I want to know if anyone has any kind of experience with this as it is foreign to me.

My best friend has two little girls (seriously, this is about my best friend. Not me.). Her oldest just turned five and, when it comes to eating, is a perfectly normal eater. Actually, I consider her a very good eater. She eats healthy foods, she doesn't over-eat, she eats a wide variety of foods, and she doesn't exhibit the normal eating issues I see with so many kids her age.

Her younger daughter will turn 3 at the beginning of April, and she has always been a BIG eater from the time she was a baby. She was taking full 8-oz. bottles of formula by the time she was 3 months old every two hours, and this went on until she was almost a year old. My best friend would have to carry around a can of formula wherever she went so she could always be prepared. Rarely does she leave anything on her plate at mealtimes, and she will frequently finish off whatever is left on other's plates. She's not necessarily overweight, though she's probably a little on the "chunky" side for her age. We've all kind of just rolled our eyes in the past and said a little indulgently, "Well, that's just Avery."

Last week, however, my friend got a phone call from her baby-sitter about her daughter's eating habits while at daycare. It seems that one morning, the babysitter was feeding another baby some oatmeal and Avery came over, plunged her hands into the bowl of oatmeal, and started shoveling handfuls of food into her mouth. Later that afternoon, at lunchtime, another little boy left the table to visit the restroom, and while he was gone Avery ate the rest of the little boy's lunch before the babysitter could even jump in and stop her.

Needless to say, this has my friend worried. She has worried about her daughter's eating habits since she was a baby. My friend and I have both struggled with our weight most of our lives, so I sympathize with her and I understand her concern.

Anyone out there have any experience with this? Any medical reasons anyone can think of that might be causing this? I think we all assumed that this was something she would eventually grow out of, but this new behavior has us all thinking that there may be something more to it.

  • 6
    Have they consulted a pediatrician?
    – Karlson
    Feb 21, 2012 at 0:35
  • 1
    I truly don't know. Well, let me rephrase. I'm certain that it's brought up at her daughter's annual well-checks, but I don't know that they have visited the pediatrician to specifically address this topic. Like I said, I think until this happened, we all assumed it was phase she would sort of grow out of.
    – Meg Coates
    Feb 21, 2012 at 3:48
  • 6
    This strikes me as something that should be brought up to a doctor.
    – tomjedrz
    Feb 21, 2012 at 4:17
  • 1
    That's kind of what I'm looking for. I'm looking for anyone else who has a child or who knows a child who was a "big eater" for lack of a better term to see if they can shed some light on the subject--not an official diagnosis. It's of little stress to me since it's not my child, merely a point of concern. Can my best friend take the "wait and see approach" or does she need to be more proactive about it? That is why I'm asking for PERSONAL experience.
    – Meg Coates
    Feb 21, 2012 at 13:49
  • 1
    I disagree. I don't see how this question is any different from some of the other eating questions on this site but on the opposite end of the spectrum. If you'd like me to edit the question to say something like, "How can my best friend help her daughter eat less?" I will be happy to do so.
    – Meg Coates
    Feb 23, 2012 at 5:29

6 Answers 6


This may very well be a simple case of learning eating manners while not at home,especially if she is new to daycare, but could potentially indicate an endocrine or psychological problem if it continues. It is important for the mother not to place too much restriction on her daughter for the time being so that she doesn't internalize her mother's concerns and connect eating food with "being bad." Your friend should try to control when and what her daughter eats, focusing on a healthy and well-balanced diet, while allowing Avery to decide how much of what is offered to eat.


As many have already suggested - a consultation with the pediatrician is clearly in order. Start today keeping a food journal (you'll need the sitter's help) of everything she eats because that is likely one of the first things the doctor will want to see.

To avoid a bad association for the girl with food, it is important to stress eating in a balanced way. It sounds like there is some sort of compulsive "thing" going on as opposed to environmental, but it may help to offer foods in smaller dishes. For example, use a salad plate for dinner and dessert bowls for cereal. This way, there is just less on the plate for her to gobble up.

I suggest everyone in the family use the smaller dishes so she doesn't feel singled out. Serve the plates already portioned out and leave the additional food in the kitchen so anyone who wants seconds has to get up to get them. If seconds are desired, they can be retrieved, but then they aren't sitting there on the table asking to be requested. The pediatrician may or may not believe she should be limited, but this may be a good way to go about it without making it about "diet."

Fibers are especially filling/satiating, so adding beans and other forms of fiber to as much as possible might also be helpful in helping her feel fuller (unless there is a problem with the stomach's communication with the brain about being full - which is possible). For example, add 1/4 cup of beans ground up in a cuisinart to almost any sauce. I still do this, because lots of fiber just makes for a healthier system. I also still add things like celery to stir fry, keep apples and jicama around for snacks and basically try to make sure we have LOTS of Fiber (and the water to drink to go with it). Anabel Karmel has written a number of cookbooks full of recipes with kids in mind and she has all kinds of great ways to hide veggies (best fiber sources along with vitamins and minerals for low calorie content) AND dress them up in ways that make them more appealing to kids.

