Life Times Newsletter

January/February 04
Vol. 6, No. 1

Is my child eating right?

Parents often worry about the amount of food their children eat, either because itís too much or too little. If the children are eating less than expected, parents worry that their children are not going to grow and develop properly. If their children are eating more than expected and getting chubby, parents worry about potential weight problems.

Wide swings in both appetite and physique are perfectly normal as children grow. In general, if children

are active and growing steadily, these changes are nothing to worry about. However, a continued loss of appetite or failure to grow should be discussed with your doctor.

Parents and others who care for young children need to remember some important facts about normal and feeding.

During the first year of life, infants grow at a rapid rate, with their appetite keeping pace.
As their rate of growth slows around 12 to 14 months, so does their appetite. Growth will be slower until right before puberty.

Growth in height and weight does not always happen at the same time.
A child may grow heavier before gaining height and look chunky for a time. Or, the reverse may also be true, and the child looks skinny until weight catches up.

There are many healthy body sizes and types.
Height, weight and body shape are gene-dependent. Different body types go in and out of favor over time. The best body type for your child is the one nature
intended him or her to have.

A wide variety of nutrients are needed for good health.
The best way to get all that we need is to eat many different kinds of foods. The produce
section of the grocery store is a good place to start. Try one new or different fruit or vegetable every week.

No single food contains all the nutrients we need, so there is no particular food children must eat.
Nutrients occur in more than one food, so there are many choices to satisfy nutritional needs. For example, milk is the best source of calcium, but not the only one. Other high-calcium foods include cheese, yogurt, tofu, cooked dry beans like pinto beans or navy beans, and dark green, leafy vegetables.

Children learn eating habits by watching others eat.
They are more likely to try new foods if they see others eating and enjoying them. Making a child ďtry one biteĒ creates a negative impression. Seeing a food more often is the best way to encourage children to try it. New foods may be more acceptable if served at snack time.

Respect individual food preferences, but donít operate a short-order kitchen.
Itís not necessary to avoid serving foods that one or more family members dislike. Nor is it necessary to prepare several different foods for the same meal. You decide what to serve, but let your child decide what and how much to eat. Be sure to offer one or two foods on the table that everyone will eat, like bread and milk. They can eat enough of those foods to satisfy their hunger until the next regularly scheduled snack or meal.

Regular family meals are very important, with specific times for meals and snacks.
Mealtimes provide families with an opportunity to talk with each other and to develop good relationships. This is also a time to teach important lessons about healthy eating and good manners, as the children get older. Sticking to regular times for meals and snacks is especially important when a child refuses to eat food served to the rest of the family at mealtime.

Snacks are also important. Children need snacks because their stomachs are too small to hold enough food to carry them from one meal to the next. The keys are to make the snacks nutritious, and to time them so they donít interfere with the next regular meal. Good snack foods include fruits, raw vegetables served with ranch dressing as a dip, bagels, muffins or crackers, and fruit juices. Serve snacks an hour or more before the next meal so that your child is hungry again at mealtime.

Parents can help their children develop healthy bodies and minds by providing nutritious meals and snacks, and by encouraging participation in physical activities. Keep television viewing to a minimum. TV watching reinforces an inactive lifestyle, while at the same time bombarding us with advertisements for foods that tend to be high in calories and low in nutrients. Family outings, walks, bicycle rides, and games are healthier than time spent in front of the TV.

Linda S. Rellergert, MS
Nutrition Specialist 

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University of Missouri Extension Editor: Roxanne T. Miller