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Children's Eating Problems

Karen Smith
St. Charles IL USA
Report on a session from the 2005 LLLI Conference
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 22 No. 5, September-October 2005, p. 206

During the session, "Children's Eating Problems: Why Children Refuse Food," Dr. Carlos González, author of the LLLI book MY CHILD WON'T EAT!, provided parents with a list of reasons why children don't eat, which included the following:

  • There is no food available (this is not common in the United States, but can be a common cause of poor eating in other regions of the world);
  • The child is not hungry (having already eaten enough);
  • The child is ill (not eating/losing weight).

When does the conflict with children over food begin? González stated that, when the child is about one year old, many parents report, "My child used to eat a lot, but now eats nothing." This is because the amount of food needed varies by age, body size (the bigger a child is the more he needs to eat), growth (if a child is going through a growth spurt he needs more food), and activity level. To make a point, he switched around a common phrase, "If you eat you will grow," to "If you are growing, you will eat." A breastfed child who refuses solids but is growing well is not in a dangerous situation. "But what about iron deficiency?" some parents may wonder. González acknowledged that iron is the only nutrient that human milk can be deficient in, but he also mentioned that if baby is rejecting solids, he probably already has enough iron.

The importance of human milk and nursing on demand was stressed throughout the session. In a discussion of energy, a chart of different foods was displayed. Human milk was the highest with 70kcal/100g. Most other foods were distant seconds: boiled potato (65), apple (52), boiled carrot (27), and homemade vegetables mixed with meat (50). It would seem that babies reject some kinds of foods because they aren't as nutrient-dense as human milk. Babies like foods with a lot of calories and high energy density. Babies don't like new foods very much, which, as González explained, is a natural defense mechanism against toxic foods. Babies learn what to eat by sensing flavors through the mother's milk and by watching what mother and dad eat. Breastfed babies usually prefer their mother's food.

In his closing comments, González stated that parents should never force a child to eat. In the short term, a child's diet may seem limited and strange, but over the long term they will eat well. Babies have an inherent hunger for foods that were available long ago, but when artificial foods are introduced, it can interfere with this natural instinct.

Last updated Friday, September 15, 2006 by njb.
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