How to Handle a 7-Year-Old Who Won’t Eat

The medical information in this post was provided by Pediatrician Monica Fisher, M.D., a licensed physician.

Kids have weird eating habits. That is a common-known fact. But, because of this when kids have a fluctuation in how much they are eating, we get scared about the kid experiencing one extreme or the other of eating disorders or malnutrition.

How do I handle my 7-year-old that won’t eat? As long as your child is still a healthy weight and growing at the proper rate, they should be fine. Try to figure out if they are eating somewhere else like at a friend’s house or school. You could also ask if they have chronic abdominal pain or if they are nervous about something or anything else that may cause similar symptoms. If they still won’t eat and you can’t figure it out, take them to your pediatrician to maybe find the cause.

How Do I Handle My 7-Year-Old That Won’t Eat?

Children are unique little critters that have all of their own quirks. One of these quirks, that parents sometimes freak out about, is weird eating habits. Sometimes, children will have days where they are not very hungry and won’t eat much. Other days will be the exact opposite where your child just may be hungry all of the time! This behavior is completely normal I promise.

If your kid is having a longer period of not wanting to eat, however, you might want to figure out some of the reasons and consider some options, however. There are some questions you might want to ask your kid to figure out what it might be. 

Questions to figure out why your child isn’t eating:

  • Have you been eating extra food or snacks at school?
  • Have you been eating your lunch? 
  • Have you been drinking water?
  • Do you drink a lot of fluids before eating?
  • Do you get hungry?
  • Have you had a lot of abdominal pain?
  • Have you been pooping?
  • Have you been nauseous?
  • Have you been nervous about something?

These questions, and more depending on what your kid answers, are great things to ask to try and figure out what might be wrong. If they drink too much before eating, they won’t be hungry because they are filled up on fluids. If they snack a lot, especially before meal time, they won’t be hungry for the meal.

On the contrary to these very minor problems, if your kid is nauseous, has had abdominal pain for an extended period of time, or is not pooping, that could insinuate to some different problems. They could be getting sick, constipated, or other problems. If this is the case, I would consult your pediatrician for further treatment or help. 

If your kid isn’t sick, though, your kid could also simply be not that hungry. Like I stated earlier, kids go through spurts of how hungry they are and it is completely normal. If the malnutrition behavior continues and starts affecting their growth rate and health, consult your pediatrician.

As long as your child is still a healthy weight for their age and growing at the rpoper rate, you shouldn’t worry about them not eating enough.

Don’t force your kid to eat more because this can lead to training to keep eating after they are full. Your kids will eat until they ar full and will be just fine.

How to Handle the Picky Eater

In some cases, kids simply aren’t eating because they are picky eaters and do not like what they are served for a meal. This is also normal for children. Make sure that you do not become a short order cook for your children and let them know that they have to eat what is on their plate until they are full.

Do not cater to their whining and pickiness unless it is due to an allergy. Give your kids healthy options that they can choose from for dinner. My mom would usually have a couple of healthy side dishes to go with each meal and my sisters and I would have to have at least one vegetable side. 

If they are not eating a meal because they don’t like it, also make sure they don’t fill up on drinks and let them know that dessert is a reward for eating dinner. If they still choose not to eat that is okay, but don’t give in to giving them snacks later. Offer them their leftover dinner or an alternative meal option.

It is totally fine to have some more “junk food” meals sometimes, but always make sure that your kid is eating decently healthy, even if the healthy food is chicken nuggets with carrot sticks. Junk food meals are a reward for eating healthy. Kids simply need basic nutrition and food to help growth.

It is completely okay for your kids to not like some foods. For example, when I was younger my siblings and I did not like fresh tomatoes on anything. So, when she made salads or something that involved fresh tomato, she would put it on the side. As long as my siblings and I ate some healthy foods, we were good to go.

As long as your kids are getting some nutrition in there, it is okay if they don’t eat much or don’t eat everything. They will eat as much as they are hungry for and that’s all they need to eat. It may seem like a small amount, but as long as they are staying a healthy weight for their age adn rgowing at the proper rates for their age, then they will be just fine.

How to Get My Kid to Eat More

For kids that simply won’t eat and need to eat more, try making some of their favorite foods more in hopes that they will eat something. Ultimately, if kids are being healthy for the most part, it is 100% okay for them to eat some junk food sometimes. They ultimately need to eat and keep or gain the healthy weight they need at this point. As long as your child is getting the nutrients it needs from somewhere, you’re good. 

