What is typical eating?

Children and adolescents' temperament, organic conditions, developmental issues, environmental and parental factors determine typical eating habits in early childhood to a large extent. Some people eat three meals per day, others two or five. Children and adolescents love snacks, and they often have them in between meals (and that is okay!). Children and adolescents are growing, and their bodies use up all of the energy that meals provide faster than adults, so snacks are an essential part of their days.

Some children or adolescents are picky eaters—they do not like eating many things and they may be stubbornly unwilling to try. This is also typical, even if it is frustrating, as long as the picky eater eats enough of something.


The most important things to remember about typical eating in children and adolescents are:

  • Typical eating involves consuming enough food to provide energy for the day.
  • Typical eating should be balanced and involve multiple food groups.


Sometimes when children or adolescents are really hungry, they may eat too much, too fast and end up with an upset stomach. Sometimes when they don’t feel well, such as when they have a cold, they do not feel like eating or drinking anything. Both of these situations are typical.


When should I be concerned about a student’s eating?

Teachers are often aware of their students’ eating habits. Young students need a lot of supervision during snack time and school lunch, and their teachers are often present. Older students may eat in larger groups in a cafeteria, but they do not do so unsupervised. When students regularly eat too much or too little, there may be cause for concern.


Here are some of the signs of eating problems in children:

  • Restrictive eating or dieting leading to noticeable weight loss.
  • Eating non-food items.
  • Regular overeating followed by discomfort and, sometimes, complaints.
  • Longer periods than would be expected when nothing gets eaten.
  • Apparent aversion to or avoidance of certain foods that may be related to the appearance, smell, texture, taste, and/or temperature of food.


Older children and adolescents usually present the following:

  • Restrictive eating or dieting leading to noticeable weight loss.
  • Retreating to a bathroom or bedroom immediately after meals.
  • Regular overeating followed by discomfort and, sometimes, complaints.
  • Longer periods than would be expected without eating anything.
  • Vomiting without a clinical physical cause.
  • Finding empty wrappers or hidden food in a bedroom.
  • Constipation without a clinical physical cause.
  • Irregular menstruation without a clinical or physical cause.
  • Use of medication (e.g., laxatives, diuretics) without medical prescription.
  • Excessive exercising generally and/or after overeating.


What can I do to help a student with eating problems?

If a teacher notices that any of the above is happening repeatedly, or resulting in distress, there are a few things they may attempt:

  • Talk about it. Teachers may attempt to gain more information from the student. It is important to ask simple questions to understand the thoughts the student may be having about eating and if they are feeling distressed in any way.
  • Be supportive. It is important for teachers to let the student know that they have noticed that something might be troubling them, that they care, and that they are there to help.
  • Bring the concerns to a caregiver’s attention. A student’s caregivers need to know of anything concerning occurring in school. Caregivers may also be able to identify if concerns are present outside of school.
  • Seek help from a school nurse and/or mental health professional. Because eating is essential for life, problematic eating may require support from a school nurse or mental health professional.
  • Seek support. With a caregiver’s permission, teachers may consult other professionals who specialize in helping children with emotional difficulties.

Pediatricians or family physicians can help to address initial concerns and refer to specialized professionals. Also, whenever possible, a consultation with a mental health professional may be helpful.

The public system provides services through the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and Centers of Multidisciplinary Assessment, Counseling, and Support (KEDASY).

Eating and feeding problems that are too frequent, intense, present in many different contexts, discrepant from those experienced by children the same age, and that negatively interfere with classroom daily activities, may indicate the possibility of an Eating Disorder, such as Anorexia Nervosa and/or Bulimia Nervosa.


Where to find more information

Specific, detailed, and clinical information on Eating Disorders (i.e., Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa) can be found at [clinical short guide at the program website].

If you want to know more about the closest available services for educational and public health systems for children and adolescent assistance across the country, go to our Services Mapping webpage here.

You can also find more information by pointing your phone camera at the QR code below or by clicking here.



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