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Children who eat poorly create great anxiety in their parents. Preschool children are picky about their food and often refuse it. Quite a few children (not all) find the different tastes, during the second half of their first year of life and shortly after their first birthday, exciting. If you have a one-year-old who likes to eat parsnip, cod and garlic salami, enjoy and rejoice in it! But do not be disappointed if it does not last forever.
Their appetite decreases with their growth rate
From one year of age, children’s growth rate decreases significantly. This means that children need less food. They will eat smaller portions than before. Do not worry about it!
Children should become slimmer after one to two years of age
Children under about one and a half years of age are welcome to be as round as possible. The most important thing for their growth is that they get enough food (including breast milk or formula). First, their weight increases, and then they grow in height. We also know that the fat that children get during this time will not be carried into adulthood.
After about a year or two, children should not get fatter anymore, they should get slimmer. We are at our skinniest at the age of 5-6. A normal weight and healthy 5-6-year-old has visible ribs and a flat stomach. During this time, the child’s growth is controlled by the growth hormone which helps children grow taller and thinner. The fact that children eat little and get thinner is therefore nothing to worry about, as long as they follow the growth curve at the children’s medical center. On the contrary, we know that a lack of weight loss at this age is often the gateway to obesity or being overweight.
As long as the child grows according to their growth curve, they have gotten enough food. It’s incredible especially when you see child picking at three macaroni pieces and four peas in one day.
The selective age
Most children tend to become increasingly picky about what they eat from the age of one and a half to two. They also have strikingly similar tastes. Many children like meatballs, sausages, pancakes, macaroni and white rice. Some children may also eat fish sticks and potatoes. The vegetable taste differs slightly more is my experience. But peas, corn, carrots and cucumbers are probably the safest cards when we invite preschool friends over for food with us.
Few children at this age like hearty stews, slow cooked meals, fish or more sophisticated vegetable dishes. If your child does then, congratulations!
Serve something the child likes with each meal
If you have a child who eats very selectively, I do not think you should just serve what the child likes to the whole family every day. Everyone else will die of food boredom. On the other hand, I also do not think that the child should be forced to taste things he does not like. It will only cause trouble. Make sure that there is always something that the child usually likes on the table. Vary the options between meals whether it is a source of protein, a source of carbohydrates or vegetables / fruit. For example, if you serve spaghetti with minced meat sauce and carrots on Monday and the child only eats spaghetti, then serve potatoes with meatballs and broccoli on Tuesday if you know that the child eats meatballs. On Wednesday, it may be the banana for dessert if your child is a vegetable refuser but eats bananas. One third vegetables, one third protein and one third carbohydrates, fixed over three days.
Happy healthy dessert for children every day
When children do not eat their main course, I think it is all the more important to serve a dessert. It increases the chance that the child eats something. On weekdays, the desserts can be fruit, fruit yoghurt, nuts, smoothies with fruit and yoghurt in them or maybe a small sandwich. A little (a few teaspoons per serving) of sugar in the dessert is ok, but desserts with a lot of sugar and saturated fat such as ice cream, chocolate, sweet cream or cakes are a Saturday thing. Or Friday or Sunday if you prefer that at home.
Respect the ‘no’
When a child says ‘no’ to more food, whether it’s the one-year-old who closes his mouth and starts pounding with the spoon or the five-year-old who says “no thank you mom, I just do not eat chicken!” Respect that! No fuss. To older children, you can say “I understand, but the body needs protein / vegetables (what the child has missed). What on the table can you eat so that your body gets what it needs?”.
Remember that children do not die of starvation if there is food available. The refusal to eat is not so dangerous. Wait until the next meal and do not make much of a fuss about the child not wanting to eat.
Finish the meal after 20 minutes
After 20 minutes of eating, children often do not eat more. Finish the meal then. Some children are unfocused and talk and fiddle with their hair, and pile up peas, but do not eat much. They can often pick at food for a long time. Those children may need help regaining concentration on food. It may be a good goal to finish a meal after 20 minutes, sometimes reminding the child many times.
Never compare children’s appetites or eating habits with anyone else’s!
“When your big brother was your age, he ate both peas and beans. So should you, too!.” It has never helped and will never help. That kind of comment only makes the kids angry at each other and at you. Don’t do it.
Do not use food as a reward or punishment
And I repeat, do not use food as a reward or punishment. Children need good food no matter what mood they are in, or if they have been extra kind or mean. Never let food or dessert or sweets be a reward when the child does something good. Also, never let the threat of missing out on food or dessert or sweets be a punishment for something bad the child has done. Instead, let the meal become a break in the quarrel. “It’s dinner time now. We have not been together since you hit your little sister, but come to the dinner table and eat and I promise not to talk about it.”
Do not forget the snacks!
Preschool children need food every two to three hours during their waking hours. Breakfast, snacks, lunch, snacks (possibly one more snack), dinner, (possibly evening snacks). Many children who are picky about their food are much more likely to eat snacks. So let them eat it! Food every two to three hours is also very good for the child’s (and your!) mood. Good snacks are, for example, a few pieces of fruit, or a sandwich (wholemeal bread / wholemeal crispbread) with butter or peanut butter or cheese, or some nuts and some dried fruit, or some yogurt with muesli, or a not very sweet fruit yogurt (read the table of contents!) or half skyr, or some porridge.