I have a little boy, who will turn two next month. Over the past few weeks I’ve been getting concerned that he’s not eating enough. He used to guzzle every meal, no matter what was offered, but now he just picks at some meals and I can’t seem to do anything to make him finish what’s on the plate.
Just as you can lead a horse to water but can’t make them drink, there is sometimes nothing you can do to get your toddler to eat his meal. But this is generally no cause for concern. Virtually every child naturally eats enough to satisfy their needs, but it is often not spread evenly between the three meals of each day. They may pick at breakfast and lunch, and then demolish several platefuls at the evening meal. Or they may eat like a sparrow for a full day but make up for it with super-sized portions the next day. To reassure yourself you could try keeping a 3-day food diary to examine your child’s meal pattern – you just can’t rely on looking at what they eat at one meal or even over one day. Note down all that is eaten over a three day period, then add up how many portions he has eaten from each food group: dairy; meat, fish, poultry and alternatives; fruit and vegetables; and carbohydrates or starchy foods. Divide this by three to get an average amount per day and then look at your son’s overall intake. You can check up on what makes up a portion and how many are recommended for each food group using The Contented Child’s Food Bible by Gina Ford. Another tip is to check that your son isn’t drinking more than the recommended amount of milk, or any more than small amounts of sweetened drinks (including fruit juices), as these can fill children up and take away their appetite for solid foods. If you would like extra reassurance you could also take your son to his Health Visitor or GP for a height and weight check.
You may wonder why your growing son seems to be eating less and yet remains quite healthy. Children naturally reduce their food intake relative to their body weight (in other words, they need less calories per kilogram of body weight) as they age, and this is most obvious during a child’s second year. This happens because a baby’s rate of growth is most rapid during their first year – they approximately triple their weight during this time. This slows down dramatically to about a 25% weight increase during their second year. I notice that my one-year-old often eats as much, and sometimes more than, my almost-three-year-old, but as they are both growing and developing healthily I know this is no cause for concern. I do wonder, though, how my younger son manages to fit quite so much into his little, but very round, tummy!