9 Foods Kids Should Avoid When Constipated

Nobody likes to deal with constipation, but a slowing of bowel habits can unfortunately be a regular occurrence throughout childhood. Numerous factors may be the cause of constipation in children, including their diet. In kids and adults alike, eating patterns that don’t include enough fiber or adequate hydration definitely contribute to the inability to go.

To get your child back on the right track, digestively speaking, it can help to limit certain foods—or keep them off the menu altogether—until bathroom issues have resolved.

We’ve rounded up a list of nine common offenders that can cause your child to get all stopped up. When constipation hits, be sure to focus on feeding your child high-fiber foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and beans, and offering plenty of fluids.

Fast Food

Hamburger

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

You’re probably aware that fast food isn't the best choice in your child’s daily diet. But did you know that swinging through the drive-thru might actually contribute to constipation? When low-fiber choices like hamburgers, French fries, and fried chicken nuggets replace other fiber-rich foods, a fiber deficiency may result.

Meanwhile, many fast foods are high in sodium. Sodium alters the fluid balance in the body, which can result in harder-to-pass stool. Keep your child regular by reserving fast food for an every-once-in-awhile meal instead of a daily stop.

Cheese

Macaroni and cheese

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Under normal circumstances, cheese is an excellent source of calcium and protein for kids. And it doesn’t hurt that it’s a favorite food for many kiddos in grilled cheese, pizza, and mac and cheese.

But a diet too high in cheese can contribute to fewer bowel movements. Dairy foods by themselves have no fiber, and many of the “kid-friendly” foods they pair with don’t provide much, either. For the duration of your child’s constipation, keep cheese to a minimum.

While considering dairy in your child’s diet, though, don’t kick yogurt to the curb! Yogurt is rich in probiotics, which help intestinal flora thrive, leading to healthier, smoother bowel habits.

In fact, a 2011 study found that children who consumed a probiotic-rich yogurt daily for five weeks had significant improvement in defecation frequency and constipation-related abdominal pain.

Additionally, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 1- to 2-year-olds drink two to three cups of whole milk per day, and children ages two to five drink two to two-and-a-half cups daily. Talk to your doctor before removing milk from your toddler or young child’s diet to combat constipation.

Ice Cream

Ice cream in a bowl

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

If cheese is off the table for constipation, what about ice cream? Not surprisingly, this dairy dessert is one to limit, too. As a tasty treat after dinner, try offering a dish of yogurt with fresh fruit instead.  

Processed Meats

Hotdog

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Not only do processed meats like hot dogs, bacon, and deli meat contain no fiber, they’re also high in fat and sodium—both of which can slow digestion. So although a hot dog or bologna sandwich might make a quick, convenient kid’s lunch, try opting for higher-fiber proteins instead.

Mashed chickpeas, sliced vegetables, or bean burger patties are all sandwich fillings that might help, not hinder, your child’s chances of going “number two.”

White Rice

White rice

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Ever hear of the “BRAT” diet for clearing up diarrhea? This acronym, standing for Bananas, Rice, Applesauce and Toast, is often used as a mnemonic to remember foods that stop up your digestion. While the jury is still out on the connection between bananas and applesauce and bowel habits, the evidence is pretty clear about rice.

The refining process that turns brown rice white strips away important nutrients, particularly fiber. Compared to the 8 grams of fiber in one cup of whole grain brown rice, a cup of white rice supplies only 4 grams.

One 2020 study found that a diet high in brown rice was significantly more effective for treating constipation in adult women than a diet high in white rice. If this grain is on your menu while your child is constipated, be sure to choose the brown, whole grain variety.

White Bread

Arnold white bread

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

 

White bread may appeal to kids (and grown-ups!) with its pillowy texture and smooth, neutral taste, but it’s not a friend to gut health. Like white rice, white flour is created via a process that takes away key parts of its “anatomy.”

The removal of the fiber-rich bran and germ from grains of wheat leaves only the endosperm portion of the plant. While this portion does contain some nutrients, like B vitamins, white flour and white bread can’t compare to the higher fiber content of whole wheat.

Got a kid who’s gotta go? Serve up whole wheat or multigrain bread as often as possible.

White Pasta

spaghetti

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Made with white flour, white pasta also makes the list of constipation no-nos. One cup of white spaghetti contains less than a single gram of fiber—not exactly promoting the moving of your child’s bowels. 

If your kiddo has never dipped a toe into the wide world of whole wheat and vegetable-based pastas, maybe now’s the time to start! As you introduce them to new, healthier versions of this favorite food, you’ll also be exposing them to diverse flavors.

Research shows that early introduction of a wide range of foods increases the likelihood your child will enjoy more foods later in life.

Potato Chips

Chips

 Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

As snack foods go, potato chips aren’t the healthiest choice to begin with—and because of their low fiber and minimal moisture, they certainly won’t speed up intestinal transit.

In fact, your child will do well to replace any low-fiber, high-sodium snacks (think pretzels, refined grain cereals, and packaged pastries) with fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, or whole wheat crackers.

Candy

Candy

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Sweets are another choice that can slow things down in the digestive department, especially if they take precedence over other, healthier foods in your child’s diet. In general, you won’t find any fiber in hard or gummy candies—no matter how much fruit flavoring they contain!

For a higher-fiber sweet fix, try offering your child baked goods made with whole wheat flour, chocolate-covered almonds, or berries with whipped cream. Experimenting with these alternatives might even help them develop a palate for more nutritious desserts.

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  1. Guerra PV, Lima LN, Souza TC, et al. Pediatric functional constipation treatment with Bifidobacterium-containing yogurt: a crossover, double-blind, controlled trial. World J Gastroenterol. 2011;17(34):3916-3921. doi:10.3748/wjg.v17.i34.3916

  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. Recommended Drinks for Young Children Ages 0-5. Updates Sept 18, 2019.

  3. Jung, SJ., Oh, MR., Park, SH. et al. Effects of rice-based and wheat-based diets on bowel movements in young Korean women with functional constipation. Eur J Clin Nutr 74, 1565–1575 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41430-020-0636-1

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