Because of the possible health implications, it can be scary when your child refuses to eat. A poor appetite may be an indication of an underlying illness so if your child is not interested in food and if she is not keeping up with her growth chart, make an appointment to see the paediatrician or your family doctor. But lots of children are picky eaters and it does not necessarily mean that there is anything wrong with them.
There is so much hype in the media about the importance of good enough nutrition in the early years. Of course it is essential that young children should be offered healthy food and junk food should be limited. But there is a real danger in placing too much tension and negative energy on food and eating. When you stress about your child’s food intake and make it into an issue, it can have the opposite of the desired effect. It can mobilize your child into a rebellion against eating healthily or even a rebellion against food itself. Teens and adults with eating disorders often have parents who were extremely concerned (and highly anxious) about good nutrition in the early childhood days. These parents had the very best of intentions, but their children fought against them and developed an extremely pathological relationship with food.
Getting kids to eat healthily can be a challenge, especially given that we live in a world filled with junk food for kids. Supermarkets and brands know just how to appeal to kids by packaging sweetened junk food in wrappers with pictures of their favourite characters. So your child might refuse your nutritious home-made offerings in favour of a poor quality, cleverly packaged piece of junk filled with preservatives and colourants. It is a cruel tactic when supermarkets line the check out queue shelves with tantalizing, unhealthy treats for kids, just at a child’s eye level. If your local shop uses this method of marketing, it may be a good idea to campaign against it, leave your kids at home whilst shopping, or perhaps boycott the shop altogether.
How to get a child to eat
- turn the meal into a game (especially with babies and toddlers)
- make a face out of the food on your child’s plate
- make trees out of broccoli, houses out of sandwiches and snow out of yoghurt as a sauce
- sprinkle something treaty over something healthy in order to sweeten its appeal
- package your child’s food in a clever way: Wrap a muffin in wax paper and seal it with a colourful sticker
- read to your child while he is eating if it is hard for him to sit still for long enough to eat
- try to create a positive environment around food and eating
- try to make mealtimes fun and pleasant, rather than a battleground
- encourage herd eating (meals with your child’s siblings, friends or cousins)
- introduce novelty: picnics, restaurants, special little surprises with a meal
- reward healthy eating with a treat after meals