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My child hardly eats anything - how can I help her eat better?

If your child is growing properly, you probably have nothing to worry about. Children's appetites vary with growth spurts and activity patterns. On some days, children will seem hungrier than on others and will eat accordingly. A child's average intake of foods over time is what's important, not the amount of food eaten at each meal.

Review what your child has eaten earlier in the day or even the day before. If your child has had a variety of foods from each of the four food groups then she is probably doing okay. If poor intake of food continues for an extended period of time, consult your physician or a Registered Dietitian.

In the meantime here are some coping strategies for certain situations:

If your child eats the same foods over and over again - don't worry. They eventually move on to a new
  favourite food. In the meantime, round out her meal with a variety of other foods. Continue to offer different food choices at other meals and snacks. If you agree to let your child eat a limited variety of foods you limit her intake of important nutrients and decrease her willingness to try new foods.
If your child is afraid to try new foods put a small sample on her plate whenever you eat it.
  Encourage her to try a bite but don't force it. Forcing a child to eat a food or even rewarding her with something she likes, such as dessert, can decrease the chance of having her accept the food. Acceptance of new foods takes time and many repeated exposures. Introducing new foods with peers around who like those foods can also help increase acceptance.
If your child dawdles or eats too slowly, check her serving sizes which might be too big.
  Canada's Food Guide provides suggestions for servings sizes (cut serving sizes in half for preschoolers). You can also check the timing of snacks - too much food, especially higher fat snacks, too soon before meals will decrease a child's food intake.
If your child doesn't eat enough vegetables or fruit try serving these foods for snacks with tasty dips.
  Most kids will eat raw vegetables such as carrots, cucumbers and even raw cauliflower or broccoli. A fruit plate with pieces of banana, cantaloup, orange slices, kiwi halves or strawberries are easy to eat. Kids will eat more of these foods before meals when they are hungry and waiting for supper.
If your child doesn't seem to care about the foods they eat try to involve her more in meal preparation.
  Children who help with food preparation are proud of their accomplishment and may be more willing to try their creations and eat more.


For more tips on helping children eat well contact your local public health unit and check out the following resources:

Healthy Start for Life - online course and resources for parents and childcare providers (Dietitians of Canada, 2003).

Suppertime Survival by Lynn Roblin and Bev Callaghan (Macmillan, 1996).

Better Food for Kids ages 2 to 6 by Joanne Saab, RD and Daina Kalnins RD, Hospital for Sick Children (Robert Rose 2002)

Child of Mine - Feeding with Love and Good Sense by Ellyn Satter (Bull Publishing, 2000).

Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family by Ellyn Satter (Keley Press, 1999).

Meals without Squeals: Child Care Feeding Guide and Cookbook by Christine Berman with Jacki Fromer (Bull Publishing, 1997).

How to Get Your Kid to Eat...But Not Too Much by Ellyn Satter (Bull Publishing, 1987).

The information provided in this FAQ is not meant to replace medical advice or treatment. Individuals seeking individual nutrition advice should contact a Registered Dietitian. To find a dietitian in your community click on nutrition advice.