One of the worst things about being a Mummy is when my little one doesn’t eat. When she’s unwell or teething it doesn’t seem to affect her sleep which is great! Instead she won’t eat. And some days we are talking nothing apart from milk. This isn’t just for a day. When we visited the States last November we were talking 10 days. I always know she’s unwell as she goes off her favourites; tuna pasta bake and casseroles. In fact when she’s really unwell hot meals are out of the question. Being a Dietitian has made it worse as I knew no hot meals means no vegetables, iron, Omega 3 fish oils, the list goes on. I panic as I genuinely think, how is she surviving on so few calories? I can always tell she’s teething as she doesn’t want to chew. She has a few raisins with breakfast, chews them a bit and spits them out all soggy. As adults when we are ill we don’t want to eat sometimes. But our common sense often overrides this and we try and have something, even if small. For little ones under 2 years their instincts are strong and they won’t eat. It’s natural but very hard to watch and not worry.
My daughter has just come out of a bad 2 weeks, a combination of teeth and a nasty cough virus. If milk, eggs, cheese, yoghurt, banana and bread didn’t exist she would have been in real trouble, as it’s all she ate. In the end I stopped giving her hot meals completely. I’m quite harsh in the respect that I won’t give her cakes, crisps or sweets when she is in one of these phases, trying to make sure she learns she has to eat her hot meal first. But it’s so hard as I know she would eat these things and at least have had something.
As this has happened a few times now I have come up with some tips for the hunger strikes:
- First and foremost don’t panic and get stressed. My experience has shown my daughter plays up more. Tantrums are more likely as is throwing food on the floor. Keep calm and act normal. Swap over with a partner or family member if it is getting too much.
- Ultimately babies and children will eat. They won’t starve, even if all they take is some milk. I have a rule: if my little girl point blank refuses lunch and is getting quite upset about it she gets down with nothing else but fruit and milk until her next meal. Usually she is desperate for a banana a few hours later and eats her tea; even if just scrambled egg and toast. But this is better than nothing.
- Focus on foods that are a good source of protein if you can – cheese, eggs, yoghurt, milk and meats. The softer options are good for teething mouths.
- Repeat the same foods if you have to. If scrambled egg and toast and yoghurt is all they want for three days it doesn’t matter. Eggs and yoghurt are a fabulous source of protein. Eggs contain Vitamin A and B12. Yoghurt is good for protein and calcium. Bread is their source of carbohydrate and fibre if you choose wholegrain varieties.
- Try and disguise some fruit and vegetables if you can. Read more about this in “Help, my children won’t eat veg!
- Try and make the meals as nutritionally dense as possible. Use smooth peanut butter on toast rather than just jam for extra protein and essential fats. Add mashed banana to cereal. Cheese on toast is a great quick meal.
- If the poor eating is prolonged get a vitamin and mineral supplement from a pharmacy. You can get assistance on choosing an appropriate one from the pharmacist.
- If you are very concerned and need further advice speak to your GP for advice.
I think as parents you want more than anything for your child to be healthy and happy with a full tummy. My girl’s appetite is always reduced when she’s not right but I’m getting more and more relaxed with it as the time passes. I have to; can’t force her to eat and ultimately the little monster always gets her appetite back and is ready and waiting for her little treat after her hot meal and yoghurt.