What to do if your child eats reeeaaaally slowly/little?

My girl, now 4, has always been a slow/small eater. When she was a baby she would drink 100 ml while other babies were drinking 180 or 220, etc. And with food she also lags. It’s not that she’s overly picky about what she eats. I believe she’s fairly good about eating almost anything we eat (I will eat absolutely anything and my wife’s not so picky). But she eats so damned slow.

I don’t know if it’s part of the problem or the solution, but we’ve long allowed her to play with small toys, or read books or draw while she eats, because an average meal may plod on for an hour and as long as her mind is occupied reading or drawing or doing a puzzle, we can keep loading in the spoonfuls. But once the food’s in her mouth she can keep it there for twenty minutes without chewing it, unless we prod her and tell her to chew (which we do continuously through every meal), so it takes an eternity between bites.

Moreover, by her age most kids (fat Chinese kids especially) will wolf down a whole bowl of food all alone, without assistance. But our girl’s so slow that we rarely wait for her to pick up the spoon/fork/quaidze and instead pick it up for her, so we can shovel it in and try to reach an end to the relentless process.

She’s always been a little slim but I believe she’s always been perfectly healthy and fit. More likely to show her ribs a little than to have a layer of fat, like other kids, but I don’t think there’s anything terrible about that.

Instead, the problem is mostly that it takes so damned long to eat that she’s driving us (especially my wife) mad at meal times. I bear with her, play her games and patiently sit beside her shoveling in the spoonfuls for an hours. But, to be honest, I wish we could get the meal over with in a half hour without having to constantly force her, so we could move on to other, more pleasant pursuits.

Anyone else have/had similar issues? Any suggestions?

she’s a budding gourmand. maybe she thnks the food is too bland, too. just wait, and bring your own toys to the table so you can play while she finishes.

better to eat too little than too much when you’re younger (within reason), as obesity in infancy sets you up for all manner of diseases later on.

That’s why it’s good to have more than one. I’ve seen my son wolfing down his food because he’s afraid his sister (or his dad) is going to get it.

She’ll grow up to be just like my wife. There is no cure. Only a lifetime of patiently waiting for her to finish. :laughing:

Might seem harsh but…you could try to sit your daughter at the table and enjoy your meal while she gets nothing. No books, cars, distractions etc. Don’t mention food, slowness to eat or ‘punishment’. If your daughter says ‘Hey, where’s my dinner?’ Give her her plate/bowl with a normal serve, and then go on as if nothing has happened. Don’t mention chewing, ‘eat up’ etc at all. Maybe she associates lots of parental attention with meals & she’s been enjoying all the fuss? The holding food in the mouth business seems to me like a game that she can win if you choose to play.
No child will voluntarily starve themselves!

I knew a 4yo hold on to his poo for weeks(!) because it was the only way he got any attention from his workaholic mother.

No, that doesn’t seem harsh at all. I’ve thought of doing that. The worst that can happen is she gets hungry in the middle of hte night and wolfs down a big breakfast (or not). Maybe over a week she loses some weight. But that’s no biggie. Her health won’t be in danger, she’ll only show a little more rib (and my wife will panic). But maybe that’s all it’ll take for her to learn to eat.

I discussed the subject on the phone w my wife a couple of hours ago. She was sighing about how difficult life is, because she has trouble feeding our girl lunch (I get dinner duty). I suggested she speak with our doctor about it (a really nice young pediatrician educated at UCLA and a father). She said no, he had the same problem with his boy and stopped pushing him and so now the boy’s skinny. Or so she said.

So, my wife may not be keen on hte idea, but I think it’s worth a try. There’s also CNY coming up, though. We’re flying to the US to grandma and grandpa’s house, so I’m curious how eating will go there. There will be no toys or drawing at the table and I suspect we won’t sit patiently for so long humoring her. So, maybe we just need to stick it out another couple of weeks and CNY at the grandfolks’ house will sort her out, though I doubt it.

My son is the worst eater in the world I’m afraid. At school I will force the kids to eat faster and it works, but it doesn’t work for my kid. In the end he’ll eat if he’s hungry enough and I’ve learned not to waste too much time on him. If it does become a way for you child to crave attention then in the end they’ll use it against you, so don’t fall into that trap. I have on occasion just gone to bed and left him at the table and he has started to bawl and cry to only have me ignore him as I am lying in bed until he has actually finished, but I have learned that the side of punishment works better than encouragement when getting any kid to eat faster.
There is also the possibility that your child simply doesn’t need as much food as you assume. I think to a degree most of us are all the same and our bodies respond effectively to demands and perhaps don’t respond when there is little need for food. I’m damn sure that when my son is hungry enough he eats very quickly and will finish all of his food.

