Last week I ran a workshop for nursery staff, teaching them key proven techniques for encouraging young children to enjoy eating healthy food. We discussed a child who refused to eat any main course at nursery every lunchtime. Which led to the question: “do you think that a young child who regularly refuses to eat at a mealtime is fundamentally not hungry enough?”
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I answered the question in two parts. Firstly, in a minority of cases the child has an underlying health issue, in which case the answer is “no”, it is not purely about the child’s appetite. In these cases support needs to be sought from health professionals, starting with the GP or health visitor.

However, my experience is that mostly the answer is “yes”, whether or not a young child eats at a mealtime starts with how hungry they are. A young child’s appetite varies a great deal, so focusing on any meal or day in isolation is unhelpful.
So, if you are a parent who is concerned about your child’s food intake, I would suggest that you follow these steps:

(a) Keep a record of what your child eats and drinks for a period of at least one week. You can download and print the Food Diary form below to take a note of this, and make sure you include all snacks.

(b) Look at the week’s food intake as a whole, and look for patterns around any meals that they are not eating. If your child is not eating regularly at lunchtime, what are they eating for breakfast and morning snack, and can this be reduced? If they hardly ate anything on one particular day, did they eat a lot the day before?

(c) If after completing the Food Diary you cannot identify any patterns and are seriously concerned that your child may have an underlying health issue, I would suggest taking your child to see your GP along with the completed Food Diary for discussion.

Good luck 🙂