By Dr Seema Khanna
If your child suffers from a poor appetite or is underweight, it is important to first rule out any underlying causes. A child is considered underweight if their BMI (Body Mass Index) is below the 5th percentile for his/her age. BMI is a standard measurement of body mass that takes your child’s age and gender into consideration. There are common undiagnosed food intolerances, such as dietary allergies, digestive problems, paediatric inflammatory bowl disease which commonly cause poor appetite in children.
Lactose intolerance, celiac disease, auto-immune reaction to the protein, gluten in foods like wheat rye and barley can impact a child’s desire to eat and a decrease in weight. If a child has inadequate appetite, you may have a picky eater on your hands. Children are often reluctant to accept new foods and make fuss over new textures and tastes.
Take an inventory of the nutritious food your child enjoys eating and tailor these meals around those foods. You will notice that the child is willing to eat more when the meals consist of his favorite food. You also need to ensure that your child gets enough exercise. Children should play outside expanding a lot of energy in physical activities. Encourage your child to do physical activity instead engaging themselves in video games and mobile phones.
Children need at least 60 minutes of exercise every day. You will notice that just getting more exercise will increase your child’s appetite. The following points can be considered:
1. Give your child small and frequent meals
2. Give nutrient dense foods, especially dishes containing wheat bran, oats, cashewnuts and pumpkin seeds as they are loaded with zinc, which will help in building their appetite.
3. For example, instead of plain ice-cream for dessert, you can give fruit yoghurt or fruit custard or fruits and nuts ice-cream.
4. Similarly, pizzas loaded with extra veggies, olives and nuts.
5. Make meal time enjoyable like a social activity.
6. Encourage group eating.
7. Schedule meal timings.
8. Use common herbs like small cardamoms and mint to make refreshing and appetising drinks.
Examine their food routine and what they eat:
1. Ensure your child is eating a well balanced breakfast.
2. Try to feed your child every two hours to improve their digestive system.
3. Make them drink adequate fluids throughout the day, but avoid sugary drinks like juices and soft drinks. Instead, use appetising fluids like buttermilk with mint and roasted cumin seeds powder, lemonade with mint, honey water with mint, gooseberry water with mint. Fresh soups with ginger and garlic help in detoxifying your digestive system.
4. Do not allow milk to be a whole meal
5. Give your child a varied menu. Add interesting and nutritious recipes in daily menu. Make sure to vary each meal with a nutritious and different meal. Choose wholegrain products and protein-rich foods.
6. Give your child one serving of probiotics, like yoghurt and curd everyday in the form the child likes to consume it.
7. After main meals, give him a mixture of one teaspoon roasted fennel and sesame.
8. Avoid foods which have strong odours.
These may be different reasons for your child having a lack of appetite; hence you need to find the reason, instead of punishing and scolding them. In fact, this can potentially worsen the situation, by creating anxiety around meals.
(The writer is a consultant nutritionist.)