I would suggest trying to reward her for eating, as well punishing her for the slowness.

Start with no toys/distractions at the table (and lots of tears), and ideally whatever food she likes best. If she wants to get down from the table to play with her toys, watch tv, play together, whatever, she needs to eat 5 good spoonfuls… if she is craving attention or just wanting to play it hopefully will speed things up. You can even count out loud, which may provide some more interaction and make it more like a game. However you need to stick to your gameplan, be the parent, and not cave-in, which can be tough…

Once she is able to complete 5 spoonfuls of her favorite food, either up the qty or change to foods to those she seems less interested in.

Before too long with luck she will be eating more and getting meals over with as quick as possible.

My daughter can be insanely slow at the table and never stops talking. It feels some evenings like she would spend all night taking little bits of her food. Eating slow is a good habit but she takes it t the extreme. She can be stubborn and I think what makes it even more frustrating is that I see in some ways a mirror image of myself - I don’t know how my mother handled it. Though I try to accept her for who she is there are rules and spending over an hour eating a small meal isn’t one of them.

Here is what we do:

  1. No toys at the table. No banging at the table. No distractions whatsoever. No singing either until they are close to finished. We talk and discuss things (usually things like what will happen if she doesn’t hurry and eat her food). This is and was pretty hard to enforce as I made the mistake of treating dinner time as a chance to practice percussion when she was younger. Funny at 2, not funny at 4.

  2. If you don’t finish your lunch no delicious fruit. When my son, my wife, and I are finished we bring out the fruit shortly after. Seeing all that fruit being devoured by my son can be a good motivator.

  3. We enforce a time limit. If you don’t finish your lunch during the set time not only do you not get desert but it becomes your dinner. Don’t finish it at dinner it becomes your breakfast.

  4. This may not make any sense but I count backwards. She hates when I count as when I reach zero she loses something (a new toy, a gift, a privilege). So if there has been a long lull in food going in her mouth I will tell her I am going to start counting. It works if she isn’t tired but if she is she just takes a fit and it becomes counterproductive.

I’m not sure if this sounds strict or not. It’s what we do and we still manage to laugh at the dinner table and have time to go outside to do some activities.

I don’t know that it matters all that much. Someone correctly stated that its better to eat less than more.

I’ve two younger cousins, both boys, who were slow eaters and who ate like birds… barely anything on their plates. These guys are both well over 6 feet tall now, and both ended up in the military. The older one went to VMI and threw the hammer there… turned into a couple of large guys.

As someone else stated, kids will not starve themselves. I don’t think I’d make much of a fuss about it.

Mother Theresa,

I highly recommend the book, “Child of Mine (Feeding with Love and Good Sense)” by Ellyn Satter. One of the more important principles I agree with is that it’s the parents’ responsibility of the “when,” “what,” and “where” of eating, and it’s the child’s responsibility of the “how much” and “whether” of eating. It’s not easy to put it into action, but it has worked for us. It really takes a lot of pressure off of us parents when you let go of controlling how much food must go into your child’s mouth. Granted, it’s essential to provide nutritious meals and snacks. She also provides examples of how different families handle feeding situations and explanations as to why they don’t work in the long run and how they can set up future eating dilemmas. There’s a chapter on “Feeding your preschooler, ages 3-5.” I think you would enjoy reading this book.

I don’t have experience with very slow eaters, but I agree to stop allowing the toys and books at the table, as they are distractions. I’m not sure about introducing a reward system when it comes to eating. I think rewards work for certain things, like learning to use the potty. But eating, in terms of style and how much, is something that isn’t absolute and truly varies for each individual. I think rewards and punishment would quickly lead to bad feelings about food and eating, when they really should be pleasant.

Does your daughter snack frequently? If she’s snacking frequently on and off throughout the day, it will certainly impact the quality of eating meals. If she’s under the care of others during the day, check that the school/caretaker isn’t giving her too many snacks/candy.