One way you can get your kids to eat more of the nutritious foods they need, especially if they are lacking, is to hide them in their food. When I was younger some of my siblings didn’t like to eat vegetables. So, to help remedy this to get our nutrients still, my mom would chop up the vegetables small, like mushrooms and celery, and put that in pasta sauce and funny things like that. Another food she used to do a lot is banana bread. We loved it and it was a great healthy breakfast option on the way to school in the morning.

One of my favorite, nutrition-disguised dishes that my mom used to make was Brown Sugar Sweet Potatoes. She would cook and mash them up with some butter and such and put that mixutre in a casserole dish. On top of this she would sprinkle some brown sugar then she would bake it till the brown sugar crystalized and had a nice crunch to it. I can’t tell you how many servings of that stuff I would just sit and eat when there were leftovers and I still got the nutrition from the sweet potatoes.

Another method of getting your kid to consume these nutrients they need is to make the food look more fun. My mom used to buy fun looking pasta to make it more amusing or even have us set the table pretty so it was like a fancy dinner. Another thing she used to do is give us “dip it” for our food. She would give us some ranch with vegetable sticks, ketchup with meatloaf, fries, or nuggets, and even A-1 sauce with steak. 

She used to also have us help her make dinner. Not only would we learn how to cook, or even help simply throw ingredients in when told, but we would also be more interested in eating the food because we worked hard to help make it. 

My mother would also have us help plan meals with her so we could choose meal options we liked and would eat. We would also help her shop for all the ingredients as well. By giving us a choice, we were more up to eating the food as well.

Kid-Approved Meal Ideas

When meal planning, especially for picky chldren, you will want meal ideas that will appeal to them and still give them the nutrition they need. Favorite foods works great, but I have some more ideas for you so that those few meal options don’t get worn out.

Snacky Dinner:

When I was younger, and my mom didn’t have any dinner plans or needed a night off, she would do what we called Snacky Dinner. We would all help make dinner. We would cut vegetable sticks, pop popcorn, bake some chicken nuggets quick, and make any snacks we thought were appealing and then we would all sit in front of a movie with our plates full of snacks and dip it and just graze for the evening. It was super easy, we kept the nutritional value, we were all involved, and it was super fun.

Personal Pizzas:

For this, you can buy pizza dough, or make it if you’d prefer, and get any toppings you want for pizzas (i.e. cheese, red sauce, peppers, pepperoni, pineapple, ham, mushrooms, etc.). We would go home, chop up all the topping as necessary, and then we would put whatever toppings we wanted on our pizza dough bases after they were partially cooked, then throw the pizzas back in the oven for the toppings to cook and the cheese to melt. It was fun, interactive, and we would get what we wanted while keeping nutritional value.

Taco Tuesday:

Taco Tuesday is always a hit in most households I have heard of. You prep all the taco ingredients and then let the kids completely construct their tacos how they want. This could be another interactive meal prep and the kids get what they want again while having some fun.

Burger Night:

With this meal, it may sound greasy and unhealthy, but you can make it much healthier by doing it at home instead of buying the burgers and fries that are soaked in grease. Simply cook your own patties and have the vegetables prepped. Then the kids can construct their healthier burgers. Also, you can find bags of fries in the frozen section of grocery stores. Grab one of them and cook some fries at home too and it makes it a fun meal experience without the grease!

Hot Dog Surprise:

When I was younger, my mom would do something we have always called Hot Dog Surprise. We would take raw hotdogs, mashed potatoes, and cheese and layer it on top. You split the hot dog in half and then stack the mashed potatoes on it, then sprinkle cheese across the top. Put it in the oven on a high broil until the cheese is melted and crispy and it is wonderful! I promise it tastes much better than it sounds. I STILL make this meal as an adult!

Pancake Bites:

Another one of my childhood favorites was pancake bites. This can be a pre-prepped breakfast or even a fun way to do dinner. Basically, you make a batch of pancake batter and pour it into a mini cupcake pan instead of on a griddle. They bake into cute little bites that are awesome for dipping if desired. My mom would put chocolate chips in the batter and then freeze the bites she made as quick, microwaveable breakfasts for us kids.

Related Questions:

How do you handle a 7-year-old that eats all the time? Make sure to set specific meal and snack times and make it clear that no other eating happens except at those times. Also, there should almost never be eating in front of any screens.

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