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3 things to do if you don't think your child eats enough food

Do you have a picky eater or a small child, and you feel that they should weigh more? Maybe your child is on the bottom of the growth chart, so you're worried they're not getting enough food.

Or if your kid eats like a bird, you're probably worried they're not getting enough calories or nutrients. Or maybe just worried in the short term that they'll wake up hungry in the middle of the night if they don't eat dinner!

Or it's easy to get stuck comparing kids. Maybe you have an older child that always was a big eater. Or your friends kids eat way more than yours, which makes you worried!

And I know that this concern can lead to....

  • Spoon-feeding a child that's perfectly capable of feeding themselves.
  • Bribing your child with dessert, to finish dinner.
  • Other pressure tactics, like forcing them to eat 3 bites.
  • Short-order-cook syndrome: if they don't want dinner, you bring out a backup food or a favourite you're sure they will eat. Or get stuck making 2 meals...

So instead of all of these tactics..... what should you do if you're worried that your child doesn't eat enough?

1) Track their growth.

Look at the World Health Organization growth charts. Don't analyze your child's growth at one point, but look at the pattern. Is their growth line decreasing (losing weight) or flat-lining? It's time to talk to your doc.

But if they are growing steadily, following along their own curve, then they are at least getting enough calories!

And the 50% percentile is NOT the goal on a growth chart. It just means half of kids are larger and half are smaller. There's nothing wrong with a child on the first percentile, who has always been small and is growing consistently.

Please also consider your child's genetics in their growth pattern. I see lots of small parents with small babies (of course!) who are worried that their baby isn't big enough! If mom and dad are small - the child is mostly likely going to be small too.

 2) Check your expectations on how much they need to eat.

Children have small tummies, and often we think they need to eat far more than they really do. 

Also, around 1-2 years their growth rate has slowed from the first year. It's normal for their appetite to decrease.

Try and look at your child's food intake over the course of a week. Not day to day. And definitely not meal to meal. Kid's appetites go up and down, unlike ours. So let them listen to their appetite and trust it too.

And know that it's totally normal for kids to eat nothing at dinner! While we think this is when they *should* eat the most, often they are tired. And may have eaten enough and breakfast and/or lunch to meet their daily needs.

 3) Check your feeding style.

There are three types of parenting styles, that we can also categorize into feeding styles:

- Authoritarian: This is the "clean your plate," controlling style of feeding. Funny enough, it usually backfires. And pressure = stress  = decreased food intake in kids.

- Permissive: This is the free-for-all with food, where the child chooses what they want to eat and when. Think constant snackers, or who eat only chicken nuggets.

- Authoritative: This is the healthiest type of feeding style. You provide some boundaries about food (according to the Division of Responsibility). BUT within your boundaries, your child is always allowed to choose how much to eat, or if they eat at all. Without pressure of any kind.

And it can be a huge mental leap to be able to trust your child's appetite, instead of thinking it's your job to get them to eat. It's hard!

But if you can wrap your head around this feeding style and practice it with your child, you will be more likely to:

1) Have a child that eats the amount of food he or she needs to grow well.

2) Stress less about how much your child eats, or that they're not meeting their nutrient or calorie needs.

3) More peaceful family meals that everyone can enjoy! No more tears or yelling at the dinner table.

Want help implementing this with your picky eater in your home? Join my free Facebook Group, The Nourished Family here and sign up for my 3 free videos "3 Tips to End Picky Eating" here.

Jennifer House is a Registered Dietitian, author & mom of 3. From Baby-led weaning to picky eating and meal planning, she helps you to make feeding your family easier


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