Is My Child’s Appetite Normal?

Is My Child’s Appetite Normal?

Hungry all the Time.  Eats like a bird. These phrases are uttered quite frequently by parents when describing their children’s appetites.  Like adults, children’s appetites vary from day to day, or even from meal to meal.

Let’s start from the beginning. In the first year of life, infants do the most significant amount of growing that they will do in their whole life.  Most (but not all) infants triple their birth weight by their first birthday.  Between 1 and 5 years of age, many children normally only gain 4-5 pounds per year.  Children in this age range normally can go 3 to 4 months without gaining any weight and then have a growth spurt.  Due to the decreased growth, they have decreased caloric needs and what looks like a poorer appetite.

Infant and Toddler Eating Habits

What your children are doing is actually healthy and good—they are listening to their bodies and eating when they are hungry.  How much your child eats is determined by the appetite center in the brain, and healthy children usually eat as much as they need for growth and energy. There are many factors that influence the appetite but the most important job for you, as their parents, is to keep meal and snack times relaxed as possible so that your children can listen to their internal cues of hunger and fullness, which is a great habit for lifelong health.  Your job also includes deciding what foods to offer (try to have at least one preferred food at meals) and planning regular times to eat.  Most children do best when they eat every 2-3 hours (3 meals and 2-3 snacks per day).  Your child is responsible for deciding how much to eat and if they will eat at all!  Have them be involved in meal preparation and menu planning which helps encourage tasting.

While sometimes it’s hard to wonder how he’s not hungry, resist talking about child’s “small appetite” or limited food selection in front of him. The more that they hear they “don’t eat” or are “picky,” the more often they become these things—it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. You can help your children work through these issues by realizing that it is a phase that will change and pass. (If mealtimes are extremely unpleasant, your child is having chewing/swallowing difficulties, or eats less than 5 foods, speak to your child’s pediatrician.)

To help you and your child along the way, here are some positive eating tips:

  • Have your child self-feed once he is capable to avoid forced feeding.
  • Serve small portions. Children are overwhelmed when given portions that they can’t possible consume.
  • Offer at least 1 preferred food in addition to new/challenge foods at meals to increase possibility of acceptance.
  • Offer many eating opportunities (but not TOO many).  Children have small tummies and do best with a structured meal “schedule.” Offer 3 meals and 2-3 snacks daily. This gives them plenty of opportunity to receive the nutrition that their body needs to grow and develop.
  • Have fun!

A few important points to remember: Your children are watching you. Be a good role model by eating healthfully and mindfully (listening to your body, eating when you are hungry and stopping when you are full), and by being physically active. Try not to talk about dieting and body image (unless it is positive) in front of your young children; it starts to affect them at a very young age.  Involve them in food shopping and cooking. Teach them that eating healthy is not only good for them, but fun too!

Be Well, Be NutritionWise.

~ Nicole Meadow, MPN, RD of NutritionWise

This post is solely for informational purposes. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for medical advice. Before undertaking any course of treatment or dietary changes, you should seek the advice of your physician or other health care provider.

We aim to provide you with the most honest and credible information possible. This article was reviewed for accuracy by The Honest Team and was written based on trusted sources that are linked at the bottom of the article.