I also encourage you to allow her to feed herself (as painful as it may be). And you can consider letting her help herself to the food so she can be more involved in the meal. We put out family style dishes and let our kids help themselves. More often than not, more food is served up than can be eaten, but they learn. You can make conversation about the meal. For instance, if you’re serving tofu, talk about how tofu is made from soybeans and ask her how many different variations of tofu she’s eaten. Maybe you can also let her help cook/assemble the meal. I find the kids love cooking and are eager to eat what they helped cook.

We’ve let our kids eat as much/little as they want, for the most part (it’s hard, I know). Thankfully we haven’t had major problems with eating too little. Ultimately, if they end up eating too little, some time later they will say they’re hungry. But they have to wait until the next mealtime. And then we remind them that next time we eat, to eat more or else they will be hungry later. This has worked for us, and I believe children will learn quickly or over time that they should eat enough to sustain themselves to the next meal. My boy eats well, but he’s on the thin/ribby side. It’s just his physique. So don’t be afraid to end your mealtime and she hasn’t eaten very much. Hopefully she’ll learn to eat a bit more next time if she truly finds herself hungry before the next meal.

I understand the challenge of your situation. Try introducing different tactics and be consistent, but also take comfort if she’s eating a balanced diet. If you have a ped. in the U.S., maybe talk to him/her while you’re there. You can also give her a multivitamin, but again, ask her ped. Her growth chart is a good reference too.

BTW, Satter has other books too, including another good one entitled, “How to Get Your Kid to Eat…But Not Too Much.” Good luck!

I wish I got rewards for eating.

Thanks for all the helpful comments everyone.

I’m not worried about the situation. It’s just getting to be a pain in the ass (a) sitting there with my daughter trying to force her to eat and (b) putting up with my wife’s exasperation over the situation.

Does she eat slowly to get attention? I seriously doubt it. She doesn’t seem to enjoy the attention she gets: her parents (mom mostly) nagging her, pushing her, etc. I think it’s more a matter of all people being different physically and she’s eating as fast as she can; cramming it down any faster (slow as her pace seems) might only make her gag.

Are the toys and games, etc. at the table a distraction? I don’t know. They do seem to help speed the eating process sometimes, as she’ll be engrossed in the book and hardly notice as I cram another spoonful in her mouth. But. . . it doesn’t seem like a good habit. Why should she get special treatment – playing with games at the table, essentially rewarding her for her slow eating – when adults are expected to simply eat, talk, and get the meal over with. Games should be for afterwards. So, it may be difficult changing this long-established habit, but I’ll speak with my wife about weaning her off of extracurricular dinnertime activities.

As for the reward for eating, I believe we do that already to a certain extent. She reaaaally wants to be a big girl, like her older cousins or the big girls in the park who are big enough to have rollerblades and do other big girl things. So we’ve discussed with her a thousand times how simple it is. If you want to get bigger there’s only one answer: eat a lot of food regularly. So we mark her height on the wall and she asks us to measure if she’s getting taller. And we step on the scale regularly and after a big meal she’ll proudly announce that she’s 14.4 kg and we’ll ooh and ah appropriately and tell her what a big girl she is. Also, from time to time I’ll tell her if she eats all her dinner, maybe she and daddy can go out and buy a desert.

Does our girl snack regularly? No. And she only rarely eats junk food (only when the school, nanny, shopkeeper, etc, gives her a treat, and even then we don’t always allow her to eat it), we never take her out for McDonalds or the like, and our meals at home are very healthy (not that she minds healthy food; I don’t think she realizes some kids subsist mainly on junk). As I said, I think it may be simply that she’s an ectomorph (like her dad) and doesn’t have a ravenous appetite.

Thanks for the book suggestion. I’ll definitely check it out.

I also believe it’s probably time to start turning the reins over to her to eat by herself. She had to be weaned off a bottle and off of diapers and learn to use the toilet and learn to wipe herself and dress herself, etc., so she’ll obviously need to learn to eat by herself. Four years old is certainly plenty old for that. If I can convince my wife to join in such an effort, I do expect there will be temporary weight loss, but it should’nt be any big deal. Only when they get older do girls get so screwed up that they turn anorexic/bullemic. With a child, when she’s hungry I’m sure she’ll give in to the natural desire to eat.

