It’s normal for young children to refuse food. In fact, almost every child goes through a period of rejecting new foods. Fortunately, eventually most children grow out of this phase.
Does my child eat enough?
Don’t worry about what children eat in a given day, but rather be concerned about what they eat over the course of a week. Because if children are well, active and gaining weight, then they probably also get enough food as well.
Try a balanced diet
Whatever your child likes or doesn’t, try to make sure your child eats some food from the 4 main food groups:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Carbohydrates: rice, bread, noodles, pasta and other starchy carbs
- Dairy or dairy alternatives
- Proteins: beans, fish, eggs
How to introduce new food
Introduce new foods gradually. As you do that you can keep going back to the foods your child didn’t like before. Children’s tastes change. One day they’ll hate something, but a month later they may love it.
Keep offering a variety of foods – it may take lots of attempts before your child accepts some foods.
Tips for parents of fussy eaters
- Give your child the same food as the rest of the family, but remember not to add salt to your child’s food (salt contains sodium and too much is unhealthy)
- The best way for your child to learn to eat and enjoy new foods is to copy you. Try to eat with them as often as you can
- Give small portions and praise your child for eating, even if they only eat a little
- If your child rejects food, don’t force them to eat it. Just take the food away without saying anything. Try to stay calm, even if it’s very frustrating. Later try the food again another time
- Don’t leave meals until your child is too hungry or tired to eat
- Your child may be a slow eater, so be patient
- Don’t give your child too many snacks between meals
- It’s best not to use food as a reward. Your child may start to think of sweets as nice and vegetables as nasty. Instead, reward them with a hug, a trip to the park or a fun game
- Make mealtimes enjoyable and not just about eating. You can talk, play games or even sing at the table
- If you know any other children of the same age who are good eaters, arrange lunch dates. Kids often love to copy other kids
- Ask an adult that your child likes to join for lunch. Sometimes a child will eat for someone else, such as a grandparent, without any fuss
- Change how you serve the food. For example, your child might refuse cooked carrots but enjoy raw grated carrot
- Distract your child with something exciting when eating. Pointing out a bird in the sky while offering to take a spoonful of food often works for children who are otherwise fussy eaters.
Avoid salt and sugar
Whatever you give to your child, try to avoid salt and sugar as they are both harmful. Salty favorites of children include pizza, potato chips and ramen noodles. Sweet favorites are chocolate, lollipops, dessert and even normal food which often contains lots of sugar. To ensure your child is growing up healthy, try to avoid both. Especially since its difficult to stop them once they get used to them.
Three simple rules:
- Avoid all processed foods
- Avoid all ready made meals
- Avoid food from restaurants where you are not sure how it was prepared.
When to speak to a specialist?
Call or visit a doctor if your child shows any of the following:
- is losing weight
- appears to be lethargic
- seems dehydrated
- is always vomiting
- has persistent diarrhea
- has abdominal pain
- if you worry that your child is not getting enough to eat
- Eating problems in children - National Health Service (https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/fussy-eaters/)
- Eating problems in children - World Action on Salt & Health (http://www.worldactiononsalt.com/salthealth/children/)
- Eating problems in children - Children’s Urology (https://www.childrensurology.com/why-too-much-salt-is-bad-for-kids/)