A young girl staring at her salad meal that she doesn't want to eat in the kitchen

What to Do If Your Child Refuses to Eat

It can be very frustrating when your child refuses to eat. Maybe they’re going through a picky phase, or they’re just not hungry. Whatever the reason, it’s essential to ensure your child gets the nutrition they need to grow and thrive. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, children should eat three meals and two snacks daily. If your child is refusing to eat, here are some tips to help you get them back on track:

1. Try not to force them to eat.

If you make mealtime a battle, your child will likely start to associate food with negativity. Because a child’s mind is still developing, they may not be able to understand that they need to eat even if they’re not hungry. Forcing them to eat can also cause them to develop a negative relationship with food, leading to eating disorders later in life.

Instead, try to make mealtimes calm and relaxed. You can offer encouragement, but don’t pressure them to eat. Some children may need more time to adjust to new foods, so be patient and provide positive reinforcement. Don’t punish them or make them feel guilty for not eating.

2. Find out why they’re refusing to eat.

There could be several reasons why your child is refusing to eat. Maybe they’re just being picky, or they might be going through a growth spurt. If they’re sick or teething, that can also affect their appetite. If you’re worried, it’s always best to talk to your doctor.

Try to find a healthcare provider specializing in family practice to get the best advice for your child. They can also rule out any medical conditions that might be causing the problem. If your child has a physical condition that makes eating difficult, they may need to see a specialist to help them manage it.

3. Offer a variety of food options.

Giving your child various foods will help them find something they’re willing to eat. It’s also essential to offer healthy and not-so-healthy options to satisfy their cravings while still getting the nutrients they need. You can try new recipes or let them choose what they want for dinner once a week.

But it would be best if you didn’t give in to every demand. If your child refuses to eat what you’ve prepared, don’t make them something else. That will just teach them that they can get whatever they want by being picky. You can offer a snack or dessert later if they’re still hungry.

A young girl decorating a cupcake in the kitchen

4. Let them play with their food.

For some kids, meals are more about the experience than the actual eating. That’s perfectly normal! So, let them play with their food and explore different textures and flavors. They might not eat much, but they’re still learning about different foods and how they taste. If you’re concerned about them wasting food, start with smaller portions.

Some parents worry that their children will never learn to eat if they allow them to play with their food. But as long as they’re getting the nutrition they need, there’s no need to worry. Just let them have fun and be patient. They’ll learn to eat when they’re ready.

5. Make sure they’re getting enough fluids.

If your child refuses to eat solid food, ensure they’re still getting enough fluids. They might not be thirsty, but it’s important to keep them hydrated. Offer them water, milk, or 100% fruit juice throughout the day. You can also make smoothies with fruits and vegetables or soups and purees.

Talk to your doctor if you’re worried about them not getting enough nutrients. They might recommend supplements or special drinks that can help. You can usually find these at your local pharmacy.

6. Be a good role model.

Finally, if you want your child to eat healthily, you must eat healthy too! Show them that you enjoy eating fruits and vegetables. Let them help you cook meals and talk about how good the food tastes. They’ll be more likely to try new things if they see you enjoying them. Depending on their age, you can also involve them in grocery shopping and meal planning.

Eating together as a family is also a great way to bonding and teach kids healthy eating habits. Try to have at least one meal together every day, even if it’s just breakfast. You can also have regular family dinners on the weekends.

If your child refuses to eat, it can be frustrating. But you can do a few things to make mealtimes more enjoyable for both you and your child. Try offering various food options, letting them play with their food, and avoiding battles over meals. With a little patience and trial and error, you’ll eventually find what works best for your family.

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