01/07/2009 18:54 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

Ask Joanne: My Little Boy Hates Food

Send your parenting questions in to our life coach Joanne Mallon at this address and say if you'd like your name changed.

Vicky writes:

My partner and I are at our wits' end with my 3 year old son. Although his weight is OK, he is always tired after 3pm and mealtimes are hell on earth. When asked what he would like for breakfast, he simply replies, "Nothing thank you". His eating has always been a pain, but now he is older I thought he would have grown out of this 'fussiness'. I have spoken with doctors and health visitors, only to be told that it's just a phase.

I am now pregnant with my second child and I am starting to worry about how I will cope as I still find myself having to feed my son to get him to eat. My partner says he's just lazy and stubborn, but surely it's not healthy to never want to eat?

I also have 2 step-children, girl of 5 and boy of 3, who stay with us every other weekend and they encourage my son as much as us to eat when its meal times. He just seems to rather sit and stare into thin air and gets upset when told to eat up as everyone else has finished or we need to go out.

I have tried giving a specific time frame to eat in and what's not eaten goes in the bin with the hope that next meal time he will be hungry, but to no avail. I have left him to eat it in his own time and spent 3 hours watching him pick at a sandwich and grapes. I have tried involving him in making food, choosing the food or even sharing off one plate, but again, to no avail.

What can I do as he is starting school full time in September and I worry he will just come home with his lunch uneaten?

Dear Vicky

Thanks for getting in touch. As a fellow parent of an extremely fussy child, I sympathise. It's very stressful, isn't it, to have these battles at every mealtime?

One good point I notice is that your son's weight is fine, and your doctor isn't concerned, so one way or another he is getting the calories he needs. It could be that he's just one of those people who can exist on quite small amounts of food. Some children do seem to exist on fresh air and the occasional grape, then their appetite picks up when they're going through a growth spurt.

It sounds like yours is a busy house with four, soon to be five, children for you to think about. So you can see how your son's fussiness is successful in gaining your attention. And this is why stopping drawing attention to it is often key to moving beyond this behaviour. I used to try and cajole my son to eat, now if he refuses a meal I just calmly take the plate away, and he usually then wants it back -- it was all a game really.

There's a book called My Child Won't Eat which is great on this subject. It seems to be out of print but you may be able to pick up a second hand copy. Also look at Dealing with Difficult Eaters by Hollie Smith, (Hollie gave us some great tips on getting your child to eat more veg here). I've written some suggestions on dealing with fussy eaters here -- perhaps one of these tactics will work for you.

One thing I would say is that you and your partner need to agree a strategy on this and stick to it. So that's a conversation you need to have, away from your son. If parents don't put up a united front, children are quick to play on this. And it will only make mealtimes even more stressful if you are battling with your partner as well as your son.

Try not to worry so much for now about school, it's still a few months off, and you never know, a day of school work may just stimulate his appetite.

Good luck and let us know how you're getting on.

Best wishes,


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