5 Reasons Your Child Is Skipping Meals

5 Reasons Your Child Is Skipping Meals

Posted on April 27, 2023. Last updated on September 27, 2023
Alyssa a registered dietitian
Written by Alyssa

And Tips To Get Through It Together

We’ve likely all been there, sitting at the table, staring at our little one who is refusing to eat. Maybe it’s a one-off or perhaps they’re in a state of constant refusal. Either way, you get frustrated and confused and likely start to worry.

Understanding why they’re refusing to eat is extremely important. Like every aspect of life, knowing the why behind a problem can help guide us to the right solution.

First, we need to get our verbiage right. I’ve had clients tell me their child skipped or rejected dinner, but with follow up realize they did in fact eat, just not the amount their parent expected.

Beware of the verbiage you use with yourself, your partner, and your child. Is it true they didn’t eat anything at all or did they just not meet your expectations?

This is key to gaining perspective and insight to figuring out the right reason. 

1. They’re overwhelmed by their plate

A parent in my Table Talk program shared that her daughter ate an entire grilled cheese sandwich yesterday, so today she offered an entire sandwich. Her daughter ate one bite and refused the rest. What happened?

After further questioning, she shared that yesterday she served the sandwich one triangle at a time, letting her child choose if and when she wanted more. Today, she slapped the whole sandwich on the plate at once.

Children can often feel overwhelmed by the amount of food that’s on their plates and may feel internalized pressure to eat it all.

To help, remove some of the food and only add more when requested!

2. They’re getting sick

One of the first signs of illness is a decreased appetite. They may be losing their taste or smell, draining mucous, or experiencing throat pain.

If their refusal to eat is a one-off occurrence, an illness may be the culprit. There’s no reason to worry, just keep an eye on their intake, keep them hydrated, and know it will come to an end soon.

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3. They’re in a state of stagnant growth

Seeing our child’s growth chart at the doctor’s office can make us feel like growth is on a constant upward curve.

In reality, their growth is more like stairs–high growth for days, weeks, or months at a time, followed by a short plateau before jumping up again.

If a diminished appetite has been going on for several days, this may be the reason. If so, don’t worry. Your child won’t let themselves starve! During these plateaus, their needs are different. 

Once they get back to a high growth stage, their appetite will pick right back up.

4. They’re not hungry

I know this one feels like I’m being dismissive, but hear me out.

While we can use a clock and recognize patterns in our children’s hunger, we are not inside their bodies and will never truly know how hungry or full they are.

Sure, they can verbalize it, but we can’t know for sure.

If they really aren’t hungry, it could be due to grazing or filling up on milk. If you think that could be the case, you may need to establish, change, or stick to your meal and snack routine. For tips on getting started, you can listen to a full podcast episode all about routines here!

5. They don’t like the food options

If they’re refusing to eat what you’ve served, they may just be waiting for a meal they want. This is especially common if there have been times when you’ve made them a separate meal.

This is where the division of responsibilities comes into play. As the parent, you decide what’s provided, where, and when. The child is responsible for what they eat and how much.

Part of parenting is holding boundaries and being consistent. If you expect them to eat what is served, hold those expectations with compassion.

While establishing new boundaries may lead to a decrease in food intake, choosing not to eat is their decision.

To make sure they have at least something they will eat, you may want to include at least one safe food option at each meal and snack time.

Learning To Eat Intuitively

As a parent, it may make you uncomfortable if you know your child is hungry but won’t eat. Their bodies have a wide range of hunger and they must be allowed to experience that full range.

Doing so will help them learn their bodies and tune into the cues it’s giving them.

If you’re concerned about their intake or they’ve rejected several meals in a row, try changing the menu and opt for a home run meal. Instead of one safe food, offer a plate full of safe, or even favorite foods!

This can help you figure out the reason why they’ve been refusing, whether they don’t like the options, they’re not hungry, getting sick, or are in a state of stagnant growth.
I have a section in my Table Talk program dedicated to figuring out the why behind your child’s picky eating. We will help you identify if it’s happening to you and your little one and find a solution so mealtimes can be a time for connection instead of stress.