When Kids Don’t Seem To Eat Enough

If you have ever worried about your child’s diet then you are not alone.

By Jackie Saulmon Ramirez | January 21, 2015

Many parents have worried about their child not eating enough, me included.

A member was recently concerned about whether or not their child was eating enough to be healthy and it reminded me of several similar instances. When my brother was around four years old, it seemed as if he ‘ate like a bird’ and my mother worried and nagged him at every meal.

“Eat your supper, Terry, you haven’t eaten anything today,” she would plead.

Terry would snap, “I did eat; I ate when you weren’t looking!”

Give kids a heads up to get ready to eat soon so they arrive at the table in a positive mood.

The more our mother nagged, the less Terry would eat and more often than not, she or my brother would end up in tears. Mom took Terry to the doctor to learn if he was underweight or if there was a medical reason he was not eating. The doctor told her that eating was a natural function and to ‘let him be’ and he would eat when he was ready. By the next year Terry was eating everything put before him and was asking for more – nature had finally kicked in.

Later on I remembered the advice given to our mother by the doctor when it seemed my first child was not eating very much. My grandmother began telling me frightening stories about children that did not eat enough so I began to worry: Would she have brain damage? Would her growth be stunted? Would she get sick? (Our runaway imaginations can do more harm than good.) The pediatrician told me to give my daughter bacon, as much as she wanted, saying that bacon was an appetite stimulant. Can you picture anything sillier than me following my three-year-old daughter around trying to stuff bacon into her? It was quite stressful for me at the time but it was a different time and we all know more now than back then.

The fact remains that many parents do worry their young children are not eating enough so I found an informative 4-page article with clear guidelines about caloric needs for kids age one to ten.

Serve small portions so kids do not feel overwhelmed; serve more as needed.

How Much Does My Kid Need to Eat?

Here are other things parents can do to try and get children to eat better:

Provide healthy snacks: Have small amounts of fruits and vegetables available that children can easily graze on between meals. Healthy food for a young child at any time counts as nutrition. Remove the snacks, though, at least an hour before a scheduled family meal and cut back on between-meal snacks as children eat better.

Give a pre-meal reminder: Children’s work is play and interrupting their work to plop them in a chair with no prior notice can be upsetting for kids. To set a positive mealtime mood, tell kids that in ten minutes their meal will be served and it is time to get ready by stopping play and washing their hands. Setting a minute timer can sometimes help them get ready on time without a parent’s second reminder.

Schedule regular mealtimes: Eating at the same time every day can become an event children look forward to. Studies also show that children who eat dinner with their parents were less likely to become involved with drugs, become pregnant as a teen, experience depression and also do better in school and have a higher self-esteem

Keep mealtime conversation on positive topics, not scolding or reminding about chores.

Make food fun: Cut foods into shapes, create pictures or sculptures from foods, give foods funny names or jazz up foods with healthy dips. The Internet is an endless source of recipes and ideas to get foods inside children’s tummies.

Don’t pressure children: Kids eat better when there is no pressure; use the ‘just try it once’ method and also allow them a few foods that they do not have to eat ever because they really dislike it, don’t like the way it feels in their mouth or makes the mouth tingle. Note: Food allergies show up in children by ‘tingling’ or ‘itching.’

Related article: The Need To Know: Child Into Adulthood

Keep table time positive: Mealtimes are not the time to remind about chores or homework, mealtimes are for asking ‘how was your day,’ ‘what did you learn today,’ or fun things like learning a new word or sharing news. Have children stay at the table until the meal is over, even if they are finished.

Teach for tomorrow: Remember that what kids learn at the table sets a patter for years to come. Children may spill things or drop food but tomorrow is another opportunity to practice and get better. Teaching manners comes a little at a time with patience and caring.

Allow children one or two foods that they do not have to eat but encourage them to try a variety of foods.

Tech-free mealtime: Attention grabbers like handheld games, cell phones and TVs can distract parents and children from what is truly important, family time. This works better when parents set the example and follow the rule. Parents not answering a ringing phone during the sacred dinner hour shows children how important they are to mom and dad.

Positive feedback: Before bedtime make a point to tell children how nice it was to have them at the meal. Or that their washing hands without reminding them shows how they are maturing. Positive feedback is especially nice for young kids.

Listen to the doctor, not others: Family often want to help and offer advice but nobody knows your child like you and if the doctor says your child is healthy then believe it. If your child does not maintain their weight, though, then it may be time to call the doctor again.

We had our share of broccoli and chocolate cake stuffed under the cushions and green beans fed to the family dog. Thinking of the bigger picture when parents discover these little surprises, though, can supply families with funny stories for a lifetime. Let it go for now… that’s what is important.

Do you have tricks up your sleeve to share? I am always curious what other parents do to get kids to eat.

