How to Handle Young Children Who Overeat

How to Handle Young Children Who Overeat

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If you have young children there are many things to think about when it comes to being healthy. Sometimes you may be a little concerned with a child that seems to be overeating. The stomach of a young child is only about the size of their clenched fist, so if your child is eating a lot more than that, you may need to step in.


Learning to eat a healthy portion of food is a lifelong skill to teach any child. It is important, though, to not make your child feel like you are ‘policing’ their meals, and don’t make a huge deal about food control because that can backfire.

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For actual meals, let them eat as much as they want. If a child feels like food is being monitored they may actually eat more because they can be afraid the food will run out. This applies to mealtimes only- we will talk about snacks next.

Did you know that over 25% of the calories you child consumes each day comes from snacks? Snacks can be a good thing, but you need to have specific snack times and offer healthy foods during that time.Many kids don’t even need snacks at all.

Consistency is the most important thing when it comes to eating. Have set mealtimes and snack times. Let your child know what to expect. If you don’t give in to snack requests at other times of the day, your child will learn to eat during those times to satisfy their hunger.

Even children as young as 3 can recognize the signs of hunger and being full. You can also explain to your child that it takes 15 to 20 minutes for our brains to realize we are full. Maybe sit at the table and talk or play for 15 minutes after most of the meal is eaten.

Some kids may eat out of boredom or stress, so be aware of this as well. If you think your child is having emotional issues please see a doctor first.

For me I have one child who loves to eat everything in sight, who will literally sit at the kitchen counter and eat all day if I let her and another child who is on the opposite side of the spectrum, whom I worry about is not getting enough nutrients to live. So, what is a parent to do?

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50 comments

  1. These are awesome tips. I have two small children – 3 and 1 – and they are so different. My three-year-old hardly eats and is small and skinny whereas my one-year-old is rolly polly and eats anything. I mean that in a very endearing way btw, he’s super young and his extra squish just makes him an adorable baby but I do worry about his over eating when he gets older.

  2. My kids are seriously the pickiest eaters but they do love their snacks! I can see how it uses up 25% of calories! I try to buy healthier options to help with the constant snacking. Kids need a good balance of healthy eating and enjoying the outdoors!

  3. This is great! I grew up in a family that never set limits on eating and I had to unlearn a lot as I got older. I think only having healthy options available to snack on is a must, as well. Our son is only 2 and already a big snacker. I try to mostly get him to eat protein and veggies or fruit, tho.

  4. I had no idea that 25% of the calories a child consumes each day come from snack! So I can see how setting some parameters around that would be really helpful!

  5. Very smart tips for helping your kids with eating issues. I think not making a big deal over how your kids eat is probably the best way to not make them feel bad. You can still monitor them without causing a scene.

  6. Great tips. This is really important. Childhood obesity is no joke and I know some parents who just don’t care. We need to make sure we are doing our part to keep our kids healthy and not over doing it.

  7. Something that a lot of parents deal with and knowing how to find a balance. Its so challenging to make sure kids eat healthy and arent hungry…

  8. This is great! As a kid we were allowed to eat as much as we wanted at breakfast, lunch, and dinner but snacks were limited and we only got them twice a day. It’s so essential to teach children to know when they’re hungry vs when they’re bored.

  9. I have a little cousin who is incredibly overweight and no matter what anyone says his parents won’t do anything about it. He gets made fun of at school and has a hard time walking because of it. They refuse to see him as oversight. It is very sad.

  10. I love you point about keeping to a schedule. Something that I think is more important than restricting, is being sure to provide nutritious options. Some families eat lots of boxed cereals and processed foods. Children, as well as adults, need to eat real whole food that their bodies were designed to consume… Sugar and Flour are addictive and children who overeat would probably be susceptible more so than those that don’t. Remove all refined sugar from the diet, and eat fresh fruits, vegetables, animal protein, plant protein, grains & vegetable plant starches. I am a strong believe that overeating is strongly influenced by not getting all the nutritients our bodies need.

  11. These are lovely tips. Handling them could be difficult, they might react in a bad way so we should be extra careful that they might get sensitive.

  12. Love the great tips, very true how we can monitor our kids and eating without making them feel bad or self conscious. My kids are so different, one who’s a picky eater a dn one who’s not. Each different eating needs.

  13. You’re absolutely right, it’s important to not make them feel like you’re depriving them of food. This is a pretty good guide for parents who are concerned for their kids’ weights.

  14. These are great tips. We had neighbors with kids that were just allowed to eat and eat whenever they wanted. No rhyme or reason and they were so unhealthy.

  15. When I was a kid we were never limited to what we could have. But we always had fruits and veggies within arms reach – so it’s important to have your home stocked with all of those goodies, too!

  16. I love that you are taking this matter to heart. I worry about my son not getting enough to eat sometimes and other times he overreats!

  17. I think this is one of the things where leading my example is HUGE! If you are always looking for something to snack on, your kids are raised doing the same thing! Just as if you don’t eat your vegetables – your kids certainly won’t either!

  18. My youngest, 19 months, would eat ALL day if I let her. She’s gotten better as she’s gotten older, but I was worried. These are great tips!

  19. In the area of the country where I now live, it is disheartening to see the paradox – there is food insecurity yet childhood obesity is too high. It is a very sensitive matter and definitely one where mental and physical health professionals should be involved; what works for some doesn’t for others.

  20. Great tips here! At Choosy Kids (www.choosykids.com) we stress the importance of eating fruits and veggies and getting daily exercise for children. As a parent, I stick strictly to fruits and veggies for snacks (except on occasion they can have a sweet treat). And you know what? My kids don’t care. They request fruits over candy!

  21. I really try to be proactive in monitoring what my children eat. As an overweight adult, I understand the health risks associated with overeating and I don’t want them to go down that road.

  22. We work really hard on sticking to protein, veggies, and fruit. They fill you up longer and help to avoid the snackies. I’m trying to teach my kids only to eat when hungry.

  23. It is hard to handle kids nowadays but as a parent, it is really important that we take a stand. This is a very nice post.

  24. Childhood obesity is a tragic epidemic. I think this is a subject that needs to be handled cautiously though, as sometimes the best intentioned ways of handling overeating with kids can backfire.

  25. This is such a delicate topic and you give great advice on it. We have set times when we snack and I have found if we don’t my daughter eats when she is bored. These are great!

  26. Some great tips here. It’s a sad state of affairs to see child obesity rising everyday. Setting a routine and not snacking in between definitely helps.

  27. My kid hates eating his lunch or dinner, but is always complaining that he’s hungry all night long. He just wants to eat snacks all the time. It’s so hard getting him to eat healthy. I think we are going to have to designate snack time as well.

  28. I grew up as a picket eater and I watch my son carefully. I’m lucky that he is very active and doesn’t fall into this category. But great tips.

  29. It’s a great article. We definitely need to start talking about this more, especially as a new parent. We decided to do baby led weaning with my toddler, and it’s worked out really well. Teaching intuitive eating is a life long skill!

  30. I totally agree with this post. It’s not good when parents let their children overeat as the adult is in control! Great tips and info to!

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