Picky Eaters Or Children Who Won’t Eat – Part 1

Picky Eaters Or Children Who Won’t Eat – Part 1
Is it normal for children to be picky eaters or not want to eat?

Yes – As children get older their growth rate decreases and their approach to food simultaneously changes;

Between 9 and 18 months most children’s milk intake decreases;

They also become picky over the type and amount of food that they eat. This is when most mothers become desperate and seek help, but such behaviour is perfectly normal and there is no need to worry.

When should you be worried?

Children have a wonderful way of controlling their own energy intake. This congenital instinct can however disappear if parents force their children to eat on a regular basis;

if you are really worried, take your child to a clinic or dietician for regular weighing and monitoring. This is the most obvious indicator of poor growth;

You can also weigh your child yourself at home and plot this weight on the child’s growth chart or road to health chart (depending on the age);

If a child is gaining weight, it means that he/she is getting enough energy to maintain health and well being;

On the other hand, if a child’s weight stays the same for 2 or 3 consecutive months or follows a descending curve, you should take the child to see a doctor or dietician.

What influences a child’s eating habits?

Pre-school children are inclined to do whatever other children do as they have a need to “fit in” with the crowd and to be accepted. They imitate their parents, teachers, siblings and friends, which marks the beginning of their social development and international skills;

Commercial and social factors also influence a child’s eating habits. There are many TV advertisements that advertise foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt. A child exposed to this may thus not be interested in a plate of healthy food, which appears so much less exciting than that advertised;

The activity level of a child also plays a role. An inactive child may refuse food seeing that he/she has been too inactive to become hungry. On the other hand, a child can also be too active and as a result be too tired to eat. This problem can be resolved by initiating a short rest period before meal times;

Lastly, a child who is given snacks shortly before meal times may also not be hungry when it is time to eat. It is therefore NOT recommended to give children snacks within an hour before meal times.

Food groupPortions per day1 – 3 years4 – 6 years7 – 12 years
Bread & grains6 or more½ slice
1 slice

1 – 2 slices
Vegetables3 or more
2 – 4 tablespoons Or ½ cup of juice
¼ – ½ cup Or ½ cup of juice½ – ¾ cup Or ½ cup of juice
2 or more

2 – 4 tablespoons Or ½ of cup
¼ – ½ cup Or ½ cup of juice½ – ¾ cup Or ½ cup of juice
Meat & meat alternatives
2 or more
30 – 60g30 – 60g60 – 90g
Milk & milk products3 – 4½ – ¾ cup¾ cup¾ – 1 cup

1 slice of bread = ¾ cup of dry porridge or ½ cup cooked porridge or ½ a cup of potato, rice or noodles;

30g meat, fish or chicken = 1 egg or 2 teaspoons peanut butter or ½ a cup cooked beans and legumes;

½ cup milk = ½ cup cottage cheese, cheese, yoghurt or 22 g of cheese or 2 tablespoons of powder milk.

How much food is enough?

At the age of a year, children eat only 1/3 to ½ of that of an adult;

At 3 years children eat almost exactly ½ of a normal adult diet;

At the age of 6 years, children eat about 2/3rds of adult portions;

It is unnecessary to serve a big plate of food to small children – a good guideline is a level spoon of every food type for each year of the child’s age. Children who are still hungry will ask for more food.

By Melissa Pyle, BSc. in Dietetics, Registered Dietician (SA)

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