PHOTO: Courtesy of Jeremy Kunz Under Flicker/CC License.
PHOTO: Foods Courtesy of Melissa Under Flicker/CC License.

Copyright © 2014 Jackie Saulmon Ramirez. All Rights Reserved.

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About Jackie Saulmon Ramirez

Jackie has volunteered for more than twenty years for children and family issues. Currently she writes for parents in the "Reminder" and "Parent Rap" Facebook page. If you are interested in receiving the "Reminder," send her a message.
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13 Responses to When Kids Don’t Seem To Eat Enough

  1. Such an intelligent relevant offering here – truly excellent and deserves serious attention from every parent and indeed anyone – and that should be all of us – who needs to improve diet and make sensible choices.
    Thank you for sharing this, Jackie.

    Best wishes



    • Jackie Saulmon Ramirez says:

      Thank you, John, for your kind words. When parents worry needlessly about whether their child is eating enough, they can potentially snap and hurt their child physically or verbally. The best move is to put healthy foods before them and let nature take its course; children will eat when they are hungry.
      Thank you again, John.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Xena says:

    I used to get spanked for not eating. 😦 At times I think my mom wanted me to eat more so I would be too large to fit underneath the bathroom sink behind the pipes so the belt wouldn’t hit me. 🙂

    Great, informative article!


    • Jackie Saulmon Ramirez says:

      Back in those days, kids that were chubby were thought of as healthy but we know better now. You give me flashbacks of beatings with a belt; we instinctively tried to get away from the belt but the licks still hit their target. Those beatings are exactly why I write this blog, to teach parents a better way through experiences. I still wonder if my mother could have been helped by a Parents Anonymous support group.
      Thank you, Xena.


      • Xena says:

        I wasn’t spanked often but when my mom intended to, she had to first catch me. 🙂 I was so thin that I could wedge myself in places where the belt couldn’t get to me. She would be tired out and promise to get me for “old and new” the next time. When I became an adult, we talked about that and laughed. My mom may have actually hit me twice with a belt during my entire childhood. The moment she saw tears in my eyes she stopped.


      • Jackie Saulmon Ramirez says:

        My mother beat me almost weekly and there did not have to be a reason. My brother and I figured out her monthly cycles and that was a large part of her problems but her father was an “old timey mountain preacher” whose children were expected to be the example. That was the tip of the ice berg… my mother gave birth to her first illegitimate child and gave it to her mother to raise as her own. That set the tone for her and my relationship from there on out. My beatings went beyond what most would consider normal. I know that her abusing me was not my fault but it does not change the damage it caused to me. Including the illegitimate sibling, there were four of us altogether; her abuse was intensely directed to me since I represented the girl she gave away. None of my siblings know the abuse I went through – and they do not understand me now or really want to know about the abuse or damage. My older brother was allowed to abuse me by her. There are things I can not ‘get over’ as people put it.


      • Xena says:

        Jackie. How horrible. I’m so sorry for your experience. I want to give you a big hug and think of the place where you are now being able to help parents. What was intended for evil was used for good, but I understand that the pain never leaves and the scars remain. Bless you, dear one.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. As always Jackie, you do great things and provide great information.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Nice article Jackie. I think little children eat like birds as they say, because they are saving up when they become a teen and fill both of their legs, because they can’t get enough to eat. I think it is a good idea though to have plenty of fruits and vegetables on hand in the kitchen at eye site, so the young children learn to eat them regularly. My grandmother never force or encouraged my father to eat his vegetables, and today he has high blood pressure 140/200…I don’t know how he is still alive ( this yr in June he will be 75). Eating 5 or more servings of produce will prevent many diseases, including high blood pressure.
    Hey thank you as well Jackie for your likes and comments at both of my websites as well as likes and reshares on our Face Book page. 👍😃

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jackie Saulmon Ramirez says:

      Thank you for your kind and informative comment! I feel as though I am in the presence of greatness when you stop by. 🙂
      Seriously, though, parents worrying about kids eating enough is so common, especially among young parents. After seeing my mother and watching the stress she caused at our table, I decided as a new mom I would never nag my kids and I think that was the right way to go. There are schools of thought that say not to let kids eat between meals but the way I see it, food does not know if it is eaten at a table or roaming through the house.
      My husband grew up very poor so he tended to nag the girls about what and how much they ate, so much so that he took on my mother’s role. Today our girls talk about how their father berated them so it was not good to do that. *We can never control another!*
      Blood pressure is something I and my daughters have never had a problem with; in fact, my blood pressure is so low that doctors always check it twice to be sure. Right now my diet is mainly vegetables, legumes and a few fruits.
      You always provide great information and I love the recipes. I do have to change/omit ingredients because of all the things I cannot eat but then I take your idea and come up with what I can eat.
      🙂 It is always nice to see you!


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