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Fun not Fuss with Food: My child doesn't eat enough!

Category: Child Health

Topic: Diet and Eating

It is common for parents or carers to be concerned that their child is not eating enough. Children have a natural ability to sense when they are hungry and when they are full. A child will never starve him or herself. Trust your child to know when he or she has eaten enough. Remember that child growth slows down after 12 months of age. This means that appetite will also slow down. If your child is a healthy weight, growing well and generally happy and healthy—relax! This is normal.

Relax and remember…

It is okay for a child's daily food intake to vary. A child's intake will vary depending on growth or activity levels increase. Include a variety of foods to ensure your child is receiving all the nutrients he or she needs.

  • Children tend to eat less if they are tired or have eaten snacks close to meal times.
  • Children will eat less if they have consumed a lot of high-calorie drinks such as cordial or soft drink.
  • Eating is a time to learn tastes, textures and mealtime behaviours rather than pleasing parents or to gain attention.
  • Try to make meal times pleasant so your child enjoys food and eating.
  • Try to avoid pressuring children about how much or how little they eat.
  • Try not to feel offended when your child refuses to eat.
  • Avoid using lollies, chocolates, biscuits, milk or desserts as bribes or rewards.
  • Be realistic about the amount of effort you put into making your child’s meals, as your child may not appreciate it.

Snacks for kids

Snacks between meals are an important part of your child’s daily food intake. Here are some snack ideas that are healthy and nutritious:

  • Fresh fruit or canned fruits (in natural juice, no sugar added)
  • Crackers with cheese
  • Small sandwiches with a healthy filling that your child enjoys (e.g. peanut paste, hummus or banana)
  • Plain yoghurt, with or without some fruit
  • Milk, milkshake or smoothie made with fresh fruit or plain yoghurt. Reduced-fat milks are suitable for children over 2 years of age.
    If you think your child is filling up on drinks, ensure they are far away from main mealtimes.
  • Raw soft vegetables (e.g. capsicum, cucumber, cherry tomatoes cut in half). Avoid raw hard vegetables such as carrot until 3 years of age.

Children who snack on snack foods such as chips and lollies may not get all the nutrients needed for good health. These foods are also high in calories and can contribute to excess weight gain. Be sure to supervise your child while they eat.

Drinks

  • Water and milk are the best drinks for children. Encourage water as much as possible and make cold water easy to access.
  • While milk is important for calcium, too much can lead to poor appetite. Keep milk intake to a maximum of 2 cups per day (500mL). If your child is eating other dairy foods (e.g. cheese, yoghurt) then 2 cups of milk per day is not needed. Read How children develop: Food and nutrition (1–5 years) for more about food groups. 
  • Limit sweet drinks. Sweet drinks include all fruit juices, soft drinks and cordial. These drinks are high in calories and can fill up your child, making them less hungry for other foods.

Related content

Introducing complementary foods: Feeding from around 6 months

Introducing complementary foods: Feeding from 12 months

Introducing complementary foods: Recipes for babies

Acknowledgement

Information is drawn from:

  • National Health and Medical Research Council 2012, Australian dietary guidelines.

This information is also the result of input and effort from many health professionals in Queensland. Their assistance with the content is greatly appreciated.

This information is provided as general information only and should not be relied upon as professional or medical advice. Professional and medical advice should be sought for particular health concerns or events. Best efforts have been used to develop this information, which is considered correct and current in accordance with accepted best practice in Queensland as at the date of production. The State of Queensland (Queensland Health) does not accept liability to any person for the information provided in this fact sheet nor does it warrant that the information will remain correct and current. The State of Queensland (Queensland Health) does not promote, endorse or create any association with any third party by publication or use of any references or terminology in this fact sheet.