Boosting a Picky Eater’s Appetite … Are they Not Hungry or Just Fussy?

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Fussy eaters

It is very natural to worry whether or not your child is getting enough food if they refuse to eat sometimes. It is also natural for toddlers to be reluctant to taste new foods. If you are becoming concerned the best thing to do is not to focus on what your child eats in one day or at each mealtime, it is more helpful to look at what your child has eaten over the course of a week. If your child is gaining weight and is active and seem well, then they are probably getting the food that they need.

Is my child being fussy or are they just not hungry?

Again, if your child has consumed all four food groups in a balanced way over the course of a week and has energy and seems healthy and is gaining weight then they are probably getting exactly what they need. If your child is refusing food simply because they do not like it or do not like the idea of trying it and they are holding out for alternatives then they are probably being fussy rather than hungry. Your child may go hungry a few times to win the battle of refusing their vegetables in favor of a preferred meal, but if you are consistent and do not offer alternatives then they will eventually start to eat what they are given. This is a battle for control rather than because they are not hungry. The trick is to make sure this is not prolonged so it is good to be armed with some tips to encourage the healthy eating so important to your child’s growth and health.

Here are some tips for boosting the appetite of a picky eater:

  • As long as your child eats some food from the four main food groups, starchy carbohydrates like bread, potatoes, pasta or rice, dairy, or dairy alternatives; proteins such as beans, pulses, fish, meat or eggs, and of course fruit and vegetables, then you don’t need to worry.
  • Introduce gradually new foods and keep going back to foods they don’t like because children’s tastes change. One day they may reject something that they will love a few weeks later. Their willingness to try new things will also depend on their mood and whether they are hungry or tired also.
  • A golden rule is not to allow your child to fill up on snacks in between meals particularly the sugary kind.
  • Another rule is not to immediately offer an alternative that you know your child likes if they reject a new food. All they learn from this is that they will always get the food they want and they will not be open to trying new things.
  • Never try to force your child to eat anything; simply remove it with little fuss and remain calm however frustrated you feel. Just try the food again another time.
  • Don’t leave meal times until your child is too tired to eat.
  • Your child may be a slow eater so be patient.
  • The best way for your child to learn to eat and enjoy new foods is to copy you so try to eat with them as often as you can.
  • Keep mealtimes relaxed and fun, not scenes of tension or anxiety.
  • Try not to use foods as a reward because it will reinforce the idea to your child that ‘sweets are nice and vegetables are nasty’. Instead try to reward with an outing or a promise to play a game or read a story.
  • Having other adults that they look up to or slightly older children who are eating the foods you would like your child to try it can help, but don’t make too much of how ‘good’ the other children are.
  • Changing how you serve food can be really helpful; for example a child who does not like eating boiled carrot may eat grated carrot cooked into a recipe or onto food.

Try not to worry too much; stress around mealtimes is counterproductive. Consult your doctor if you feel your child is losing weight or not gaining the nutrients they need. Keep a food diary for a week so you can demonstrate what they have eaten. Be patient. Remember that children will not refuse healthy food in favor of snacks and sweet treats unless they believe that these foods will be available if they make enough fuss by refusing to eat. Encourage all progress and keep up the variety. It can be frustrating but it will pay off in the end and help set up healthy eating habits for life.