As parents, we've all been there—those moments when our children suddenly seem to lose interest in food. It's a universal concern that can be deeply unsettling, especially when we see our little ones eating almost nothing, skipping meals or rejecting foods they once loved.
Even for kids with anxiety, ADHD or neurodivergent conditions, we need to take a minute to breathe. Here's the thing: these phases are not uncommon, and they don't always warrant the alarm bells that often ring in our heads.
Why Kids Go Through Phases
Understanding the intricate reasons behind children's phases of altered appetite can help us navigate these challenges with patience and empathy.
1. Growth Spurts: Our children's growth is anything but a steady climb. It happens in unpredictable spurts, each demanding a surge of energy and nutrients to support their developing bodies. During these growth spurts, their appetite might skyrocket, only to taper off when growth slows down.
2. Taste Preferences: Children are culinary explorers, and their taste preferences are ever-evolving. They sample new flavours and textures, sometimes favouring certain foods while momentarily shunning others. This culinary exploration is an essential part of their development.
3. Emotional Factors: Emotional states can significantly impact a child's appetite. Stress, anxiety, or disruptions in their daily routine can throw their eating habits off track. We've been battling the dreaded 'School Lunchroom' catastrophe where my kids need to wear noise-cancelling headphones to take even a few bites.
This is where my battle, as a parent, lies.
As a nutritionist and teacher, have witnessed first-hand the impact that eating or not-eating lunch has on student achievement.
I don't really understand why this is is not a major priority for our school boards, but it is definitely one of mine.
Providing a calm and supportive mealtime environment is key to ensuring our children realize their academic, social and emotional potential at school.
A negative, emotional and sensory overwhelming environment around mealtime, especially at school, can affect our children's ability to maintain stable blood sugar and dopamine levels in order to support focus and concentration for the afternoon. This stressful environment can also be a precursor for eating disorders later in life.
Believe me, this is the priority on my list of 'ways I can help our community' but it's quite a process. Anyone who wants to help, please drop a comment below or contact me!
4. Autonomy and Control: As our children grow, they begin to assert their independence, and this extends to their food choices. Encouraging them to have some say in what they eat, while setting healthy boundaries, can empower them and reduce mealtime battles. However, this newfound independence can sometimes lead to fluctuations in their food preferences.
Understanding these facets of childhood development can help us navigate our children's changing appetites with patience and empathy. By recognizing that these phases are a normal part of their growth and development, we can provide the support and nourishment they need.
Now, let's explore some of the strategies for fostering a positive relationship with food and nurturing healthy eating habits in our children:
4 Ways to Re-Train Your Child's Hunger and Fullness Cues
1. Create a Positive Mealtime Environment: Research consistently demonstrates that eating together as a family promotes healthier eating habits in children. Strive to gather at a designated dining area for family meals, free from distractions like television or smartphones. Engaging in meaningful conversations an[/
d fostering a pleasant atmosphere helps children to focus on their hunger cues.
2. Respect Their Appetite: Encourage your child to develop an intimate awareness of their body's hunger and fullness cues. Teach them to eat until they feel satisfied, not until they've emptied their plate. By recognizing signs of hunger, such as stomach growling, and signals of fullness, like feeling comfortably satiated, you empower them to trust their internal cues. You can use this scale as a visual to hit this lesson home.
3. Offer Healthy Snacks: The availability of nutritious snacks can prevent extreme hunger between meals, which may lead to overeating. Keep a variety of wholesome options readily accessible for your child to choose from.
Options like sliced fruits, yogurt, or whole-grain crackers make excellent choices for satisfying hunger between meals. In the same breath - it is important to space snacks appropriately away from meals, to ensure our kids are eating the healthy food provided at meals and not relying on 'grazing' or 'constant snacking' for the bulk of their nutrition. This is something we crack open in all my family programs.
4. Lead by Example: Children are remarkably perceptive and often mirror their parents' behaviours. Be a positive role model when it comes to food and eating habits. Demonstrate a balanced and mindful approach to meals, savouring a variety of foods in moderation. Your actions and attitudes towards food can significantly influence your child's eating habits and attitudes.
Thank you for being a part of this community, and I'm always here to support and share in our nutrition & parenting journeys. If you have any questions or would like to share your experiences, please feel free to reach out.
Also! If you haven't already downloaded my free Family Snack Guide, click the link below to grab it now!
Curious about nutrition for your family?
If you’re looking for support with your family’s health goals regarding mental health, ADHD or fostering a healthy relationship with food, feel free to book in a FREE assessment call so we can chat to see if Holistic Nutrition is a good fit for your family!
BA Hons., B Ed., RHN, CNE, OCT
Metabolic Balance® Coach
Intuitive Eating Counsellor Candidate
Care-Informed & Health At Every Size® (HAES®) Nutritionist