My Child Won’t Eat! I’m Getting Worried
December 18, 2017
There’s tons of literature out there about infant nutrition, with everything moms need to know, from the healthy milk intake for a baby in ounces, to the right time to start solids and different stages that follow. Once baby eats a variety of foods, usually around one, moms have to start referring to Canadian food guides (e.g. Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide).
All parents want their children to be healthy; to have the energy to play, be active and learn. So when their two or three-year-old suddenly refuses to eat or keeps it light with a two-bite dinner before asking for dessert or binging on snacks, it’s only natural to start worrying. Are they just being difficult? Should you prepare different meals so everyone eats? Do they really need to finish their plate before getting dessert? The right answers actually depend on your child’s motivations.
Why is it a different story every day?
Children generally have big appetites during their first year of life, so they grow a great deal and quickly gain weight. After a year, their growth slows down, meaning the amount of energy needed daily sometimes decreases. What you need to remember is that your child’s needs may also vary from one day to the next.
We eat because we’re hungry! Appetite varies daily, for adults and children alike, but you can be sure children don’t let themselves go hungry. They will always eat what they need to play, stay active and learn. Children usually recognize hunger signals and know when they are satisfied; it’s not up to you to make those judgment calls. It’s possible your child will have a hearty appetite in the morning, but want very little to eat at lunch or dinner. Our appetite will vary depending on a given day’s schedule and level of physical activity, so you need to consider these factors.
When should you start to worry?
It goes without saying that if you notice your child is losing weight, has little energy, doesn’t sleep well, looks pale or simply looks different, you should definitely see your doctor. A proper diagnostic will help you get a better handle on the situation and work towards a solution.
Some kids really are light eaters
Is your child healthy, but only eats two or three bites of a meal before claiming to be full? Not all children have big appetites. In fact, some eat very little. Remember: they won’t let themselves starve. You can try to ensure that those few bites your kid actually eats are nutritious. If this struggle is part of your daily routine, know that some websites such as www.caringforkids.cps.ca offer more information about the foods to include in your child’s diet to keep them healthy… even if they are picky eaters! Your nutritionist can also give you some tips to make your family meals extra nutritious. Your child’s sparrow appetite might never get bigger and there’s really nothing wrong with that!
Assertiveness comes with age
Our sense of taste and food preferences evolve with age. It’s not because you like a certain type of food now that you will still like it in a few years. It’s the same for kids… and they sure like to make their opinions loud and clear! Our young ones’ food preferences develop as they forge their personality; kids want to be more independent and like to make their own choices.
Mealtime is not where you need to intervene if you are struggling with a fussy eater. Instead, try the following tips BEFORE your family sits down to eat:
- Turn off all the screens (television, computer, phone, tablets, etc.) before eating.
- Ask your children’s help to set the table.
- Cook with your kids; this helps them understand what’s in their plate. It also gives them the opportunity to tell you their likes and dislikes and opens the door to discussion. Finally, they can explore their five senses and learn more about their preferences, while having fun.
- When it’s time to prepare your kids’ plates, ask them to tell you when to stop. They’ll feel that they have some control over how much they eat, making the whole experience more positive.
- Ask them about how hungry they are and how they know that. Do the same when they say they’re not hungry anymore, and ask how they know the physical signs telling them that they don’t have to eat anymore. This will help you gain a better understanding of your child’s hunger signals.
- Snack time should be at least two hours before mealtime to avoid spoiling their appetite.
- Respect their appetite!
As a last course
Don’t hesitate to see a professional if you’re still concerned, but during mealtimes just let it go; threats and bribery are quite useless. There are pro-active ways to prevent these tricky situations, like making cooking a fun activity with your child to explore and discover new foods together. It’s also good to learn to recognize the physical signs of hunger and fullness, both for you and your child.
Nancy Germain, special educator
Member of the Nanny Secours network