When we have a family meal, the middle daughter will always take her time. I mean up to 2 hours, to finish a meal, especially if its not her kind of food. She'll get very easily distracted, sing to herself, sometimes she'll even fall asleep. Even if it's a meal she likes, she does take her own sweet time at it. I am getting a little stressed about it, but obviously don't want to make too much of an issue of it. Wife suggests she'll get over this stage, that's she's being smart by trying to get us to either help her eat it, which she likes, or to let her off eating it, which I have done. But I am nto too sure.

Any advice over a child who eats so very slowly?

She's 4, coming on 5, and will eat everything, eventually, but dinner has become a drag sitting around with her waiting for her to finish...

7 Answers 7


Same with my oldest boy lately, he can spend hours (if we let him) eating one bite. We just figure it's some sort of control issue or something with him and basically have just set a time for him to eat, if he doesn't want to finish or eat a lot then he needs to wait until the next meal. If he is really hungry either he can have water, or something healthy like fresh fruit, at night its mostly water, I have also cut down on what goes onto his plate - he complains he doesn't have a lot. Yet, I answer him back - if you eat that, you can have more. Besides he never eats much on some meals, but seems to make up for it during the day. He used to eat more in the afternoon as well, which I think originally started the issue and we cut him down on mid-afternoon snacks.

Make sure there is no excessive snacking going on during the afternoon. My eldest also likes the we feed him bit, probably to be more like his younger brother who we are feeding since he is a toddler. With us its the same, my wife feeds him and I let him off, but I don't give anything extra afterwards.

It may be a stage, but so long as the child is eating enough during the day due to other meals, and some snacks, then at least nutritionally things are ok.

  • 5
    +1 for if you eat that, you can have more. and less snacking. Jul 18, 2011 at 16:45
  • Thanks Michael, good answer. To be honest, I am not too sure she enjoys eating very much, but I also think it could be a control issue; she is a very strong willed character. I'll try this. At the moment, we all leave the table after 30 mins (which I think acceptable) and we say she has to stay and finish it. We'll then go and play a game. Soemtuiems this works, and she'll eat quicker to join us, other times not. I do actually think she is a slow eater, as even if we give her beans and cheese on toast (her favourite), she does take her time, which we're cool about. But 2 hours...
    – Hairy
    Jul 19, 2011 at 6:40
  • @Hairy: Michael has a good approach IMHO - we'll having the same issue with our son (now 5 years old), he gets easily distracted and takes ages to eat something, especially in the evening when the alternative to eating is preparing for bed-time. ;-) He's also strong-willed and quite bull-headed sometimes. So we usually limit meal-time to 45 minutes. The meal is finished then, no matter how much he has eaten already.
    – BBM
    Mar 7, 2013 at 15:51

Decide how much this bothers you. If not a lot, then as Michael said cut down on between-meal snacks and let her eat as long as it takes.

If you want to change this habit (I would), then set a timer for the meal and when it runs out, the meal ends - regardless whether she was finished or not. After a few such experiences, she'll get the hang of it. And you won't be starving her, don't worry. There are plenty of meals during the day to make up for it. The point is to show that each meal does not last indefinitely.

Of course explain this rule in advance. As a reason for the rule you can say that even though she may have all the time in the world, the rest of the family does not. Baby needs to play/sleep/etc. and mommy/daddy need to clean/work/ etc.


I am a Gramma and my kids did have some of the same problems. This is what we did and it worked for us:

  1. Only small healthy snacks during the day.
  2. No snacks one hour before meals.
  3. A small plate of food at meal time. After 30 minutes if the child has not ate, wrap the plate up, put in refrigerator. When the child says I'm hungry, warm the plate up and give to them again. You can do this up to 3 times on that same plate. After that throw out the food. Do not fuss about not eating. One day your child will eat. There are some foods I do not eat and its okay with me. So there will be some foods your child will not eat and its okay. They will try it when they get older.
  4. Relax and let meal time be fun so they will want to come to the table. You can also play a guessing game at the dinner table.Do what ever is fun at the table, but no fussing! Family time should be fun and dinner time should be fun!

Slow eating is healthy: it cuts number of calories we consume and prevents overeating. Mediterranean diet is considered to be one of the healthiest, and Mediterranean people do take their time to eat. The pace of the modern world encourages us to eat fast and this is not good.

Whenever possible let you daughter eat as much as she wants as long as she wants. I don't see why you have to stay with her the whole length of the meal and feed her: normal child (without eating disorders) this age should be able to feed herself if she is hungry, they will not starve themselves. I think letting her off eating food she does not like is a good idea.

  • 3
    I would vote this up, except for that last line. :(
    – cabbey
    Jul 18, 2011 at 19:43
  • 2
    3 hours to eat a plate of spag is not acceptable. Starting super at 6 and finishing at 9 pm isn't acceptable. When there is a shower and a bedtime that should have happened before. Starting breakfast at 7 and finishing at 9 am might not be appreciated by her teachers, when we show up an hour late for school.
    – baash05
    Sep 2, 2018 at 9:04

I'm told I was the same at around 5. My day-care nanny would simply put me down to eat my food before she made the table for the rest of the family, and they would have me sitting there still eating while she would clean up and do the dishes.

I don't see any point in you sitting around waiting for your daughter to finish. That isn't going to make her finish any faster.

  • I dont feel good leaving ehr there on he rown. Family meal time to me, is just that, and I think it creates a good bond in the family, a time to talk through teh day, announce important, nice things and to be together, I feel very bad then simply leaving her on her own to eat.
    – Hairy
    Jul 20, 2011 at 6:46

You are the parent and this child needs to understand that. It will develop into a disrespect issue if the case is that she will not even try to eat in a timely manner. I had the same issue with my child who is now 6 years old. More than an hour is too long. Does the child have privileges that she enjoys or would like to have. This can be an opportunity for her to work for it while encouraging her to eat at a healthy pace. Self control is not only for people who tend to over eat. It is also for people who procrastinate at the table. Strong willed children need to feel they can make decisions or at least be involved. But they need to understand that with that involvement they have to show respect to earn that respect. I wish you the best. It will take a while but your child will succeed with your dedication.

  • 2
    Wow! You speak as though this child is purposefully being difficult and causing everyone a delay because she is "willful" perhaps she is just four, easily distractable and doing what kids do. Did you have a suggestion about how to have the shild show and earn respect? Nov 4, 2012 at 3:03

Some times my kids take a while to eat, but never as long as 2 hours. What has worked for us is to just take the food away after a certain amount of time (1/2 an hour?). You won't starve the kid by making them miss out on a meal or two. After half their dinner goes in the compost a couple times they usually change their attitude. A little information here. Kids will not starve themselves, except in extreme circumstances (abuse, mental disorder, etc..). So if you're strict with the kid and just take the food away if they aren't eating, they'll change their tune pretty fast. I also agree that if they skip meals, don't give in with snacks later. Perhaps water and saltines or bread and butter, so they aren't hungry, but don't give them anything that's remotely tasty.

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