How to increase your child's appetite
There are so many stressors when you’re a parent, but we think the one that stands out most is centered around nutrition and making sure your children are getting enough to eat. One of the questions we hear a lot is how can I increase my child’s appetite? It’s a good question, but before you get in too deep it’s important to look at the whole picture. We’re going to talk about tips for naturally increasing your child’s appetite, serving size, and why some kids have a poor appetite. As always, if you feel there is something larger at play please be sure to check in with your pediatrician.
Let’s talk about serving size! It’s really important to take a look at how much food you’re adding onto your kiddo’s plate. When in doubt less is more, and let them know there is more food if they are still hungry when they finish. Many times we take the opposite approach and we add too much food on the plate, then we tell them it’s okay if they don’t finish it all. But the reality is we start to worry they’re not eating enough when they don’t finish. The truth is you may be putting too much on the plate to begin with.
If you aren't sure about how much to serve your children at mealtime, check out choosemyplate.gov to help you hit the right targets.
Why do some kids have a poor appetite?
When you’re looking to address your child's appetite it’s important to understand why some kids have so little appetite. While there may be some overlap with picky eating, having a poor appetite can be its own issue. With some kids it isn’t that they’re picky, they just aren’t that hungry. With that said, a poor appetite does happen for a reason. Here are some potential reasons:
- Possibility 1: Difficulty with eating. Sometimes it has nothing to do with appetite at all. It could be a texture issue, this would indicate a sensory issue with food. Maybe they have trouble chewing foods, this is linked to oral motor skills and it could be making eating difficult or painful. Either way, issues like these could be setting off a child’s adrenaline and as it surges through their body, their appetite shuts off. It’s best to consult your pediatrician if you feel either of these things could be the issue.
- Possibility 2: Snacking. Kids will only eat enough to keep their hunger signals turned off and if they’re constantly snacking they may never truly get hungry. The thing you want to watch out for with grazing is overeating. When a child snacks or grazes all day they never really learn to listen to their body’s natural signals that indicate hunger or fullness.
- Possibility 3: If you’ve ruled out the above causes then it may be time to consult your pediatrician and look into acid reflux, food allergies, or another type of digestive issue. It is possible in instances like these that your child may not feel well and when a person isn’t feeling well the brain stops sending hunger signals as a way to protect itself.
So now that we’ve talked about the potential reasons some kids have a poor appetite let’s talk about some ways to increase your child’s appetite.
Here are 5 simple tips to naturally increase your child’s appetite.
Schedule. Yes, it could really be that simple. Making sure you’re feeding the kiddos only at meal times and during scheduled snacks could be a game changer. Schedule those meals based on an interval of every 2 ½ to 3 hours. For example, if your child starts eating at 8am then they should eat again between 10:30 and 11am. That will continue throughout the day.
One of the biggest issues RD’s and nutritionist’s see is that when a child is eating poorly the parent let’s them eat wherever and whenever they want because anything is better than nothing, right? While we understand that thought process, remember Possibility 2, snacking can really take a toll on their appetite. Eating on a schedule could be just what you need to get them back on track!
- Water. It’s so important to get kids to drink water in between meals so they don’t fill up on milk or juice. Both of those options, while good for your kid, can top off their appetite. When kids don’t really love eating to begin with or they’re busy playing, they’d rather just drink their calories. Try pairing milk or juice with meals and stick to 4 ounces, they can always have water if they’re still thirsty.
- Get moving. Physical activity can really help increase your kiddo’s appetite. During colder months check out our 5 at-home activities for active kids. It’s easy to default to more sedentary activities during winter months, but these burn few calories and your child may not be as hungry as a result.
- Mindfulness. That’s a word we’ve been hearing a lot lately and it is relevant, hear us out. Some kids may not even realize they’re hungry, this is when talking to them about how they’re feeling physically and bringing a touch of mindfulness can make a big difference. Ask them how their belly feels, does it feel full or empty? Be prepared for them to tell you they’re not sure, if you know they haven’t eaten in a while, you want to tell them that it’s empty!
Explore. Unfortunately, many kids with a decreased appetite haven’t had many positive experiences with food, or even interacted with it very much. Giving your kiddos a chance to explore and play with food can be beneficial. It may spark an interest that wasn’t there before. If you’re unsure how to introduce new foods to your kids check our post: Introducing new foods to your children with ease.
To really encourage exploration try getting the kids in the kitchen, set up cooking activities with the family so they can help you prepare dinner. One activity that’s been pretty popular is painted prints with different types of food. For example, slice apples in half and dip them in paint to make colorful prints.
We’ve covered a lot in this post and we hope that it’s offered some kind of helpful insight as you’re trying to uncover what’s behind your child’s appetite. As a quick reminder be sure to take a look at the big picture. Does their small appetite have to do with large serving sizes? Are there other factors at play like snacking or sensory issues? Once you’re sure there’s nothing serious going on, work to incorporate our 5 tips for increasing your child’s appetite and let us know how it’s going.
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The content in the Healthy Height Growth and Nutrition Guide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.