Skip to main content
ASK AN EXPERT
Got a question about a health story in the news or a health topic? Here's your chance to get an answer. Send us your questions about general health topics, diet and fitness and mental health. If your question is chosen, it could be featured on CNN.com's health page with an answer from one of our health experts, or by a participant in the CNNhealth community.




* CNN encourages you to contribute a question. By submitting a question, you agree to the following terms found below.
You may not post any unlawful, threatening, libelous, defamatory, obscene, pornographic or other material that would violate the law. By submitting your question, you hereby give CNN the right, but not the obligation, to post, air, edit, exhibit, telecast, cablecast, webcast, re-use, publish, reproduce, use, license, print, distribute or otherwise use your questions(s) and accompanying personal identifying and other information you provide via all forms of media now known or hereafter devised, worldwide, in perpetuity. CNN Privacy Statment.
Thank you for your question!

It will be reviewed and considered for posting on CNNHealth.com. Questions and comments are moderated by CNN and will not appear until after they have been reviewed and approved. Unfortunately, because of the voume of questions we receive, not all can be posted.

Submit another question or Go back to CNNHealth.com

Read answers from our experts: Living Well | Diet & Fitness | Mental Health | Conditions

Expert Q&A

  • Share this on:
    Share
  • E-mail
  • Save
  • Print

How can I get my underweight toddler to eat?

Asked by Pruth, Wood-Ridge, New Jersey

Open quote
Close quote

I have a 3½-year-old daughter who weighs 26 pounds. She does not eat by herself and when I feed her, eats very little. She gets tired easily and remains very cranky. How can I encourage her to eat?

Expert Bio Picture

Living Well Expert Dr. Jennifer Shu Pediatrician,
Children's Medical Group

Expert answer

Thanks for your question, Pruth. A weight of 26 pounds is at the 3rd percentile for 3½-year-old girls, according to the CDC growth chart, meaning that the child weighs the same as or more than 3% of girls the same age.

This weight may or may not be normal for your child, depending on a number of factors including prenatal and birth history, genetics, ethnicity, diet, height, general health and development, and more.

Your pediatrician and/or a registered dietitian can advise you best regarding whether your daughter eats enough and if any specific treatment or studies should be performed for her tiredness and cranky behavior.

It can be helpful to rule out any medical conditions that could be causing problems with her growth, such as a hormonal imbalance, gastroesophageal reflux, food allergies or intolerances, weak oral muscles, stress, etc.

As far as encouraging children to eat, here are a few ideas to consider:

Keep in mind that it's a parent's job to offer healthy food, but it's a child's job to decide how much of it to eat.

Children who eat relatively small amounts can optimize their nutritional intake if nearly everything they eat is rich in nutrients. Whenever possible, choose milk or water as beverages, and offer fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy products, lean meats, nuts, legumes or other proteins as meals or snacks. Limit foods that are high in fat or added sugars.

Make sure your child does not fill up on drinks or snack foods such as cookies or crackers; doing so will leave little room for healthier foods.

It may be helpful to save any drinks for the end of a meal. You can also take the opportunity to serve traditional mealtime foods or breakfast cereals (which are often fortified with vitamins and minerals) during snack times if your child is hungry between meals.

Using a multivitamin supplement can be helpful to make sure children get the nutrients they need until their diet improves. Ask your doctor which vitamins are most important for your child.

Monitor your child's diet over the course of a week rather than focusing on what she eats during a single day or meal. This will allow for some day-to-day variability that is normal and to be expected in both adults and children.

Some children with slow weight gain may benefit from adding more calories to their food (such as cheese, butter, or olive oil). Using fortified nutritional beverages instead of milk may also help.

Keep mealtimes consistent and free of distractions. Eat together as a family whenever possible, since many children will eat better if other people around them are also eating. Encourage but do not force children to eat. It's best if you do not punish them if they do not eat much.

For children who do not wish to feed themselves, take turns -- one bite from your spoon, and then one bite from her own spoon (or fingers). Try to make foods appealing and easy to pick up. For example, use small cookie cutters for sandwiches and serve a variety of different-colored fruits and vegetables that are cut into child-size bites.

Let your child pick out fun bowls and utensils so she'll be more likely to use them at mealtime.

Again, I hope you will talk to your pediatrician for more recommendations regarding your specific situation. I encourage our readers to share their tips for feeding children as well. Good luck!

More Q&A

  • CNN's Medical UnitCNN's medical unit brings you the best experts available to answer your questions about current events and health issues that matter most to you.
What are the potential problems with ovarian cysts?asked by: Asked by Jane Coles; Virginia
Why do I no longer need an antibiotic before teeth cleaning?asked by: Asked by Janet; Leeds
How frequently should a man urinate daily?asked by: Asked by Brian; Canada
Quick Job Search
keyword(s):
enter city:

CNN Comment Policy: CNN encourages you to add a comment to this discussion. You may not post any unlawful, threatening, defamatory, obscene, pornographic or other material that would violate the law. All comments should be relevant to the topic and remain respectful of other authors and commenters. You are solely responsible for your own comments, the consequences of posting those comments, and the consequences of any reliance by you on the comments of others. By submitting your comment, you hereby give CNN the right, but not the obligation, to post, air, edit, exhibit, telecast, cablecast, webcast, re-use, publish, reproduce, use, license, print, distribute or otherwise use your comment(s) and accompanying personal identifying and other information you provide via all forms of media now known or hereafter devised, worldwide, in perpetuity. CNN Privacy Statement.

The information contained on this page does not and is not intended to convey medical advice. CNN is not responsible for any actions or inaction on your part based on the information that is presented here. Please consult a physician or medical professional for personal medical advice or treatment.