Many parents worry about their young child’s eating habits. Some children don't want to eat certain foods. Some want to eat only certain foods. But being a picky eater rarely causes health problems. That's because most young children's food preferences don’t last long enough to harm their growth.
Eating problems in young children usually involve:
Most of the time, young children don't eat at meals because:
Babies grow very fast, so they need to eat a lot. But growth slows down around 1 year of age. Around that time, children eat less because they need less. Parents who aren't aware of this may push their child to eat. They may worry too much about what their child is eating. Usually, your child is fine.
Snacks are necessary but can cause problems. Children usually need something to eat between meals. However, too many snacks take away appetite and your child won't eat at meals. It's easy to overeat tasty snacks, particularly sweets, like candy, cookies, and soda. Even juice has a lot of sugar.
Only rarely is not eating for any length of time a sign of a medical problem. If it's a medical problem, children will:
In young children, overeating and gaining weight are rarely caused by a medical problem. Being overweight tends to run in families. And children often learn poor eating habits from their family.
However, overeating itself can cause problems. Being overweight isn't healthy and puts your child at risk for:
Diabetes (high blood sugar)
High blood pressure
Being an overweight adult
Being made fun of or being bullied
If your child regularly overeats, talk to a doctor to see if the amount and types of foods he or she is eating is a concern.
During regular checkups, doctors will ask about your child's diet. They'll want to know the kinds of food your child eats and how much. Particularly important is the balance between snacks and meals and between healthy foods and junk foods.
Doctors tell how serious any problem is by seeing how your child is growing. They will:
Measure your child's height and weight
See where your child is on growth charts
Growth charts compare your child's height and weight with other children of the same age. Some children are big and some are small. But each child usually stays about the same in comparison to other kids. For example, if your child has always been right in the middle for weight, your child should stay in the middle while getting older. Dropping off in comparison to other kids is a sign of problems.
Don't make a big deal about a healthy child who doesn't seem to be eating enough. The main things are to:
Have your child eat meals when other family members are eating and have everyone sit at the table
Limit distractions: turn off the TV, shut off digital devices, and keep pets in another room
Let your child decide which foods on the plate to eat
Take away your child's plate 20 to 30 minutes after mealtime begins
Don't talk to your child about how much is left on the plate
A child who doesn't eat much at a few meals won't starve. Just make sure your child isn't filling up on junk food after meals.