How to Help a Child with a Poor Appetite

Firstly, make sure your child's lack of appetite isn't due to a medical issue. Speak to your doctor to clear up any doubts.
How to Help a Child with a Poor Appetite

Last update: 31 July, 2022

A child with a poor appetite can be a source of constant worry to their parents. Not only because they don’t eat enough, but because they generally don’t want to try new foods either.

Indeed, some children, as well as not eating enough, dislike trying new textures. Others find certain flavors unpleasant. It all adds up to a huge problem. Feeding options become increasingly limited and mealtimes are a battle.

So, if your child will only drink from a bottle and eat porridge, purees, and puddings, you need to help them accept new flavors, textures, and even smells and colors, so they can be well nourished and healthy. How can you do it? Let’s find out.

Children’s appetites are changeable

Children’s energy needs vary depending on their stage of growth. That’s why their desire to eat and the amounts they eat change over time.

The Spanish Association of Pediatrics suggests that it’s important to respect these phases and not force a child to eat. Eating small amounts shouldn’t be a concern if their development and growth aren’t compromised and follow a progressive rate.

For this reason, if there are any doubts, you should talk to a health professional. They’ll be able to detect if there’s any problem and help you solve it.

Why a child might have a poor appetite

Depending on the child and the cause(s), the problem may be resolved in a short time or might take longer. As we mentioned earlier, there are specific situations in which loss of appetite is normal and others in which it’s not.

It should also be borne in mind that, often, although the cause of loss of appetite is something simple (the dislike of certain smells, for example), this doesn’t mean that any solution should either be taken lightly or applied too rigidly.

To solve the problem properly, you have to work on it in stages, constantly. For this, the help of a professional may be necessary in certain cases. The key is not to rush.

Taking drastic measures could be counterproductive. For example, if a child is forced to overeat, their health could be compromised in the long run.

A child with a poor appetite may have:

  • Food intolerances. In some cases, when the child only has a little appetite for some foods, they might have a certain intolerance to them, as suggested by this study conducted by the National Institute of Pediatrics of Mexico. It can happen with milk, flour, or nuts, for instance. This should be taken into account if the child has digestive problems of some kind.
  • Anemia. An iron deficiency could be the reason for a child’s poor appetite. In this case, they must have a complete and balanced diet. It’ll also be helpful to increase the amount of iron-rich foods in their diet.
  • Intestinal parasites. These are really common in children as they often put their hands in their mouths. However, their symptoms can go unnoticed or be confused with other disorders. Nervousness, dilated pupils, and itching at the tip of the nose or anus are other symptoms of parasitosis.
  • Emotional issues. Emotional disorders must never be ruled out as the cause of any illness. In the case of poor appetite, a complicated family situation or any problem in the child’s environment could be the cause. This is confirmed in a study conducted by the University of Chile.
  • Other diseases. If the loss of appetite is prolonged or excessive, a doctor should be consulted so that they can carry out the necessary medical tests. They’ll be able to rule out illness as the cause.

You also might be interested to read:  Discover the Most Common Food Parasites

What to do if your child has a poor appetite

Once you’ve visited the pediatrician and they’ve given a diagnosis, you must follow their instructions. Not only in relation to taking medication (if they prescribe any) but also with regards to diet and hydration.

You should also consult with your pediatrician about the use of certain natural remedies to complement the treatment. For instance, if they say your child can eat honey, you can use it with peace of mind.

1. Nutritional yeast

Nutritional yeast is rich in vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. It’s an excellent natural remedy to stimulate appetite. In addition, it’s an ideal supplement to promote good physical and mental development.

2. Original recipes

One tip to help your child start eating more is to try new recipes that are visually appealing. You can even make original shapes or drawings with the food on their plate so that it looks more interesting to them and will encourage them to try it.

For instance, if your child doesn’t want to eat legumes, fish, or vegetables, try to make fillings or doughs with these ingredients. A good way for them to eat legumes is chickpea flour.

3. Helping in the kitchen

Some specialists recommend encouraging children to participate in the preparation of food to help stimulate their appetite. The idea isn’t to ask them to cook for themselves, but to give them small tasks (according to their age) to distract them and help them start to see food as something enjoyable.

In addition, and depending on their age, they can be involved in the choice of dishes that form part of your weekly menu. They can also participate in buying the ingredients.

4. Make a regular schedule and eat with the family

It’s important to establish routines around food and the act of eating itself. It’s also preferable that they have between four and five smaller meals a day instead of three larger ones.

With regard to the quantity, it isn’t necessary to fill up their plate too much as this could be counterproductive. You can gradually increase the quantity as their appetite increases and offer the possibility of second helpings.

Eating with the whole family or in a group will encourage your child to try new things. Maintaining a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere is the best way of getting them to eat and thus avoid the stress and concern that this issue generates for you, as a parent.

5. Break with routine

Organizing a picnic, a barbecue, a theme day, or a meal away from home is a perfect strategy to turn the act of eating into something fun and different.

6. Sport

Although this might seem counterproductive, in reality, it isn’t. To help your child eat more, you should encourage them to engage in a sport or activity that they enjoy. By exercising and spending energy, their own body will encourage them to look for food.

Put these tips into practice with the help of a pediatrician

It’s extremely important not to skip your doctor’s instructions or abandon any prescribed treatment at the first sign of improvement. For the plan to be successful, the treatment must be implemented for the stipulated time.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Asociación Española de Pediatría. Mi niño no come. Junio 2021.
  • Calzada-León R, Altamirano-Bustamante N, Ruíz-Reyes Mª L. Reguladores neuroendocrinos y gastrointestinales del apetito y la saciedad. Boletín Médico del Hospital Infantil de México. Diciembre  2008. 65 (5):
  • Carnell, Susan et al. Parent feeding behavior and child appetite: associations depend on feeding style. International journal of eating disorders. 2014. vol. 47 (7): 705-9.
  • Galle, J. What to do when a child won’t eat: feeding disorders and developmental disabilities. Center for Autism & Related Disorders. [Online]
  • Tapia A, Masson L. Detección de síntomas depresivos en pacientes con sobrepeso y obesidad. Revista Chilena de Nutrición. Agosto 2006. 33 (2): 162-169.
  • Citation: POWELL, F. … et al., 2011. Appetite regulation in early childhood: the impact of parenting behaviours and child temperament. IN: Mitchell, S.R. (ed.) Appetite: Regulation, Role in Disease and Control. Hauppauge NY: Nova Science Publishers, pp. 1 – 28.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.