With mine, well I have three of them so there is certainly no time for sitting at the table spoon feeding one! We serve the dinner, everyone sits down to eat and chat and when dinner is over it’s over. If you haven’t eaten, too bad there is no more food until breakfast. They both know that and they have both gone to bed hungry which may seem a little mean but whatever now they know! :laughing: :imp:

There isn’t really much one can do. My older child is a slow eater. I try to motivate him by telling him that growth spurts require the neccessary nutrients to sustain them when expanded capillary action around growth nodes feed cells for division. To which he respond “expanding vocabulary”

So I tried dummying down the motivational talk last night. There was pork bun on the table. My son wants a puppy. I said “Finish the bun and I’ll get you a puppy.” To my surprise he puts the whole bun in his mouth in one bite and says, “I mant a mumpy.”

I wonder when I should mention to my son not to speak with his mouth full?

Definitely part of the problem.

Why does she need to do it if she can manipulate her personal servants…um…parents to do it for her? It’s like you want her to do her homework, but she’s slow, so you finish it for her. Ain’t gonna work.

Again, you’re not allowing her to be independent. As others have said, children will not voluntarily starve themselves. They may go hungry for a few days in protest, but eventually, they will eat what they need.

Our younger one had problems swallowing and we had taken him to see all sorts of specialist, including one specialist that specifically taught parents how to feed (or not feed) their children. The basic advice is this: there’s a clear line of responsibility between the parents and the child. The parents’ responsibility is to provide nutritious food of sufficient quantity at the appropriate times. The child’s responsibility is to eat, or not eat, the food presented to him/her by his/her parents. Thus, once you have filled your end of the bargain, it’s time to let go. A meal should last a fixed amount of time, then it’s over. No fighting, no tricking with toys, NO BRIBING, no yelling, no fussing.

piwackit’s method is exactly what’s called for:

Her method isn’t “a little mean”. It’s required if children are to learn that meal times aren’t open ended affairs filled with toys and books.

If you want details, the classic book on this topic is this one:

EDIT: I see honeybird has already mentioned the book above as well as another good one by Ellyn Satter. So yeah…what honeybird said.

Why does she need to do it if she can manipulate her personal servants…um…parents to do it for her? It’s like you want her to do her homework, but she’s slow, so you finish it for her. Ain’t gonna work.[/quote]

Well, my wife get’s frustrated, exasperated, pissed off, nasty, ornery and storms off for me to deal with it. I, on the other hand, decided to take action. In the past week I’ve required our girl to stuff the food in her mouth by herself and it’s working quite well.

She really wants to be a big girl and her 4th birthday is coming up, so one thing that helps is to constantly tell her that 4 yr olds all eat by themselves and if she wants to be a big girl she should eat by herself too. That’s not said in a mean, insulting way, but in an encouraging, inspirational way, and when she does eat we praise her on how big she is, about which she is proud.

So, I think things may be getting better. But I appreciate the further recommendation for Ellyn Sater’s book. I just put it in my Amazon.com shopping cart. I’ll order it for delivery to my parents’ house in the US over CNY.

Btw, as I said, our girl’s not picky about WHAT she eats. It’s just that she’s slow. Last week I brought home a couple of duck tongues that someone handed out at work (as described in the Whack things about Taiwan thread), and after I ate one my girl actually tried it and enjoyed it.

Okay, here’s my problem… my husband always complains (and I hated whenever he says this :raspberry: ) that the reason why our little girl don’t eat regularly or in a normal manner was because I’m around her. He said…whenever I’m at home, our little girl refuses to settle down to eat meals. This doesn’t happen when I’m away. Even though it’ll take her about 40 minutes (or more) to finish her meal, but at least, she finishes eating.
Many, many methods were used to encourage her to finish her meal when I’m at home. We’ve tried the rewarding, no tv &/or toys around, & more… They don’t work on her at all!!! :fume: :help:

No problem. If she absolutely won’t eat, take the food away, but don’t let her eat anything until the next mealtime. No snacks, no crackers, nothing. Also, don’t let your daughter drink too much 30 minutes before a meal - she’ll feel too full to eat.

[quote=“ac_dropout”]There isn’t really much one can do. My older child is a slow eater. I try to motivate him by telling him that growth spurts require the neccessary nutrients to sustain them when expanded capillary action around growth nodes feed cells for division. To which he respond “expanding vocabulary”

So I tried dummying down the motivational talk last night. There was pork bun on the table. My son wants a puppy. I said “Finish the bun and I’ll get you a puppy.” To my surprise he puts the whole bun in his mouth in one bite and says, “I mant a mumpy.”

I wonder when I should mention to my son not to speak with his mouth full?[/quote]
God in heaven! He’s bred!