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How can I get my 4 year old to eat?

My son is 4 and has a very limited diet: chicken nuggets, fries, dry cereal, mac & cheese, grilled cheese, yogurt & bacon. Now he is even starting to not want to eat that stuff. Today, for example, he said he's eat mac n cheese but when I made it, he said he didn't want it. Yesterday, he said he wanted a yogurt. I opened it and he said he didn't want it. He will, however, eat cookies but we don't want him to just eat that. My husband wants to punish him by taking away toys or telling him he can't have cookies if he won't eat the meals. I'm on the fence thinking maybe it will just make it worse.
I'm wasting food and he's not eating. It's wasteful and he's not thriving. He's not getting any nutrients except for the vitamins I give him. I don't want people thinking we're starving him. I also don't want him to have to go to the hospital or anything. I'm at the end of my rope here.
Is this normal? Should we be very worried?

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Asked by javagirl328 at 3:21 PM on Jun. 12, 2009 in Preschoolers (3-4)

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Answers (14)
  • He won't starve himself. He'll learn that if he doesn't eat what's offered, he won't eat at all. It's not cruel. It's teaching him to be open to different foods. Hubby's threats won't help at all. Something else to consider is most kids go through growing spurts. Some weeks they'll eat everything in sight, other weeks they'll barely eat anything at all. Keep healthy snacks on hand, like pb and whole wheat crackers, hard cheese, fat free puddings, and fruit/veggies (don't forget to offer a dip of some sort). Let him at least have over the counter vitamins - it's not as beneficial as the real deal, but it will offer some cushion.

    Answer by Anonymous at 3:33 PM on Jun. 12, 2009

  • He'll eat when he's hungry, try not giving him snack or less to drink, sometimes if they drink to many fluids they won't be hungry. As long as he's not loosing wieght or getting sick i'd say not to worry to much, some kids appitites change like over night. Try something different with the food he eats. Maybe cut up his sandwich into interesting shapes (use cookie cutters) or with the fries try giving him some choices like ketchup, musturd, or even salad dressing to the them. or put cheese on the fries and melt it. Try making his food seem more appitizing.

    Answer by vgiron at 3:34 PM on Jun. 12, 2009

  • I will just tell you what I did..And my kids were not picky eaters..I put food(whatever I was fixing that night) on a plate and put it in front of them..They eat it or they wait tell the next meal to eat. Simple as that.

    Answer by louise2 at 3:36 PM on Jun. 12, 2009

  • Something else to consider, especially at this stage when he may not really want something. Have him get it himself - sounds simple, but then if he really wants to eat that yogurt, he needs to get up and fix it himself. If he doesn't, then he doesn't want it. I use this for my son when he wants a late night snack - okay, you get it. If you really want it, you can get up and get it. If not, then you can wait until breakfast. Helps him decide just how bad he wants it, if he's hungry enough to get up and get it, etc. And I waste less food by putting the decision onto him instead.

    Another thing that worked with my son was letting him participate in food choices-not just at dinner, but at the grocery store - like letting him pick out the special mac'n'cheese that he wants, or selecting the broccoli crown that we'll eat. Also, he's more likely to eat when he helps prepare the food. Finally, try the one bite rule...cont.

    Answer by JPsMommy605 at 3:46 PM on Jun. 12, 2009

  • Have him sit with the family at the table and require him to eat at least ONE bite before he can be excused, or just have him sit with you through the mean (which is pretty hard for an active 4 yo). Sometimes, my son will say okay, one bite...then eat it and then go for two and three - but it's his choice to eat more than one bite, so he's in control. Or he'll negotiate one bite of this, two bites of that. Whatever works to give him some sense of control.

    I agree with PP that taking away toys for not eating just doesn't make sense UNLESS it's the toys that are distracting him from stopping and eating. But it doesn't sound like that - it sounds like he's just not hungry, which is normal. So make him get his own snacks when he asks for them, ask him to help participate in selection and prep, and then at mealtime, try the one bite rule.

    Good luck!

    Answer by JPsMommy605 at 3:49 PM on Jun. 12, 2009

  • Are you kidding? why are you feeding him those foods? He should be eating fruits, vegetables; whole grains, beans. And you should be eating healthy foods to set a good example &to live long enough to be a grandmother. Dinner should be family time, with a delicious, healthy meal.
    Kids love to dip: fruit & yogurt; veggies & hummus or salad dressing; whole wheat pasta & marinara sauce.
    I have a ton of healthy, tasty, budget friendly recipes. I can list some;contact me for recipes.
    noodles & veggies with peanut sauce
    veggie pot pie
    lentil tacos
    sweet potato & black bean burritos
    sloppy jojos (made with lentils)
    noodles with beans, sauce, spinach&cheese
    Italian stew
    veggie stew with dumplings (crockpot)
    southwest falafel (bean patties with avocado sauce)
    tofu "fish sticks" with sweet potato or acorn squash baked "fries"
    General Tsao’s Tofu
    Tamale Bean Pie

    Answer by rkoloms at 5:10 PM on Jun. 12, 2009

  • cont.

    The rule at our house is you try 3 bites of dinner, if you don't like it you get toast with peanut butter& honey with an apple, that you prepare yourself

    Answer by rkoloms at 5:11 PM on Jun. 12, 2009

  • my 3 yr old granddaughter doesn't eat and they tried the Dr's suggestion of starving her-some small sips of water only until she ate something healthy. They gave up after 2 weeks and another trip to the Dr's. Then they tried making smoothies out of everything. They've tried punishment, time out, throwing toys away, now the Dr suggests "behavior modification". She's an angel most of the time-just doesn't want ANYTHING but dry cereal, french fries, bannanas and junk food. We are at our wits end but have no idea what's left to try! Mom and Dad have tried it all.

    Answer by Anonymous at 5:19 PM on Jun. 12, 2009

  • ROKOLOMS- We've tried all that. My husband and I are into many foods: sushi, thai, chinese, mexican, etc. I'm an avid viewer of Food Network and make many meals. We rarely eat out because I love to cook and we love to try new, healthy recipes. We love hummus with pita chips and veggies. He'll eat the carrots and celery raw but not cooked or dipped. He won't dip. Not even nuggets in bbq sauce or fries in ketchup. My brother was the same way until he was 10. I will be contacting you for some of those recipes!

    Answer by javagirl328 at 5:36 PM on Jun. 12, 2009

  • My litte cousin (who was about 7 at the time) came to spend the weekend at my house. She did the exact same thing to me. Told me she wants Mac & Cheese, when I made it she told me she didn't eat Mac & Cheese. I made her sit at the table until she ate it. It's not cruel, but she ate the food within a few minutes as soon as she learned she wasn't getting up from the table until she ate what was made for her. The only reason I made her eat her food was because she insisted she wanted Mc Donald's instead and I was a college student living on my own and did not have the money for Mc Donald's the entire weekend she was with me. I refused to allow her to waste food. Your child will eat whenever he is hungry. He won't starve himself. It is just a stage he's going through. He will hit a growth spurt and start eating more than you can provide for him. But call the doctor and ask if there is anything to worry about, but I don't think so.

    Answer by NOLAmommaKRYS at 6:07 PM on Jun. 12, 2009

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