It's frustrating when your kids don't want to eat the food you put in front of them. Maybe Tommy likes to munch on things all day long, except at mealtimes. Or maybe Susie has decided she's only eating macaroni and cheese and cereal this week. You may not be able to determine the cause of your child's poor eating habits, but you can take action to get nutritious food into your kids.
Lay down some ground rules with your children about what's expected of them at mealtimes. Younger children may need more structure, because they haven't established a proper daily eating routine yet. Older kids and teenagers are more likely to eat on the go, because they have after-school activities and fun times to share with their friends. Make sure your kids understand that a meal doesn't consist of a bag of chips and a giant cookie. Tell them that occasional bags of chips and giant cookies are fine, but they shouldn't be eating those things all the time. Food eaten at meals should be something wholesome, like a sandwich on whole-wheat bread, an apple and a glass of milk for lunch.
Excessive snacking between meals can result in your children not wanting to eat proper, healthy meals. If your kids are snacking on lots of chips, soda, cookies and other junk food, that's a problem -- they're eating too much unhealthy food, and not leaving room for the good stuff. Nip this problem in the bud by disallowing snacks between meals -- unless they're something healthy, like fresh fruit, baby carrots or granola. Keep creamy salad dressings on hand for dipping to entice them to eat assorted raw veggie snacks. Encourage your kids to drink water and fruit juice with no extra sugar added. Fruit juice is naturally sweet, and your kids don't need that extra sugar in their systems. Keep portions of healthy snacks small, so your children have a good appetite for family meals, but if they are filling up on healthy fruits and vegetables at snacktime, don't worry if they don't want as many at mealtime.
Children sometimes go through a natural phase of picky eating, often in the years before they begin going to school. Usually, this means they refuse to eat new foods and only stick with a handful of trusted favorites. While you shouldn't encourage this, as long as your child continues to maintain average growth rates and satisfactory performance at doctor's appointments, you shouldn't worry. However, if this problem persists, try changing your child's eating habits. Restrict meal times to only 20 to 30 minutes at a time, and disallow snacking and sugary drinks such as soda between meals. If the problem is more severe, consider giving timeouts until your child agrees to eat the food you serve. Only take these steps if you're certain your child is simply engaging in picky eating behavior and that there's no underlying medical or psychological cause.
Other Possible Underlying Causes
Illness, from moderate childhood diseases to serious problems like cancer, can also cause poor appetite in children. If you suspect illness, your child should see the doctor immediately for tests, diagnosis and treatment recommendations. Other problems, such as poor body image and depression can result in decreased appetite in children as well. If you have adopted, foster or refugee children living in your house, there may be additional special circumstances such as post-traumatic stress disorder that can affect their appetites. Like medical problems, these types of problems require professional help as soon as possible.