Ask the Pediatrician: Should I Worry About My Child Getting Enough Calories?

September 28, 2017 Lauren Choi, DO



I worry about my child getting enough calories. He seems to be living off ketchup and air.

Odd eating habits and skipping meals are a normal part of childhood. Studies show children will consume the amount of nutrients they need – not every day or even every other day – but over a week. Your job is to make healthy foods available, and relax. Here are some tips:

  • No pleading. Instead, offer a variety of wholesome foods and then leave your child alone. If he wants three servings of pineapple and no chicken, take it in stride. If he chooses not to eat at all one night, remain calm. Skipping meals is not unusual.
  • Let your child be a creature of habit. Peanut butter again!? Eating the same foods over and over again is normal—just make sure it’s healthy. If peanut butter sandwiches are all he will eat, use whole wheat bread and peanut butter without hydrogenated oil.
  • Set some rules, then don’t negotiate. Your rules should include: what, if anything, can be eaten between meals, and whether the meal being served is the only option. For instance, if your dinner is rejected, will you offer a standard alternative, like a sandwich? Once you’ve set the rules, stick with them, even when faced with whining or tantrums.

When should you worry? If your child is losing weight, has abdominal pain, diarrhea or if there are no breaks in chronic under-eating for several weeks, make an appointment to see your doctor. Keeping a food diary—noting what your child eats and any stool changes or stomach pain—will help your pediatrician identify the problem.

Lauren Choi, DO, an experienced board-certified pediatrician with St. Jude Heritage Medical Group, is also the mother of 13-year-old twin girls and a teenage son. “I want parents to feel comfortable asking any question – and asking it more than once,” she explains. “Parenting isn’t easy. If I've done my job of building a strong and trusting relationship, parents will see me as their partner in raising healthy, happy children.”

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.


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