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When I cook for my child, my child tends to just eat a little bit, perhaps, two or three forkfuls, and then goes and uses the phone.

When I tell my child to eat, they say they're not hungry or they don't want to (and continue to use the phone).

My child is five years old and keeps on doing this every time.

What am I doing wrong?

What can I do?

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    Can you elaborate please: what does the child eat outside the meals you cook for them? Are you eating together or do you serve separate meals for them? And where is your child on the weight and growth charts?
    – Stephie
    Aug 30, 2023 at 13:58
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    I noticed that you say this five-year-old kid stops eating to use the phone. What are they doing with it? Are they texting? Are they playing games? Would you say they are addicted to the phone? Maybe taking the phone away (5yos shouldn't have phones anyway) will help them learn to eat healthily. Aug 30, 2023 at 14:04
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    My wife and I constantly reminded each other around meal times that children seem to only need air, love, and water. A small child eats a lot less than an adult.
    – Jon Custer
    Aug 31, 2023 at 14:54
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    Why on earth do you give a phone to a 5 year old ????
    – Hilmar
    Sep 2, 2023 at 13:11

2 Answers 2

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The first thing to try here is to limit the phone time during meals. If the child has another thing they're interested in, it's very easy for them to ignore the food - they want to get back to the fun activity. They do get hungry, but odds are your children are fed enough that they don't get that hungry. A small amount of food often satisfies the initial hunger "pang" - and once that's gone they're back to wanting the more fun option.

At our house, screen time is limited to before 7:30am (breakfast then school), and between 3:00 (after school) and 7:30pm (dinner). Older children, so somewhat more extended times (7:30pm is very late for a preschooler), but the point is they don't have anything to be distracted from food for.

You can also adjust how you do your meals to your child's schedule; it may be that they want smaller meals more frequently, and "snack time" really should be a small meal rather than a snack. You may also want to reduce snack times, though "three meals a day" is typically not enough for smaller children to manage their energy levels from my experience - but if they can snack on a frequent basis, they may be getting enough from the snacks and don't find a need for proper meals.

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    Limit the phone time? 5 year olds do not need phones at all so just reduce it to zero seconds. No phone means one less distraction at meal time or any other time.
    – user42564
    Aug 30, 2023 at 21:48
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    health.harvard.edu/blog/…
    – user42564
    Aug 30, 2023 at 23:31
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    The question is focused on eating, so my answer is focused on that. Certainly a different question could be asked as to whether a five year old should have any phone time at all.
    – Joe
    Aug 31, 2023 at 1:37
  • @Gantendo it's seemingly regarded as more normal (though of course still optional) to give a child a tablet, but a phone (probably with no SIM card or messaging) is easier to hold with small hands than an iPad and does the same things
    – Chris H
    Aug 31, 2023 at 15:27
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What am I doing wrong?

You seem to be assuming that your child is in some way being irrational about eating – eg by not eating despite being hungry and/or lying, to you or himself, about not being hungry – or that he's unable to be hungry (which is false, see below).

What can I do?

You can take your child seriously when he says he's not hungry and accept that.

[D]oesn't a child have a hunger stimulus?

Of course children have a hunger stimulus. One of the reasons babies cry is that they're hungry, and then they stop crying when fed. If babies have it, so do five-year-olds.

What will happen if they keep on not eating or don't eat at the right time?

Well, any biological organism needs some energy source to sustain itself. I'm not a doctor, but from what you've written, it doesn't sound like your child is anywhere close to starvation or you would have mentioned something like very low weight, bones showing through skin, stuff like that.

The right time to eat is when hungry. If your child says he's not hungry, it's not the right time. If you're insisting your child eat when you want him to instead of when he wants to, you're insisting he eat at the wrong time. That's a surefire way to ruin his relationship with food (and with you). Hence why Bentley Carpenter's suggestion that "taking the phone away [...] will help them learn to eat healthily" is ridiculous – the opposite is true. All he would learn is that problems are not soluble (which isn't true), that you exist to thwart his goals (which, sadly, might be true), and that eating means he can't have what he wants (in this case, his phone).

I'm guessing going through the trouble of cooking for your child and then him rejecting most of the food can be disappointing. So consider only cooking when your child tells you he's hungry. If cooking takes too much time, or if you can't cook on short notice, meal prepping could help. Or have ready-made food on hand that you can heat up in the microwave or serve cold. Either way, feed him things he wants, not things you want him to want. If you think he's only interested in unhealthy foods, try to persuade him of alternatives, but don't force things on him.

The world of food is wonderful, and I hope your child learns to enjoy it. Good luck.

EDIT: I just found this answer you may find helpful (but ignore the part about how to "get your child to eat at mealtimes", and I haven't opened the linked resources).

EDIT 2: A mod flagged this answer as needing sources, including a threat of deletion. Why? The answer already contains a source, which in turn links to several other sources.

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    – Rory Alsop
    Sep 11, 2023 at 12:15
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    Dennis - you have been warned a few times. As you are not a parent (and no, having once been a child does not count as useful experience in this field) we are going to be more stringent than you may expect on providing citations to studies etc. We are also not going to give you any leeway on rudeness to others - Be Nice, or be suspended.
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