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What can you do when your child refuses to eat?

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Everyone knows that a healthy diet is the key to good health for both adults and children, but what can you do when your child refuses to eat certain foods or puts up a fuss at mealtime?

Que faire lorsque votre enfant refuse de manger?

Canada’s Food Guide: it’s also for children!

Foods that are good for children are similar to those good for adults: a healthy children’s diet should contain 70% fruits and vegetables, cereals and grains, and 30% fish, meat or dairy products, or their vegetarian equivalent. Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating (http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca) contains excellent advice on the types and quantity of foods that your children should consume to be as healthy as possible.

While mealtime in some households is an opportunity for family time and dialogue, some parents dread this moment and see it as a source of conflict and argument with their little ones.

Tips and advice for “picky eaters”

  • Don’t force them. You must respect your children without forcing them, otherwise they will have a difficult time assessing their own appetite. What’s more, eating should be viewed as one of life’s pleasures, and not as a burden.
  • Don’t worry unnecessarily. A child’s appetite can vary greatly. They can eat like a bird one day, and like a lion the next. This is perfectly normal, but it is useful to know how to discover if it is just an excuse to sneak away from the dinner table to go and play. A good trick is to ask them to remain at the dinner table with the rest of the family, even if they have finished or are no longer hungry.
  • Pay attention to snacks. Make sure you don’t give your children too many snacks between meals, or snacks that are too filling. This will affect their appetite at mealtime. Offer children fruit, vegetables and other healthy snacks, and ensure that they don’t snack too close to mealtime.
  • Drinks. Is your child drinking too much juice? Some juices contain high levels of sugar and calories. Consider reducing the amount of juice consumed, or dilute juice drinks with water. Water is the best source of hydration for the human body, in addition to its other benefits.
  • Use your imagination. Make children’s dishes more attractive by adding colour, or making designs or shapes with the food. Tell children interesting stories during mealtime; draw them into an animated discussion. Meals should be seen as opportunities for family discussion.
  • Taste can be developed. Children learn a lot by imitating you. If you teach your children how to taste food, and they see you eating a wide variety of foods, there is no doubt they will try to do the same.
  • Perseverance pays off. Did you know that it sometimes takes 10 to 15 attempts before a child agrees to eat something new? You can encourage your child by regularly serving a food item, with no pressure or obligation.
  • Be firm. Your children must be aware of the house rules. It is up to you to set mealtimes and the menu. If your children eat what they want, when they want, it will be more difficult to maintain control of their diet.
  • Stay active! Physical activity whets the appetite. Encourage your children to stay active as much as possible or, even better, take part in activities with them!

Remember that children progress through several stages of growth. It may be a case of your children wanting to draw your attention or test your limits by asserting their opposition. If this is the case, things will return to normal soon. However, if your child has lost weight, appears sluggish or more moody than usual, do not hesitate to consult your healthcare professional, who will determine whether there might be other causes triggering this behaviour.

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