook then nothing...her 2 year old brother is starting to not want to eat new foods because he sees her behavior. I need help, her doctor seems to care little nad says it is a stage but I disagree - is it possible she has some type of eating disorder and needs professional help? I have read many message postings on this and tried everything - what is next?

concerned mom's picture
concerned mom

I think it is probably a stage. Has your daughter always been like this, or is this a recent thing? How is your daughter w/ different textured foods? Will she eat a variety of foods and just not eat that much, or is she picky about everything?
I used to nanny for 2 boys that were both very picky eaters. It was very frustrating to say the least. Also, my younger son is a bit picky w/ his food lately. I found w/ the boys I nannied for that b/c their parents wld yell at them for not eating or wld try to force feed them, that it only made things worse. It became a control issue for them. My philosophy w/ my children is too not push them to eat. I know they'll eat when they're hungry, and I know they're not going to starve. So why get stressed out? It's not worth it. I've learned to limit snacks between meals, and I offer mostly healthy snacks (carrot sticks, crackers, fruit, yogurt...). This way my kids aren't filling up on junk, and they're getting the nuitrients they need.
Here's a rule of thumb:
Offer 3 meals and 3 healthy snacks (in-between meals, and not too close to mealtime). Also limit fluids close to mealtime. Kids can just as easily fill up on fluids as they can snacks.
Don't push eating. Kids will eat when they're hungry.
Don't let them fill up on junk foods.
Don't yell or get aggravated. It's not worth the stress, and it'll only make matters worse.
If kids don't eat their breakfast, they don't get a snack before lunch. If they don't eat their lunch, they don't get a snack before dinner, and so forth.
Buy snacks that are healthy and that you know you're kids like. This will be an incentive for them to want to eat their meals.
Offer a variety of foods. Don't limit your kids' diet. That's how kids get picky.
If your kids don't eat what you make, don't give them anything else (no other meals, snacks, nothing before the next meal).
Trust me. They'll whine and moan and try to get you to bend. DON'T GIVE IN!!! Eventually they'll be hungry, and they'll have to eat what's in front of them.
It's ok to give kids choices, but the choices shld change from day to day. Don't offer them the same things or else you're setting yourself up for more trouble.
Stand your ground! Don't let the kids make the rules. You're in charge, not them.
Set consequences (no snack after the meal) and reward (offer a favorite snack), but don't go as far as punishing them harshly for not eating. It's not like the kids are doing something so horrible. Ease up a bit. It will make it easier and more enjoyable for both you and your kids.
Hopefully these pointers will help. If you see your daughter is still gagging or throwing up her food (not as a result of your yelling or the pressure that is put on her), talk to her dr again. It's possible it cld be a physical problem or a sensory issue. In that case, talk to an OT or a speech therapist for advice. However, if your daughter has only been doing this recently, I doubt there's any real problem. Ease up, and see what happens. Also, be consistent and be patient. Your daughter's not going to miraculously change her eating habits overnight. Good luck!

nbaglivo's picture

You stated all things I already knew and maybe just needed to be reminded. My husband and I have decided to take your advice and back off - we need to adjust our behavior before we can expect her to. Thanks again.

acitez's picture

I disagree with concerned on some points. Offer healthy foods about every two hours with a child this young.

Don't fuss.

Sit down with her at mealtime and at snack time. Eat and converse pleasantly. After you have finished eating, keep visiting for a few minutes. Then clear up. Don't comment on what anybody eats, just talk about the weather or the zoo or the paint on the kitchen wall.

concerned mom's picture
concerned mom

I disagree. I think keeping your children on a schedule is a good thing, even at a young age. You don't have to be fanatical about it, but be consistent. Soon enough your daughter will be in school, and she'll have to be on a schedule. Why not start now? Offering foods every 2 hrs is tough, especially if your on the go. I do agree that making the experience fun is wonderful. Tell stories, talk, play games.... You don't want to make eating a stressful time. It'll backfire on you.

mtjt02's picture

I have a six year old boy who used to be that way. I took him to a therapist for it. It turns out that it was sensory problems. They have a problem with the texture of things like foods and clothes. He has gotten better about it but it is still difficult, you may want to talk to a different doctor just for a second opinion.

HRatigan's picture

My son, now 12, was like this. I breast-fed until he was a year old. He nursed every 3 hours. At 10 months the doctor told me he was not gaining properly, and that he needed to go on formula. I refused - but that afternoon I used formula to mix his cereal, about an hour after that he started projectile vomiting for hours. I NEVER used formula again. He hated eating - ate only very small meals. Mainly breakfast foods and pasta. He continued throwing up several times a week, especially if he had a cold, congestion, or allergies. He was hospitalized at 2 (unrelated infection) and I asked every dr. and nurse why he was always throwing up - no one had an answer. I changed pediatricians when he was 4, and he stopped throwing up for a while - until he started kindergarten - the new dr. sent him to a pulmonologist. He had an asthmatic condition that causes him to throw up to get rid of excess congestion. He was always in the 25th percentile - but once the asthma was under control - he ate much better and gained weight, and height.

sohana syed's picture
sohana syed

my 3yr old daughter takes hours to finish her meal choosy about food and dont like milk.what should i give her?how do i make her like food[whatever that is].

c17ross07's picture

Well I have a 3year old kid like you. She is ahrd to feed except junk foods and beverages.So what I do is let her drink milk especially during eating time.I also put some outs on it to make it more healthier.


Dragonfly226's picture

Remember that children's stomachs are only as big as their fist, so give reasonably sized portions, and limit fluid intake at least an hour prior to meal times. My sister implemented this method with her daughter, and my boyfriend and I are now using it with his son; make a sticker chart. If they do well at meal times and eat a reasonable amount of food, give them a sticker; if not, no sticker. Once the chart is full they get a reward; with our boy it's a train, with my niece it was a book or anything she wanted from the $1 store. If they go beyond your expectations at a meal, or try something new, give them an extra sticker. My niece is 12 and they are still using this method quite successfully, however, her rewards are limited to books now, but she is just fine with that. For us it's still fairly new, but he seems to be responding well to it, so we're hopeful. A boy can only eat so much pasta, rice, and peanut butter!