With all the obesity going on in theUnited States, it is difficult to believe that there are children between the ages of 2 and 10 who "never  want to eat."

That's what the grandparents will tell you. The parents will tell you that they are fussy eaters.  And the kids themselves will say things like ~ "it looks funny," or "it tastes funny in my mouth," or "my mother doesn't make it like that."  Or  "I'm not hungry right now."  They may not be hungry anywhere from  12 to 20 hours later or even 1 to 2 days.

If the parents of the never-hungry child ever leave this problem child  in your care, they'll tell you, "don't force him to eat."   Enjoy him and "don't worry, he'll eat when he is hungry."   Or "I brought a bag filled with what he WILL eat."   The small brown paper bag invariably contains: peanut butter crackers, small boxes of assorted cereals, puddings, applesauce, macaroni and cheese for those REALLY hungry days [but only one cup is ever eaten].  Plus popcorn, and candy - for treats when he does eat.  What!  He eats?  When?  S(he) is so skinny.

Having raised a child who weighed 40 pounds for three years of her life and who never "felt hungry right now," I should have been prepared for the grandchild who was never hungry and didn't eat whenever we did or eat what was prepared for each meal.

My daughter, my little Dumpling, subsisted all those years mainly on dairy products ~ milk, eggs, cheese, ice cream, yogurt, toast, macaroni and cheese and an occasional hot dog.  She subsisted, but she was so skinny, with all her ribs showing, that I'm sure my neighbors and family thought I was starving her to death.   She would only binge on Twinkies, which her grandmother always brought along when she visited and Dumpling would shove the entire Twinkie in her mouth to my mother-in-law's "Oh, she's starving!"  Yeah, right.

Our pediatrician always insisted that she was healthy and his own daughter was 40 pounds for 3 years and not to worry about it.  Yeah, right.  Tell my mother-in-law that.

Being blessed in my life with everything except a child who didn't eat, I guess it was only natural my two grandchildren did not eat or get hungry either.   Because we're Italian, this is especially a bad thing for grandmothers and a minor disgrace.  Italian kids should be chubby and well-nourished with that round, pasta filled-out looking face smeared constantly with spaghetti sauce.  It doesn't matter that they have a weight problem when they get older--that's OK--  kids should eat; mangia, mangia, eat more, look healthy and fill out those pants.  Have some more. Good boy.

You can't fight this 'not eating' thing--it will only make you crazy.   If they don't want to eat--they simply won't eat.   So there are some things you should be aware of if you happen to care for skinny, rib-showing children who have no interest in food whatsoever:

  •  You can try to be nonchalant and just serve them a dish of whatever you made for the meal.  After it is untouched or even breathed on, and the meal is over, you can excuse the child.   He 'has' to get hungry eventually, you think.   Well, he will --- at 11:30 pm, he'll ask if he can have some pancakes or waffles.   Sometimes, he will wake you up to tell you this.  Ordinarily, you would never give in to this--but he may pass out from starvation before midnight and what would you tell his parents?  He's unconscious because I didn't make him what he wanted to eat?  He might come to and say, "Mommy, Nonna wouldn't feed me."  So you make 6 pancakes and he eats all of them, smothered in butter and syrup. You will get a certain relief to see him stuffing his face, but don't get too excited over this--he probably won't eat again until 8:00 pm the next night.  Or the night after that.  Maybe.
  • You could try the "you won't get dessert until you finish your dinner."  This rarely works--they want the dessert, but they don't want the food.  They won't eat the food until late that night when you'll make anything they want to give them nourishment.  And they will remember the promised dessert from two meals ago and ask for it--when it's no longer an option or is long gone.
  • Your well-meaning friends will tell you that you are wrong ~ you should "force them to eat," and it's a battle of wills.  Of course these same friends wring their hands when their own visiting grandchildren do not eat.
  • If a non-eating child's plate suddenly is empty and the food is gone - don't be jubilant. Look under the table or in his pockets.  It's there.
  • Don't presume if a child eats a hot dog one day, that he will eat it the next day or even in your lifetime.
  • Observe carefully how the child's mother prepares and serves the food.  If she makes only scrambled eggs, the child will not have an interest in poached or over-medium eggs.  It has to look just like the mother's.  Don't make eggs with bacon or ham -- he will  look it over more intently than an FAA inspection.  If mommy gives him 'green eggs and ham,' make sure you have food dye in the house.

Hang in there.  Dumpling survived her stick body and has matured into a well-nourished adult who diets now to keep her weight down - she eats everything.

The grandchild is still thin, but he started to really get into food about a year ago and is interested in football and knows he needs to chow down more to make the team.

Me?  I was never a 'never eat' child.  We were a family of 7 and if you didn't nail the food when it was available, it was wait till the next meal.   And we ALL cleaned our plates--nothing was left on them whether we liked the food or not.   And we were all chubby pasta-faced kids whose faces were smeared with spaghetti sauce.

© Marie Coppola Revised March 2015