My child doesn’t eat! What do I do?

5 min read

Child doesn't eat

Many children go through a phase of decreased appetite, but that does not necessarily mean that there is a problem. If you think your child doesn’t eat well, check out our tips to improve their appetite!

Whether in conversations with other parents or consultations with the pediatrician, one of the most common concerns of families with young children is getting their little ones to eat. Despite the increase in childhood obesity rates in the United States, complaints are usually that their child does not eat. This can include rejecting vegetables, crying at mealtimes, throwing tantrums when they sit at the table to eat, and so on.

The drama is recurrent, and each story has something in common: food is always left on the plate or a small variety of food is consumed. The diet becomes even more restricted and the family doesn’t know what to do to fix this problem. Concerns arise about the health of the little ones, whether they will have the energy to grow up healthy, or their poor nutrition is compromising their development.

The good news is that, in most cases, these concerns are exaggerated, and the child remains healthy and is just going through a phase of dietary changes that is only part of developing their taste buds.

The appetite reduction phase

When the family realizes the reduction in the amount and variety of foods that the child eats, it is good to go to the doctor or pediatrician to avoid unnecessary worries. Verifying that the child is within the expected weight and height for their age and that they show no signs of any developmental problem, the doctor will reassure the parents with an explanation of what is happening.

In the first year of life, babies gain an average of three times the weight they had at birth and grow half their length. In the second year of age, children usually gain 4 to 6 pounds and grow from 2 to 3 inches. From the third year onwards, the pace of growth slows about 4 pounds and 2 to 3 inches more per year.

That is, in the first year of life babies have a great appetite and eat without resistance because they need lots of nutrients and energy to develop. In the following years, their needs will decrease, and this affects their appetite. It is mainly in this phase from 2 to 3 years old that the family notices a major change in the child’s eating habits, even thinking that their little one does not eat as well as they used to. This happens because the child is growing at a slower pace, and therefore, no longer feels the same hunger as before.

The importance of taste bud formation

In addition to this issue of reducing the speed of growth, children also enter a new phase of their development in which they begin to understand and impose their wills. They are discovering their personality, and trying to do more and more on their own. It is the phase when tantrums can become more common and behavior can range from them crying to get what they want, throwing plates at mealtime, and not wanting to sit down to eat. They also begin to select the foods they want and do not want, while rejecting anything new.

Therefore, it is very important to encourage a diversified diet from an early age. It’s good to promote the formation of the child’s taste bud before the age of 2, before they become more resistant to trying new food. At that moment, the child usually eats less and only what they already like. Therefore, if you already have a taste for vegetables, fruits, and varied foods, you are less likely to reject them in this period of “neophobia”, which is fear of the new.

What can disrupt your child’s diet?

In addition to encouraging the formation of taste buds in the first years of life, it is also possible to take other precautions to go through the stage of reducing the child’s appetite more peacefully. This ensures that they eat what is necessary to stay healthy and to develop properly.

Here are some factors that can disrupt the child’s eating habits:

Lack of routine

As adults, we know how to recognize moments of sleep, tiredness, hunger, etc. On the other hand, children are still learning to understand the symptoms and needs of their bodies. Therefore, a routine helps little ones get used to sleeping at the right times, and in the same way, the food routine will also make meals more peaceful moments for the whole family. If your child eats at the correct and consistent time, hunger will also come at the right time. This way they will eat more eagerly in each meal and reduce the risk of becoming irritable with hunger at other times of the day.

Many snacks between meals

Your child may not be eating the whole plate because they are simply not hungry. Most experts indeed recommend eating every three hours, so healthy snacks should be offered to your child in the morning and afternoon between meals. However, pay attention to the portions and types of food offered as snacks, as they are only fuel for the little ones until the next meal.

Television, cell phones, and distractions

It is common for children to continue playing and having fun and refusing to sit at the table to eat. For this reason, many families are free to watch television or even play games on their cell phones during lunch and dinner. However, when the child is engaged in this type of activity, they end up not paying attention to what they are eating or to the quantity of food left on the plate. They will probably want to stop eating just to continue watching the cartoon or playing without interruption. So, it is important to establish meals as a time without distractions, where the focus is really on food.

Liquid during the meal

If they have the habit of drinking a lot of liquid before or during meals, the child will not eat the portion needed because the space in their stomach will be full by what they are drinking. Therefore, it is best to leave liquids for the end of the meal.  It is important for them to learn to drink fluids throughout the day, so your child will not feel thirsty just before eating.

What to do when the child does not eat?

Now that you know some attitudes and habits that should be avoided, let’s talk about what to do to ensure that your child eats well enough to grow up healthy. The most important thing is to always encourage a positive relationship with food:

Don’t blackmail them!

When the child starts to refuse food, the family tends to insist and force them to eat “just 3 more spoonfuls” or “until the plate is clean”. Often parents blackmail their kids, such as “if you eat everything you will get a gift” or even “you will get dessert”. And there are still those who make threats like “if you don’t eat, you’ll be grounded!”. This type of attitude does not help because it ends up creating a negative relationship with food.

Set an example.

The family has the role of instituting a routine at meals and mainly setting an example when it comes to healthy eating. If the child is forced to eat vegetables but does not see their parents eating, for example, they will start to question why they can’t eat only the pasta. If eating fruit is a habit of the whole family, it is more likely that the child will acquire this habit too: there is less chance that they will insist on eating processed foods that they saw on TV because they do not see anyone at home eating them.

Let the child be part of the cooking process.

Involving children in preparing food, depending on their age, is a way of arousing their interest in new foods and making them exercise their power of choice. Children can help choose products in the supermarket, prepare parts of the meal, and place them on the table. Thus, they will not feel like mere spectators and are less likely to want to impose their will in a tantrum.

Offer the same food in different ways.

If the child refuses to eat carrots, for example, try to offer them in different ways. Include it in the soup, put it in the beans, serve it cooked with the meat, or even grated in the salad… Not even adults like all food and we also have our preferences. This will help the child to discover theirs! And from then on, they will be more open to trying other dishes.

Tolerate the mess.

Children always make a little mess when they are starting to eat alone. However, wiping their mouth after each spoonful will only irritate you. The tip is to use bibs and cover the chair with plastic to let the mess happen with fewer worries. After all, learning to eat is also part of the child’s development!

Eat as a family!

Food tends to be “healthier” when the child does not eat alone and enjoys family mealtime. The little ones always watch the older ones eating and tend to mimic them. This is the way they learn what should and should not be done during meals and are encouraged to try the foods that the family is eating.

Books encourage healthy eating.

Children learn continuously through games, music, movies, drawings, and stories! Why not use these resources to encourage little ones to eat healthier?

This journey helps the child to learn more about fruits, to encourage them to try new foods and discover that healthy foods, besides nutritious, can also be very delicious. There will be no more reasons to say that your child does not eat well!

Click here to create a personalized book with your little one’s name and characteristics. They will learn, have fun and learn how to eat better!

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