Why Kids Don’t Eat and How to Help Them Eat More
There is always a root cause to every problem or disease, with ourselves and with our children. Do you ever wonder why kids don’t eat and how to help them eat more?
Perhaps, this is your story or a daily worry that you have as a parent.
Have you ever been told “your baby/child is a lazy eater”, “they will outgrow it”, “feed them whatever they want and they will eat?”
What about “they are on their growth chart so there is no reason to worry about their eating” and “they will eat when they are hungry?”
If you have a baby with a history of difficulty feeding or a toddler or even older child that is a picky eater then I am sure you worry about their eating. I have been there too my friend.
I am sure that a professional has even said the above comments to you. As a feeding therapist and parent of a former extreme picky eater I can tell you the above comments are wrong. Just plain wrong!
There is a period of picky eating that all children go through and that is part of development. But…and a big but…some children’s picky eating goes behind the typical stage which leads to a limited diet and a lot of stress.
So, how do you know when you need to look further into this?
When kids are avoiding classes of food (example won’t eat any meat or any fruits) or when there are certain textures kids avoid (for example, only eating soft foods or only eating crunchy foods).
Also, when having stress at mealtimes, feeling worried, or bribing your child to eat is a sign you may need help.
If you start to notice these signs early on it’s better to seek help then rather than wait.
There are many reasons why kids don’t eat and how to help them is exactly why I am here writing this blog.
There is always a reason, also known as a root cause, to a child’s feeding difficulty. As parents we should trust our gut. We should advocate to find out why kid’s don’t eat them and how to help them is part of the process.
When someone tells you that you shouldn’t worry or that your child will outgrow their feeding difficulties continue to trust your gut.
You know your child best. You are their best advocate. We, as parents, have a gut instinct and often are the only ones that will help other professionals dig deep to figure out the root cause.
There can also be many reasons for why kid’s don’t eat but as a feeding therapist I have found these to be the typical components involved in feeding difficulties.
Common reasons why kids don’t eat and how to help them.
Medical Complications Related To Feeding Difficulty:
◦Medical complications: Reflux, constipation, history of feeding difficulty (ex: difficulty with breast/bottle feeds and/or transitioning to solids).
Gut Issues/imbalances (imbalances in gut bacteria, etc), neurological impairments, and swallowing impairments (ex: liquid going down too fast or going into airway).
Also, heart and breathing issues play a role in feeding.
Medical components must be controlled first and foremost before progress can be made. Babies and Children will always choose to protect themselves over eating if they know eating is difficult.
If you are worried your child may have difficulty swallowing you can get a swallow study from your local hospital.
It is also helpful to go ahead and request a feeding evaluation from a certified Pediatric Speech-Language Pathologist that focuses on feeding.
Oral Motor Skills That Impact Feeding Development:
◦Oral Motor skills: Oral motor skills refer to the movements of the muscles in the mouth, jaw, tongue, lips, and cheeks. Strength, coordination, and control of these muscles are the foundation for adequate speech and feeding skills.
*Remember what you get in the body you get in the mouth*. If a child is low tone (muscle quality is low) they will have low muscle quality in their mouth too. This can impact how a baby or child sucks, chews, and swallows.
Delays In Development That Impact Feeding Development:
◦Delays in development such as gross and fine motor skills. Gross and Fine motor skills are the foundation for the most precise, fine motor movements of all (speech and feeding/swallowing skills).
As a pediatric speech-language pathologist who focuses on feeding delays/disorders I cannot stress the importance of this. Babies develop differently but the commonality is that there is a pattern in the way they develop.
These patterns support each skill needed to progress forward. An example would be if a baby has not developed adequate head control they are going to have a very difficult time learning to sit, let alone eat.
Same goes for if a baby has difficulty sitting then their body is not fully supported to be able to support skills needed for safe feeding.
They are noted to have difficulty with other skills later on in childhood. Our bodies develop in a way that allows them to be ready for each skill so they can safely and efficiently master.
So, make sure your child is able to sit with support or independently before starting to feed your baby. I recommend starting to feed your baby at 6 months. To learn why CLICK HERE.
Sensory Processing And It’s Role in Feeding Development:
◦Sensory Processing: Sensory processing refers to how your brain receives messages from the senses and turns them into responses.
Some children that are picky eaters can be hypersensitive or hyposensitive to certain foods/textures/smells. A child may have a strong sense of smell that could cause them to not come near a food or even gag when smelling a certain food.
A child may not be able to tolerate certain textures and hold their hands up or flap their hands when touching something that is wet/messy (ex: yogurt). The brain is saying “this does not feel good.”
They may prefer crunchier textures because it feels better in their mouth than softer foods. Some kids may need more flavorful foods. ** Sensory is often the underlying link to picky eating.**
Be an investigator. Make a list of all foods that your child prefers. Look at the category, texture, color, taste (bland vs flavorful), and smell (strong or flat).
Start with your child’s preferred foods and think about other foods that have similar characteristics. Start there.
How Routine and Schedules Impact Feeding A Picky Eater:
◦Routine: Grazing and snacking during the day can impact hunger cues and volumes consumed at mealtimes. Picky eaters or children that have difficulty with eating often prefer to graze, snack, or even drink liquids throughout the day.
Giving them a structured routine and adequate place for eating is essential. For example, eating breakfast in the same spot as much as possible.
Another example is having meals and snacks spread out 2.5-3 hour apart. If they eat breakfast at 7AM then their next meal (snack) would be around 10:30.
This can often give them enough time to feel hunger. It can also help you know there is another meal coming in case they didn’t eat.
HOW TO HELP YOUR PICKY EATER:
If you are looking for help I am happy to help you come up with some food ideas and how to build off foods that your child already prefers.
CLICK HERE to check out my two programs I have to help your little eater.
My good friend, Alisha, over at Your Kids Table has two amazing courses for parents of picky eaters that I have actually taken myself.
Let’s get your child eating a variety of foods. Let’s get your mealtimes pleasant without bribing, fighting, or frustration. Let’s get your child healthy and happy!!
Share this post with someone you love. Heck, even pass along my info to your pediatrician. So many parents are fighting the picky eating battle and need help. This is a great resource for them.