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HELP! My Kid Won’t Eat!
“She’ll eat when she gets hungry. You are fretting way too much over your child not eating.”
Anyone out there heard this from a well-intentioned friend? I’m pretty sure I have said it to one or two of my mom friends before. (And I’m sorry for that, btw!!)
When you are a momma and your child is an extremely picky eater that doesn’t seem to have an appetite, those words don’t provide any consoliation.
The child won’t eat. Anything. Meal times are a struggle and a constant worry on your tired momma brain. My kids are pretty good eaters, but I have two very good friends with girls who won’t eat. They just don’t seem to get hungry. This is fascinating to me as I can’t imagine NOT being hungry, but the struggle is very real for these moms. They worry, pray and everything else to get their babies to eat. The doctor has gone as far as to mention appetite stimulating meds and even tube feedings. Not things a mom wants to hear.
The problem with not eating is that the body and brain can’t do their jobs without proper nutrition. Especially in children, when their bodies and brains are in the most key stages of development. Here are some tips and tricks to help with the daunting task of getting your child to eat.
What You Shouldn’t Do
- Let the child fill up on liquids between meals. ANY liquids. I’m not saying deprive your child of fluid-just don’t let them wag around a cup all day unless they are involved in some type of sporting event 🙂
- Many children who are seen for not eating enough solid foods are allowed to drink entirely too much milk and juice and are filling up on liquid calories. This is a biggie in children. After 2, children only need TWO cups of milk per day. Anymore and this can lead to iron deficiency. More is not always better.
- Cook a completely different meal than what you are feeding the rest of the family….(I see you, momma. Don’t do this! You are already stretched thin. You are not a short order cook!)
- Let them eat the same 2-3 foods all day without sampling different ones you’ve cooked.
- Whine, nag, fret, push, or force feed. This will just draw more attention to the problem. While this may seem like an impossible task, keep your cool, momma.
- Don’t let them drink empty calories (or only on special occasions) if the growth chart isn’t moving or their weight is under the norm. Empty calories are cokes, sprites, kool-aid, fake fruit drinks. Plus, these just aren’t good for any of us.
- Don’t stress if your child goes on “food jags.” This is when the child only wants to know one certain food for weeks at a time. This is a normal part of childhood development, and occurs with almost every child.
What You Should Do
Meal Prep and Meal Time
- Make mealtimes consistent. (I see you rolling your eyes…Heck, I’m practically rolling them at myself.) Be as consistent as you can. Sit down at the table instead of in front of the tv.
- Do not allow the child to get up from the table until dinner is finished. Jumping up and running around during the meal is not conducive to a health meal environment. If the child won’t eat at all, they must sit until everyone else is done or for at least 15-20 minutes based on their age.
- Serve meals on fun plates with a character or cartoon on it. There are plates with any kind of tv or Disney character you can imagine now. Don’t believe me? Check out this one here. It is pretty stinking cute. 🙂 Or this one. I know this will only work for a certain age group, but it’s worth a shot. Let the child pick out a cool plate and cup set and make a big deal of it.
- Have the child help with meal prep in order for them to take pride in dinner. Children like to help with cooking, and may be more apt to eat if if “they helped.” (Remember, the commercial where the child says “It’s Shake N” Bake, and I Helped.”) If your child is old enough to read or even enjoy looking at cookbooks,let them pick out a new cookbook for kids.
- Make food into fun shapes for the child. It won’t taste any different, but shaped food is just more fun to eat! Sandwiches cut into hearts or dog bones shapes go over better with a picky eater than just a regular ol’ sandwich.
- cheese cut into hearts or stars
- flour tortillas cut into Halloween shapes and baked into chips (Absolutely adorable!)
- vegetable tray shaped like a turkey (Dying over how cute this one is!)
- apple/celery peanut butter snails
- SPider PB&J’s, anyone? (seriously, some of you moms are freakin’ rock stars!)
- Put the correct amount on a child’s plate appropriate to their age. A good rule of thumb is 1 tablespoon per year of age. Some children can get overwhelmed at a large amount of food that they are expected to eat.
- Offer foods that everyone else is eating. Don’t make a big deal out of the child saying he won’t eat a certain food. Just tell him to eat the other foods he likes on his plate.
- Offer any condiments the child likes. It is not taboo for a child to dip their broccoli in ranch if it means they eat the broccoli. Ketchup can go on anything. Just get the calories in. Ranch dressing, cheese sauce, honey mustard, and sour cream all make good dippers.
- When prepping meals, add additional calories into the child’s food only. Add extra butter, sour cream, cheese, milk into thing like potatoes, soups, and vegetables. We would rather the two bites the child eats to be jam packed with calories than not!
- Offer drinks after they have finished half of the meal. Don’t allow the child to drink before the meal and fill up on liquid.
- After meals or at snack times (at least 2 hours before meals) serve Pediasure in the child’s favorite flavor. This contains a lot of calories and nutrients.
- If Pediasure by itself just isn’t cutting it, make an after dinner treat with a Pediasure powder, whole milk, and ice cream. They get to pick the flavors. What child doesn’t love a milkshake? Add in peanut butter and banana if the child likes the taste of those.
- Make Jello using fruit juice instead of water. This increases the calories and flavor! Also, adding in fruits like strawberries, bananas and topping with whipped cream make this into a great treat!
- Add extra veggies into foods the child will eat. This book , The Sneaky Chef, gives awesome kid-friendly recipes that have hidden purees of vegetables.
- Check out this blog post for awesome meals that are toddler friendly. It will give you ideas of what you might try with your kiddo.
He Still Won’t Eat?! What Now?
- Ensure the child is taking a multivitamin daily to meet their nutrient needs. This will help you breathe a little easier when you think about all those childhood disease that can result from malnutrition.
- Running and playing outside can increase appetite. Don’t let your child lay around too much or just play video games all day.
- Smoothies may be the key to maintaining adequate calories, protein and nutrients are ingested if the child just won’t eat much. Check out this article with over 30 smoothie recipes that are kid-friendly!
- Go around the table at dinner time and ask questions. Check out this AMAZING post from Jill over at www.createcraftlove.com to stimulate the conversation. She offers some great tips as well as bright printables of the questions!
- Have other children over or eat with other children as much as possible. The child will pick up on normal eating habits and sometimes follow suit.
- Last, but not least, check out these awesome tips from a pediatric dietitian who struggles with an underweight child herself. She gives food choices and what to mix them in with or put on top of. It’s an excellent resource for mommas struggling with this.
- Understand that this is a season. Some children are picky eaters with no appetite. Try all these interventions and any others your doctor may have. Set up an appointment with a registered dietitian in your area who specializes in this area. Kid’s nutrition is so important, and bless you for your awesome efforts!