Seven common food problems sorted
Struggling with your tot at meal times? Here some issues that may be at play, and what to do about them.
There are lots of issues that can affect your child's eating, but thankfully there are plenty of strategies to help cope with food and appetite struggles as they arise. Here's what you can do about some of the most common dinner-time challenges.
This has to be one of the most common issues, and persistence is key. You can get a good start by providing a wide range of textures, colours and tastes while your little one is young to encourage familiarity and acceptance. Most new foods will be approached with hesitation as your child decides whether something is safe to eat, but if a food is rejected it's imperative to continue to offer it - many kids will need over 10 to 15 tastes before acceptance occurs! You can introduce new foods with familiar ones or dipping sauces to avoid overwhelming your tot. Encourage at least a lick, taste or bite, even if the whole amount isn't consumed.
If your tot's little digestive system is already blocked, this can ruin her small appetite. Fibre, fluid and movement are the key elements for regularity, so work to include plenty of these to help prevent constipation in the first place. You can include more fibre with lots of fruits and vegetables, plus wholegrains in place of white or refined breads and cereals. For example, serve oats or wheat biscuits for breakfast, offer fruit, baked beans or grainy crackers and hummus as snacks, and include vegetables with main meals. Get your little one to sip water between meals and encourage outside play to keep those intestinal muscles active.
Diarrhoea can be short-term or ongoing, depending on the cause, and either can mess with your child's eating. A short-term case of gastroenteritis can leave little ones at risk of dehydration, and here the main focus should be on fluid intake, with oral rehydration drinks or ice-blocks perfect for a non-existent appetite. Ongoing diarrhoea can be induced by a wide variety of causes, with milk often being the most accused instigator. Lactose (milk sugar) intolerance is rare in littlies, apart from possibly following a case of gastroenteritis, where digestive enzymes may be temporarily lacking. Generally these enzymes will repair themselves in time and milk should be well tolerated again. On occasion, milk protein allergy (not lactose intolerance) can cause ongoing diarrhoea, but due to your little one's high calcium requirement, it's imperative to seek medical advice before removing foods from her diet. High intakes of fructose, typically via fruit juices, can also speed up your little one's bowel habits and cause loose movements, so encourage water as a drink and try to stick to one to two portions of fruit per day.
LOW IRON LEVELS
If your littlie is not a big meat, chicken or fish eater, this can affect her iron levels. There's a flow-on effect here, as low iron can lead to changes in mood and energy levels, which in turn can have a huge impact on food acceptance and intake. Red meat is by far the highest source of readily available iron, followed by other meats and fish, while smaller amounts can be found in eggs, beans and legumes, leafy greens, nuts and fortified cereals. If your child isn't a huge meat fan, try mince dishes or mini meatballs instead of chewy pieces of meat, opt for an iron-enriched cereal, and make the most of sandwich fillings by providing egg and hummus rather than traditional spreads. Iron absorption is boosted when the iron is consumed with vitamin C, so try and combine meat and egg with vegetables such as tomato, capsicum and leafy greens that are high in the vitamin, or offer iron-fortified cereals with fruit such as oranges, strawberries and kiwifruit. Speak to your GP about a possible iron supplement if low iron is an ongoing issue. It's important not to supplement without advice, though, as high intakes can be toxic.
Reflux is where food combined with stomach acid travels back up the oesophagus, causing slight discomfort and sometimes regurgitation. It's relatively common in babies and young children as the lower oesophageal sphincter develops. In general it isn't a cause for concern. If your tot is experiencing reflux, encourage small meals and snacks throughout the day to prevent overfilling her small tummy, and provide drinks a little while before food rather than with her meals, as mixing the two can enhance the transit back up the oesophagus. Spicy foods, chocolate and caffeine can also exacerbate symptoms and are best left out of your child's diet. Occasionally, chronic reflux may need attention if it's paired with food refusal, failure to thrive, ongoing irritability and pain. This needs an assessment and diagnosis through a GP or paediatrician who will be able to recommend strategies or medical management of symptoms.
UPPER RESPIRATORY TRACT INFECTIONS
Affecting the tissues of the nose, sinuses and throat, these infections can have a huge impact on food intake. It's hard not to want to nurture a sore and inflamed throat, but be mindful not to regress back to baby textures. Your tot needs to continue to develop a taste for flavours and textures, and lapsing back into soft textures for long periods of time and concentrating on ice-cream, yoghurt, custard and jelly can result in food selectivity, plus poor nutrition and chewing skills. Instead of blending, try steaming softer vegetables such as pumpkin and sweet potato, opt for softer fruits such as ripe stone fruits, mango or pears, poach meats to ensure a softer texture and moisten toast with avocado or hummus. Providing a glass of milk or water with meals can help to soothe a touchy throat and if your child is taking pain relief, try and provide it just before meals to optimise her appetite.
These can often occur during teething or, when your child is a little older, after tooth losses. To help, you can cut foods into appropriate sizes, avoid chewy meats and soften hard fruits by stewing or steaming. Again, try not to prolong the time frame in which you provide these soft textures to avoid your child developing food aversions and further chewing issues.
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