Do you get frustrated with having to plan, shop, prepare and cook meals only to have your child turn their nose up and push the plate away?
The Biting Truth’s dietitians Alex and Anna have come up with 8 possible reasons your child might be refusing to eat along with some handy tips and tricks that could change everything!
1. They feel pressured
How would you like it if someone stood over you and rushed you through your dinner? Believe it or not your child can very easily feel your pressure to eat and sense your anxiety at meal times. Demanding that a child eat a least one bite of everything seems reasonable, but can often backfire. Studies have shown that children react negatively when parents pressure them to eat foods, even if the pressure offers a reward. Even if you are not directly pressuring your child by saying things like “eat your broccoli”, indirect forms of pressure such as pushing food closer to them, watching them like a hawk or hovering over them can be enough to put them off.
What can you do? As uncomfortable as it might be, try to let your child feed themselves and eat meals at their own pace. Your main role at mealtimes is to provide a variety of nutritious foods and it’s your child’s role to decide what and how much to eat. Try to focus make the mealtime more positive by focusing on family bonding rather than a time to force food. Creating this positive environment will help your child be more open to eating and exploring new foods. Here are 7 ways to get your kids to eat more veggies.
2. They are bored
Are you stuck in a food rut and found yourself serving the same thing over and over? We totally get it, there’s times where you might struggle to have the motivation to come up with new and exciting meals and ways you can present foods for your child. While you don’t have to serve new meals every week, variety is key when it comes to healthy eating. If your child is refusing their once favourite meals and snacks, this could be a sign they are bored with what’s on offer.
What can you do? Try to have a conversation with your child to find out why they don’t like it anymore. Work with your child to come up with a couple of new meal and snack options that you can add to the weekly menu. Look through recipe books together (you might even like to check out our eBook The School Lunchbox: Everything You Need To Know for some inspiration), go shopping together and get your child involved in the preparation as much as possible.
3. They’re not hungry
Is your child’s appetite completely unpredictable and at times erratic? Rest assured you are not alone! Once your child reaches two years old, their growth rate slows down as does their appetite. It’s no coincidence that this is right around the time that picky eating begins. While it might seem your child is more active than before and therefore needs more food, toddlers actually have lower energy requirements than babies as their growth rate slows down. Understand that it is completely normal for your child’s appetite to drop a little and to change throughout the week.
What can you do? Remember your role at meal times vs your child’s role. Your role is to provide nutritious food in a positive environment and it’s your child’s role to decide how much they will eat. It could be possible that your child just isn’t hungry and that’s ok. You might just need to remind them that there won’t be any snacks after the meal is finished. In general, children are good at regulating their own appetites and energy intake. As long as they are gaining weight and growing normally you do not need to be overly concerned.
4. They’re distracted
Children can find it hard enough just to sit still at the table for 15 minutes. Allowing your child to sit at the table with toys or ipads could be the recipe (ha!) for a meal time disaster.
What can you do? We always encourage families to eliminate distractions at meal times. This means putting toys and ipads away and turning the television off. This allows you and your child to focus on the meal and listen to your body. Try to make sure your child is comfortable to reduce the squirming! It can be a good idea to create a routine for how long you sit at the dinner table. Usually any longer than 20 minutes is too long, so if your child doesn’t eat their meal in this time it is best to pack it away.
5. Their portions are too big
Do you serve all your children the same sized portions? We often speak to parents who serve older siblings the same size meals as their younger siblings. Children can be overwhelmed by a meal if there is too much on the plate.
What can you do? If you find you’re wasting a lot of food then it might be time to rethink your portions. You could try offering your child a smaller portion while ensuring they get a balanced meal. Remember they can always ask for more! The other option is to place the meal in the middle of the table and allow your children to serve themselves. This of course only works if they eat a balance of foods in front of them and may require some encouragement from your end to ensure this.
6. They’re drinking too much milk/juice
Drinking too much milk and/or juice between meals has a satiating effect. Too much milk in particular can fill children up because of its fat and protein content.
Fruit juice contains very little fibre, a nutrient found in whole fruit that is essential for digestion and regular bowel movements. We recommend offering your child fresh fruit rather than fruit juice. Water should be the only fluid offered between meals for hydration however if you do choose to offer your child juice, limit it to ½ cup per day and try to water it down.
What can you do? Try to limit your toddlers milk consumption to around 500-600ml per day. Offer a small amount of milk after the meal to ensure your child is not filling up on it. Offering milk in between meal times will also ensure the calcium in milk does not interfere with the iron absorption from the main meal (calcium is a known inhibitor of iron absorption).
7. They’re having too many snacks
If your child is grazing throughout the day or snacking at random times then you’ll probably notice when it comes to meal times they might be not be hungry. When your child fills up on snacks, he or she simultaneously fills up his or her belly. This can easily lead to eating poorly at meals.
What can you do? Try to avoid random, free for all snacking between meals. Allow your child to build an appetite between meals by offering one or two foods such as yoghurt and fruit at a designated snack time. Encourage health habits by creating meal time routines and try and ensure they eat their meals and snacks at a similar time each day.
8. They’re tired
After a long day playing or at preschool it could be likely your little one is simply too tired to eat. If your child is rubbing his or her eyes or being particularly fussy then this is probably a sign they are too tired.
What can you do? The good news is that most children will make up the difference in their food consumption when they don’t eat well at one meal by eating more at the next meal or snack. If you do find that your child is constantly tired at dinner times, consider scheduling a nap during the day or perhaps establishing an earlier dinner routine.
We’d love to hear if you have any other handy tips and tricks that have worked for you! Please comment below.