In no mood for food
14:55 (GMT+2), Tue, 23 March 2010
Your toddler used to have a steady appetite, but now he turns up his nose at anything that has to do with food. We provide some answers to help ease your bafflement and concern. Your former champion eater suddenly turns into a little bird, picking at his food or refusing to touch his once favourite spaghetti Bolognese. You are at your wits’ end and don’t know what to do. Well, you don’t have to be baffled by your toddler’s eating habits any longer, as we explain exactly why your child’s steady appetite has changed all of a sudden
A lack of appetite Children go through various phases of development during their toddler-, preschool-, tween- and teen years. Food strikes or a drop in appetite are two of the hurdles you have to overcome with your child during his toddler years.
Registered dietician, Jeske Wellmann, says there are many reasons why toddlers don’t want to eat or don’t eat as much as they used to:
• During the toddler years, your child is experiencing a normal slowdown in growth from his baby years, and with it comes the need for fewer calories and food.
• Toddlers don’t like being rushed during mealtimes. These days, parents are always in a rush to get somewhere, whether it is to go to work, drop the other children off at school, or get to a parent-teacher meeting. This ‘fast lane’ lifestyle can have an affect on how much or how little your toddler eats if he is rushed during mealtimes.
• Toddlers go through stages when they want soft foods or finger foods and sometimes they don’t know what they want. They can’t tell you what they want – you can merely offer them something else to eat and hope that they do.
• During their toddler years, children are extremely interested in the world around them and explore a lot, which is why playing is much more important to them than eating.
• Toddlers go through growth spurts. Some days they will eat a lot and other days they will eat very little or nothing at all.
• The start of an illness, such as a cold or flu can also be a contributing factor to a food strike or a poor appetite
Changes in toddlers’ environments, such as starting a new school or moving house can also influence their eating patterns.
• The introduction of new foods can lead to your toddler’s food strikes, as he may not like all of these new tastes. It is important to introduce new foods slowly to your child, and not too many new flavours at a time.
• A toddler will push his food aside when Mom makes too a big a fuss about him finishing his plate of food.
• Drinking a lot of milk and juice during the day influences a toddler’s appetite.
• Sometimes children eat a big lunch at school, so they are not hungry at dinnertime.
• Some toddlers can be very manipulative and will go on a ‘food strike’ to get attention. • Children sometimes eat a lot of sweets and snacks during the day, which is why they don’t want to eat proper food or can’t eat a full meal
Let your toddler feed himself
It can be rather painful to watch your toddler feed himself, the floor and his clothes, but it is important for your child to be in charge of the spoon. By allowing your toddler to feed himself, you are helping him to build his selffeeding skills, a healthy attitude towards mealtimes, eating and also to become independent. Wellmann adds that self-feeding develops a child’s hand-mouth coordination and that toddlers learn by feeling, tasting and experiencing different things. Although you save a lot of time and cleaning up by feeding your toddler yourself, you may set the stage for future eating problems if you continue doing this. Leave yourself some extra time for your child’s meals instead and lay out some extra protection for your carpet or floor
Should I be worried if my child doesn’t eat enough?
Wellmann says parents often think children can eat more than they do. “Most toddlers will eat when they are hungry and they will stop eating once they are full.” She says parents shouldn’t be alarmed if their child goes on a food strike or has a decreased appetite once in a while, as he is still growing and developing. If your child is still gaining weight during his appetite slumps, you don’t have to be concerned. Parents should, however, investigate the matter if their child’s food strike or poor appetite lasts three to four days and if he loses weight during this period. “It is very important that you don’t compare siblings’ eating habits or appetites, as this differs from child to child.” It is important that parents don’t monitor their children’s appetites and food consumption on a daily basis – rather do this weekly. For example, if your child eats well five days out of seven, there is no need to worry. But, if he only eats well two days out of seven, you should seek medical help as there may be a serious reason for this drop in appetite.”
Don’t force your child to eat
Wellmann says parents shouldn’t force their child to eat if they don’t want to, as your anxiety may make the problem worse. “If you make a huge fuss about the amount of food your child consumes and fight with him to eat more, he may start associating food and eating with fighting and stop eating altogether. If your child doesn’t want to eat a bowl of spaghetti Bolognese, offer him another healthy option such as yogurt and fruit. If he doesn’t want to eat that either, just let him be, as he will eat when he is hungry.”
Toddler portion guidelines
Wellmann says it is very difficult to say exactly how much a toddler should eat daily, but there are a few guidelines you can keep in mind:
• If your toddler is up to it he can have three main meals per day, namely breakfast, lunch and supper.
• It is important that each of these meals contain fruit, veggies, starch and protein or some dairy and a little fat.
• Toddlers need to have a snack between breakfast and lunch, and lunch and dinner. Fruit or yogurt usually makes the best snacks. “This is only an outline of what a toddler is supposed to be eating on a daily basis. If your child doesn’t sit down and eat but snacks all day long, the snacks should add up to at least three meals a day,” explains Wellmann.
Handling a food strike
• If your toddler doesn’t want to eat the food you give him, don’t take it personally, as he is not rejecting you.
• A llow your child to decide how much he wants to eat and when to stop. Research has shown that children who are pressured into eating are more likely to develop food-related problems.
• Provide your child with nutritious and nourishing options at mealtimes.
• Dish up small portions for your toddler. He can always ask for seconds if he wants more.
• Make your child’s mealtimes a pleasant, low-key experience. Avoid distractions such as the TV or siblings playing nearby, as this may distract your toddler from eating his food.
• A sk your child what he wants to eat. If he wants custard and jelly, give it to him. But, if this lasts for more than a week, you should seek professional help.
• If your child doesn’t want to eat at all, a meal replacement may help.
• Investigate your child’s surroundings, as a new school or a stressful atmosphere at home can lead to food strikes.
“My tummy is full”
You will know your toddler is full or has had enough to eat when he:
• Says no to more food
• Keeps his mouth shut when you offer him food
• Turns his head away from the food being offered to him
• Pushes away a spoon, plate or bowl of food
• Holds food in his mouth and refuses to swallow it
• Repeatedly spits out his food
• Tries to leave the table or climb out of his high chair
• Starts crying and screaming
• Starts gagging or retching
Thanks to registered dietician, Jeske Wellmann,for her assistance with compiling
this article. •