I would use these ideas In Addition to suggestions by someone with more knowledge and experience - particularly those of a pediatrician and/or endocrinologist and nutritionist.


Let's start with standard disclaimers: IANA Pediatrician, Dietician, or Endocrinologist.

I was a witness to a child about my son's age that had the same problem. The reason in my opinion is that food was a reward for him and to top it off some of what was fed to him were bite size "ravioli". Needless to say that just after 3 years of age this kid was in the top percentile in both height and weight. What their pediatrician had told them was to follow a special diet and possibly have an endocrinologist take a look if the weight gain continued.

Which is what my suggestion be to you. If the girl gains weight then I would suggest going the same route. It may be a compulsion, which she might outgrow but it may be something else in which case it could be serious.


It's really important that you help her maintain a healthy body weight.

The best way to deal with a big appetite is to create her meals of mainly bulky vegetables with low energy content.

So for example:

On the other hand, 100g of white bread has 266 calories.

So vegetables are "inefficient". You can all eat a great deal of these and still only derive a few calories from them. Still, they take just as long to move through your digestive tract, so you will feel full.

Using a large proportion of vegetables in each meal is the best way to handle this by far because she can eat as much bulky vegetable as she likes, get totally full, but not gain weight because the energy content of these foods is low.

Of course don't feed her only vegetables.

Do a good job preparing the vegetables and making them part of her meals. Make delicious creamed soups (fats are essential and help build the brain), or steam them, make an omelette with 50% vegetables. Have salads on hand and make sure you set an example by eating them too. Make pork with steamed vegetables on the side. Pay attention to what she likes, and be committed!


I suggest it would be best, if your friend consult their family's pediatrician, so she can be given a professional advice on how to deal with the eating habits of the child. In your story, there are several instances when the child ate her classmates food, so I do understand your dilemma. I just want to share that my brother is attending a special school. He is diagnosed with autism. I accompany him in one of the gathering in the school, and I saw an obese child, who cannot control her eating habits. She has an eating disorder - she cannot control her craving for food. Thus, it is really best to consult the doctor, so you would know what's the best thing to do. Hopefully, it is just some eating habits that can easily be corrected through proper training.


As others have pointed out, ask a doctor, step one.

With that done there are a few points that are very important.

  • DO NOT worry about weight or "bad habits" the doctor will tell you if you need to worry about too much weight. As adults we focus WAY TO MUCH on weight control as a function of looks. This child needs 0% of that. If her weight is not a concern for the doctor, then let her eat as much as she wants.
  • DO NOT focus on the amount of food, or calories, or whatever unless instructed by a doctor. Again if the doctor is not concerned about the weight then let her eat as much as she wants.
  • DO feed good, healthy foods. Don't just feed foods you think are healthy, do some actual research and self-education with the doctor. Some of it is just common sense. Veggies are "better" then candy, etc. But some things can really surprise you. So make sure there is a good selection of healthy foods. If she wants to eat 400 lbs of something a day, let her, just make sure it is a healthy something.
  • Do teach proper eating manors. This sounds like the real problem. She just isn't following the rules for eating. Instruct her caregivers to give her more, but also teach her to use proper manors. Ask for seconds, etc.
  • Do feed her, at this age, until she is full. Children of this age don't eat for the emotional response. They eat cause they think they need food. TO SURVIVE. Not feeding them, or trying to feed them less in order to control what you feel may be a problem, later on, is likely going to trigger survival instincts. Most commonly "eat everything I see because I don't know when I may get more" and food hoarding.
  • DO NOT shame the child for eating more, or ANY eating habits at all.
  • If you have to restrict something, then do so by never offering it, not by offering it and go "no you can't have (more of) that"

There are two issues that you need to be most aware of, at that age she eats because she needs something the food provides. Check for deficiencies in vitamins, proteins, or other things. She may be eating a lot because the body needs something she is not getting enough of. This is VERY possible as a child goes from formula and "baby food" to "adult" foods. Especially if someone is trying to limit the amount of adult foods that are being eaten.

I can not stress enough that as adults we see "too much eating" as a negative, beauty/body image concern. Oh noes, she is going to be fat because she eats too much. Let's curb that now. We don't want a fat child. Make 100% certain you are not imposing that non-sense on to a toddler. They don't have that concern at all yet. If there is a health concern, the doctor will let you know, but do not impose body image issues on a three-year-old. Provide good, healthy foods, as much as she can eat, and let nature run its course, for now.

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