What is Lack of Appetite?
While there are many children who have an extremely healthy appetite, the opposite end of the scale is those children, especially in the younger age group, who 'never' seem to eat. These children are typically very picky eaters and have poor appetites. They frequently need to be begged or bribed to eat even the smallest morsel.
There is often a strong emotional component connected to food and this can add to a child’s anxiety level. Picky eaters often tend to have weak constitutions and may get sick more often than other kids. This is because proper nutrition is one of the most important influences on your youngster's well-being and one of the best ways to keep young immune systems in good working order.
A varied, balanced diet that contains essential vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates and good fats promotes growth, energy and overall health.
Diagnosing Lack of Appetite
Many parents are concerned that their children being picky eaters. Some children go through a stage of disinterest in food and eating and this is understandably worrying for parents, as proper nutrition is essential for normal growth and development. However children's appetites may vary naturally depending on their growth needs.
What Causes Lack of Appetite?
As the rate of growth slows down in older toddlers, they often do start to become ‘picky eaters’ as their nutrition requirements may be slightly decreased, and they start to enforce their independence by voicing their likes and dislikes. It is also important to remember that developing personal tastes and a healthy will are perfectly normal and expected at this age.
Most children will grow out of this stage and continue to grow and develop completely normally, naturally developing more balanced eating habits and hearty appetites. If you are concerned that your child is not growing appropriately or is losing weight please consult your health care practitioner. Also see our Hints for Parents below.
Help for Lack of Appetite
Food preferences are developed early in life and once they are established, they are hard to break. Therefore, the earlier you encourage healthy food choices for your child, the better! The example set at home is an important determinant of future food choices as your child watches you for clues on likes, dislikes and choices.
However, as children spend many hours a day away from home, in school and with friends, a variety of social and other factors influence what and when children eat. A major influence on children is television advertising, which often promotes unhealthy food selections.
Making Sure Your Child Is Eating a Nutritious Diet
Much emphasis is placed on the need for 3 balanced meals per day. It is important to keep this in perspective. Although it is ideal to provide 3 balanced meals per day, we all have good days and bad days for eating and appetites can vary, even from day to day, depending on factors like activity levels and health. As long as your child’s overall weekly diet is healthy and balanced, you don’t need to get too hung up on analyzing each individual meal.
Mealtimes can also become emotional battlegrounds. If you feel that this applies to you and your child, do not hesitate to seek professional help. A nutritionist will provide you with nutritional tips for feeding picky eaters. Ignoring emotional problems around food can have far reaching effects on your child's future relationship with food, increasing the risk of anorexia nervosa, bulimia and other eating disorders later in life.
Natural Remedies for Boosting Appetites
There are a variety of herbal ingredients that are perfectly suited to fussy and sporadic eaters. Herbs such as Emblica officinalis and Withania somnifera naturally strengthen the constitution, promote healthy metabolism, balance mood and promote the health of the nervous system.
Emblica officinalis in particular is a powerful source of vitamin C and also helps to increase body mass by stimulating protein synthesis. Other nutritional tips for feeding picky eaters include incorporating herbal ingredients such as Trigonella foenum-graecum, Ginger, and Borago officinalis to their diet to help stimulate appetite and assist healthy growth, thus addressing the root of the problem unlike nutritional supplements available in stores.
More Information on Lack of Appetite
Nutritional Tips for Feeding Picky Eaters
- Get your child involved in choosing food in the shop - e.g. 'Would you like oranges or mangoes?'
- Get creative and make meal and snack times fun! Cut bread into shapes, arrange carrots, tomatoes, etc to look like a face, offer healthy dips like yogurt for finger foods, fun and lively placemats, crockery, cutlery, etc.
- Take your child on a fun outing to the source of foods. Visit dairy farms, orchards, etc. While young children may not fully understand the concept, it may make them excited enough to try a new product or retry something they previously rejected.
- Fruit juice is healthy and 100% pure fruit juice is far better than flavored or artificial drinks. However, be aware that commercially prepared 'natural' fruit juices contain added fructose - or fruit sugars - and may be just as harmful on the teeth as sugar. The high caloric value of commercial fruit juices also reduces your child's appetite for food. The solution is to make the juices from fresh fruit at home and to offer after meals rather than before. If you must use store bought fruit juices, dilute at least 50% in water and remember the damage that can be done to teeth by a bottle or sippy cup being clung to all day!
- Make smoothies with fresh fruit, milk or yogurt. Even frozen and canned fruit can be used if necessary. Children who dislike the texture of smoothies may enjoy popsicles made from the mixture.
- Adding boiled egg white to smoothies will increase the protein content but the taste is undetectable.
- Bran or oat muffins will often be regarded as "cake", yet they are a good source of grains and fiber. Use them as a vehicle for fruit and vegetables by adding in bananas, carrots, blueberries, zucchini, etc.
- Fortify favorite foods with extra vegetables or fruit but try and be up front about it if asked. You don’t want your child to find out later and then have a full scale rebellion on your hands!
- Allow toddlers to feed themselves as much as possible with finger foods.
- Set a good example and young children will ultimately follow. Try to eat a good balanced diet and eat together as a family. This is much more fun for toddlers than eating alone!
- FUN! Most importantly keep mealtimes and food fun. Too much pressure and emphasis on eating can have the opposite effect and can result in negative feelings towards food. Treats are great too – just not everyday as substitutes for healthy eating.
For older Children:
- Avoid turning meals into a power struggle – it usually doesn’t help and makes your child more resistant to eating.
- Try and stick to regular meal and snack times and try to eat at least one meal together as a family per day.
- Offer liquids such as juice (see above) after the meal rather than before or during the meal.
- Try to avoid junk foods as they are high in calories but have low nutritional value. Just one small nibble of junk food can completely destroy the appetite of a picky eater!
- Use peanut butter (about 100 calories / tablespoon) as a spread or topping.
- Speak to your child and try to establish likes and dislikes. We all have preferences and allowing some choice helps children to feel more in control of their diet.
- Avoid eating in front of the television. Family meals in front of the TV on occasion will do no harm. However, eating regularly in front of the TV is distracting and often results in picky eaters eating less.
Finally a word of encouragement! Remember that, while we all worry about what our children eat, they are usually taking in more than we give them credit for. Many children who 'never' seem to eat maintain normal growth patterns when plotted on a growth chart and are healthy and full of energy. However, if you are at all concerned about your child's weight or growth, please be sure to consult your health care practitioner.