Guiding children

raising children with love and respect

What if they don’t want to eat?

What if the children don´t want to eat?

Children grow a lot, and so they need to eat a lot, until about age 2-3, then there is a common dip in the appetite, until the next growspurt comes. They come and go. Teenagers, especially boys, are known to be hungry all the time. Make sure they eat mainly things that is good for them, encourage sports and exercise, and it will all be fine. Except perhaps your economy.

Don’t panic if the child isn’t eating much. If you offer your children the 3 main meals and 2 healthy snacks every day, they surely don’t starve to death. Remember sometimes there are reasons behind the loosing of appetite: e.g. when a child gets sick (even with a slight cold), and needs to drink more than it needs to eat; A tired child may not have the energy to eat; Also when they leave their most intense growing ages, they will loose a bit of their former appetite.

(Only time you need to worry is of course when your child is sick or generally seems unhealthy: tired, pale, loose weight or doesn’t grow as expected. These are causes for medical care. Also we need to keep an eye open for anorexia among teenagers.)

Do not complicate the meals just because the child won’t eat this or that. It is nice to offer food known to be appreciated, but you can’t win them all. Persuade the child a bit by asking if it wants more. When it doesn’t want any more, and you think you’ve stayed around long enough, the meal ends.

The real problemwhen children refuses to eat their evening meals, is that they will not sleep very well when hungry. They might not fall asleep at all or wake up whiny and hungry in the middle of the night.

Sometimes a late evening meal, like a sandwich with milk, might be a solution. It shouldn’t be served too close to dinner, so that it becomes an alternative to “real” food. To leave some dry snack, like a toast, almonds or just a bowl of cereal, and some water by the bedside table could also be a good idea. It might help the child getting through the night if waking up hungy, and this saves you both time, energy and hopefully some sleep too.

Babies have small tummies and get hungry every other hour or so, the first couple of months. A full nights sleep is not to be counted with before 4-6 months, but it does help to feed the baby an extra meal late in the evening. Perhaps some formula too, if you breastfeed and feel all drained out when evening comes. Usually they get hungry again horribly early in the morning, but after some breakfast they may go back to sleep for a couple of precious hours. Even with a 1 year old or small toddler some warm milk at bedtime, might do the trick and help you all sleep a few extra hours.

Give the child a chance to eat his or her fill, by providing enough time to do so. When friends are waiting outside, the child will not want to stay for long at the table. Forcing them is not a solution, but sometimes you need to make boundaries to help them take the time to eat. Maybe you can invite the friend, or send the friend home. A rule such as “We stay here until everyone has eaten up” will not work for everyone when a sulky 3 year old refuses to touch his food, and a 5 year old eats real quickly to get out and play again. Rephrase it to terms that fits your wishes. Perhaps you’d like a quiet evening with the family, without friends. Or, if it’s fine with more playing: “We’d like you to stay with us for at least 10 minutes so we get to time to talk, but then you can ask to leave the table. ”

Sometimes, attention and care is required. A tired child can have a hard time concentrating  on food or anything really. There can be a lot of discipline problems, tantrums and whinieness in the evening. To feed the little zombie without much ado probably helps. Sometimes in front of a very low speed children’s program om the TV. With new energy usually comes better temper. A child can feel the need to be taken care of as if it was a baby again (especially if it has just had a younger sibling and feel a bit jealous). Perhaps it can sit on your lap and be fed every once in a while, if it helps the food go down.

Respect your children’s taste and opinion. Do not force them to eat food that they don’t like, but encourage them to taste a little of everything. Try and make tasting interesting by asking and listening with interest to what they think of different flavors, spices and ingredients. Present and discuss the food on the table: what it is, how it has been prepaired, if there is anything that can be improved next time you eat it. An interest in what is eaten might be born and that increases both comfort around the table and curiosity about new flavors.

Though I don’t believe in forcing people to eat what they dislike, I don’t believe it’s realistic, healthy or respectful to the chef to expect only your favorite food every day. On special occasions of course it can be nice to cook according to someones wishes, and usually you try and balance eatable and healthy – but to start serving separate child-friendly dishes on everyday basis doesn’t exactly develop your child’s taste. It is nothing I think anyone should do regularly. (Allergies are of course exceptions. Also baby-food for the first year when everything needs to be introduced carefully, all food mixed into pourridge-like consistency and no salt or honey should be added – is not usually food that prefers by the rest of the family. However, it’s good to allow the 1 year old to taste spoonfuls of our food, to get used to the texture and tastes.)

Food that your children expressively dislike, but that you yourself appreciate, can be served less often, or on the side, or perhaps with the choice of another dish for them (as an exception to the rule above). Perhaps you can even serve the dishes at different times, on those rare occasions. You will surely enjoy your scallops even more after the children are asleep with their bellies full of… well, in Sweden it would be meatballs.

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