Fundamentals of appetite in children

Chidren playing

Children between the ages of 1 and 5 years of age are often “picky eaters”. The average age is between 3 years and more pronounced in girls than boys. They go through phases where they want to eat and at times they’ve completely lost their appetite.

Unless prolonged and coupled with vitamin deficiencies, this is normal and correlates with varying changes in the child’s growth rate. Periods of increased growth rate are thought to result in increased appetite and vice versa.

However, a loss in appetite for a child can be rather discouraging and concerning for most parents. In acute loss of appetite, one of the primary issues to eliminate is the possibility of an illness. Acute illness in children is almost always associated with transient loss of appetite and thus becomes important to eliminate this possibility.

The important thing is to understand the dynamics of their hunger vs appetite as well as the primary psychological relationship that will help them develop towards food.

Parent’s Job, Childs ‘Job’

As a parent, our jobs are to offer your children healthy foods. Your child’s job is to choose the foods they want to eat! The secret is how to balance the two! This distinction is very important for parents.

According to Ellyn Satter, a researcher and practitioner in the field of pediatric feeding practices, explains that both parents and children have their own “jobs” to do when it comes to eating.

The lack of clarity and understanding on the part of parents leads to dinner drama, rebellion and worst of all a lifetime of poor relationship between the child and food. Most parents want their 3-8-year-old children to keep eating like they did in their first year. It is important to realize that this is also a discovery time when most toddlers and children are up and about, learning new things and exploring the world. This leaves them little time to think about food or show interest for it.

Dinner drama - Kidivite
Children with poor habits tend to throw tantrums during dinner time

Parents are responsible for providing healthy foods at meal- and snack-times.  Children are responsible for what and how much they eat.  This helps children learn what it feels like to be hungry and then full—and how to make healthy choices based on this awareness, i.e., eating when hungry and stopping when full.

If the parent does not offer healthy foods and snacks, your child never learns what good nutrition is.

During this period of growth, children are looking for ‘sameness’ to take comfort in rapid changes taking place in their lives. This includes sticking to the same kind of food to help them feel safe and secure.

Once you understand these fundamentals as a parent, it gets easier to relate to what the child wants, how to adjust your expectations as a parent and the importance of your role as a parent.