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Healthy Living

Children and Appetite
Appetite Slowdown
Hunger and Appetite
Junk Food
Meal Times
Force Feeding
Food and Behaviour
Good Food Choices
Call the Doctor

Some common complaints mothers of children under ten years of age make:

  • My child is not interested in food. Children of her age eat twice as much as she does.

  • Lunch box she takes to school comes back, food intact.

  • What my child relishes today, he refuses to eat tomorrow.

  • What he says he does not like at home, he manages to eat at his friend’s place.

  • Doctor’s say that children will ask for food when they are hungry. But they do not. They only get cranky and eat up junk food they can lay their hands on.

  • My child is happy to drink milk or juice. He only resents eating rice or chappathis.

  • Even today my child takes such a long time to eat. Rather than watch his plate for an hour, I prefer to spoon feed him myself.

  • My daughter hates milk.

  • My child will not eat nutritious food. She prefers chips, aerated drinks and chocolates.

Most paediatricians are convinced that these are common behaviour patterns and that parents need not worry as long as the child’s weight is normal and activity level is good.

Some facts parents need to know that will help them understand the child’s attitude to food:

Appetite slow down

A child’s growth happens in spurts. In the first year of his or her life the child seems to gain about 15 pounds. Thereafter the child may gain only 3-4 pounds a year for a while. As growth is slower, children seem to need less calorific intake. Even “less” is difficult to quantify. Some kids need more and some less. As long as children are active and within the normal weight range, the quantity of food they consume need not be a yardstick of their health.

Children who get frequent colds, mouth ulcers, throat infections or worms often show disinterest in food. These problems have to be tackled first to get the child to eat properly.


Childhood is a time of discovery and amazing mental growth. Children are often impatient with routine and are haring off to play or meddle around in their process of learning. Many of them would rather down a glass of milk or juice and get back to whatever they were doing rather than eat spoon by spoon of solids. Two or three glasses of milk or juice can give the child the basic amount of calories he needs in a day and he may not show much interest in a proper meal.

Three glasses a day is often recommended. But some kids hate milk. Curd could be used as a substitute.

Hunger and Appetite

Hunger is the body’s need for energy and the child responds to it. Appetite has connotations of personal taste as well as the need for food. This is cultivated. Why a child prefers one food over the other is not easy to understand. The response depends on taste, smell, texture and associations the food brings. We can persuade the child to eat a nutritious mix but cannot force food down his throat.

Junk Food

It is accepted now that some junk food (cheese balls, aerated drinks, chocolate etc) may be permitted. Very strict rules on junk food increases craving. Nothing can stop your child trading her slice of apple for a toffee at break time, if she is determined.

Try to explain to the child that a good mix is essential. Chips or candy can be had in small portions supplementing a regular meal.

Meal times

Mealtimes should be regular.

Try to make meal times relaxed. They should not become power struggles.

Do not try to give your child bigger portions and insist on him completing it.

Allow the child to eat by himself. This may be slow, messy or incomplete. But he will get the hang of it soon enough.

Force feeding

Forcing a child to eat something he does not like, or a bigger portion than he desires is counterproductive, say nutritionists. It increases the reluctance to eat and decreases the child’s appetite.

Some mothers also feel that the child has not had enough at meal times and try to fill in with snacks or beverages in between. This often takes care of the calorific need of the child and he is even less inclined to have a meal.

Food and Behaviour

Parenting is a tough job. Even when you are moulding the child, the child must feel he has the power to make choices. This is true with food as well. Though you should not encourage him to demand his favourite foods always, he must feel he is making choices about what he eats and how much. Smaller portions that he can finish without threat or persuasion makes him feel a sense of achievement.

Children may eat well when with friends, as it is a peer activity. They may also eat food they do not eat at home when they are with friends for the same reason. Or because at a friend’s place the same food is cooked or served a little differently.

Helping children make good food choices:

  • Introduce new foods in small portions along with the familiar.

  • Offer variety.

  • Discuss nutrition information with children

  • Give them healthy alternatives, if they have strong dislike to a particular food.

  • Allow them to choose food in the supermarkets.

  • Cut down on fat and increase flavour.

  • Some children take more interest in food that they help prepare or serve.

  • Don’t cultivate the taste for canned, sweetened, convenience food or snacks because you may not have time for preparing a proper meal.

  • Children learn from their environs. It would help if the parents/ family ate healthy meals.

Despite all possible precautions, some children continue to be picky eaters. Parents will have little choice in these cases except to wait out the phase.

Call the doctor

Call on your paediatrician if, along with a poor appetite, you notice that:

  • Your child is not as active as he used to be. He feels tired easily

  • Your child is losing weight

  • Your child falls sick quite often.


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