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Tips to Improve Babies' Appetites

Improving children's appetite for food may have to be the first step in getting them to eat more fruits and vegetables. Keep coming back to this chapter till you can identify the cause of your child's poor appetite.

OR skip to next article: How to Get Kids to Eat Vegetables - Thinking Anew


Hydration: Sufficient hydration encourages a healthy appetite and good health overall. Be aware that we need optimum water intake to be well hydrated; that means not too little and not too much. Our water volume requirement is dependent on age, weight, the amount of hydrating foods we eat, and the amount of physical activity we engage in, amongst other things. Read your children's body signals and cues to determine how much water they require. 

It is good practice to start the day by offering water (warm/cold) first thing in the morning (if your child doesn't already start the day with milk) to help relieve the dehydration from the long night stretch. This will give the body a chance to prepare for the coming meal by providing enough water to produce digestive juices to enable better digestion. Continue this trend throughout the day by offering water about half an hour to 15 mins before the next meal. Children will eat much more obligingly when they are not thirsty. Further to that, a drink of water sometimes even stimulates hunger. We also don't want them stopping us mid meal for a large drink of water which will take up most of the meals space.


Curb the Junk: We all have limited space, in our stomachs, with which to fill with food; for little children, there is even less. It is therefore very important that we choose nutrient-dense foods to go into their stomachs, and not to have that space taken up by unhealthy, nutrient-stripped, refined and processed foods. Giving young children sweet, salty, or fatty junk foods often, will also reduce their taste (and thus appetite) for healthy home-made meals by making them accustomed to a very high level of taste stimulation. Read here for how to break junk-food dependency.


Exercise: Exercise often makes kids ravenous. Try a walk, run, swim, yoga, dance or an online exercise video for kids.


Optimum Milk: When babies are under 6 months of age, their milk needs are great, drinking almost all day and night. But as they grow, food replaces milk in their diets to a greater and greater extent. How much milk you should be offering your baby will depend on your baby's age. Overconsumption of milk can damage your baby's appetite for food, affecting nutritional input; however, under-consumption of milk can also deprive your baby of what she needs, to grow optimally - a balance needs to be struck. Check with your trusted health-care professional to determine how many feeds, or the volume of milk, your baby should be having at his specific age. Also, enquire how this will change in the months to follow since babies develop quite quickly. 


If you are breastfeeding you may be unsure of how much milk your baby has consumed. To give you an approximate idea, monitor how many full feeds your baby has had. Be aware that sometimes, breastfed babies are not actually drinking, but sucking, as if on a dummy, for pacification and soothing. This is called non-nutritive sucking. Do not include this type of sucking in your calculations of total feeding time as no milk is introduced into the mouth during this time.


Treat and prevent constipation: A backlog in the digestive system can cause a drop in appetite. Providing your child with fibre rich foods and sufficient hydration helps to regulate the digestive system.  



Gas and Bloating: Certain foods can cause bloating and gas in babies and this can lead to a drop in appetite. Soaking or sprouting of certain legumes can help reduce indigestion from this nourishing food group. See 'Correction Preparation of Legumes' for information on how to soak or sprout.


High protein foods can trigger allergies or intolerances which can also be the cause of gas and bloating. Take note of what your child has eaten when she is gassy to help you diagnose the causes. Take note that, if the baby is being breastfed, the food the mother consumes can also cause allergic responses in the child because proteins from foods pass into breast milk. Allergies can also accompany formula milk.


Dill seeds are often used as an ingredient in anti-cholic remedies for its ability to relieve gas in babies. You could make a tea out of these seeds for the breastfeeding mum. Consuming this tea daily during breastfeeding helped me immensely by preventing gas and bloating in my babies. Adding fenugreek (methi) seeds to this tea gives the added benefit of enriching breast milk with nutrients.



Snacks: Time snacks wisely. Stop snacking a reasonable time before the next big meal, so as not to jeopardise your child's appetite. If the snack is close to the next meal (which is sometimes out of our control), then choosing snacks that digest quickly, such as fruits, will help children to be hungrier before the next meal.


Variety and Freshness: Like us, children can grow tired of eating the same meal over and over, and their interest in food may wane as a result. Food also builds up toxins the longer it is kept, and fruit and vegetable meals don't generally taste as good when kept for too long. Offer your child fresh, home-cooked, healthy meals to keep it exciting, and tasty and that may be the turning point for your child's appetite. This will become easier once your child is sharing healthy family meals with you. Take a look at the many family meals in the recipe section that are appropriate for babies.


Naps: Making sure that your baby has optimal sleep may give you a happier, calmer baby, thus supporting your baby's appetite. How much of day-time sleep is needed will depend mostly on your baby's age, how much of night-time sleep she gets and the amount and degree of stimulation she receives. Observe your baby closely for signs of exhaustion to figure out what her nap schedule should be.


Timing and Schedule: The timing of meals, in relation to milk feeds, sleep times and water drinks can greatly influence your babies' appetite. If you are presenting meals when your baby is too tired or too hungry,  she may feel less adventurous and may be more prone to being upset. On the other hand, if you offer meals when your darling is not hungry, then she may be too playful and not that committed to the task of eating. Observe your child to figure out at which times she will eat best. 

As babies grow they fall into certain predictable patterns, which keep changing as they develop. Your baby may not immediately follow the conventional times for breakfast, lunch, and supper and this is perfectly acceptable. Rather take note of the times at which your baby eats well and use them to your advantage.

Keeping to a fixed mealtime when your children are older will help their bodies anticipate and prepare for their meals, possibly triggering digestive juice production and hopefully hunger too. 


Identify Allergies or Other Health Concerns: Most toddlers and babies have their fussy moments when it comes to food, and this is not usually a cause for serious concern, but some children may have a chronically poor appetite due to medical reasons. For example, my son had an allergy to wheat, and his appetite improved only after we identified this and removed wheat from his diet. (Fortunately, he overcame the allergy after some time.) If you think that there is more to your child's poor appetite than pickiness or poor habits, consult your medical practitioner to help you troubleshoot the cause of his poor appetite. Keeping a diet diary can help you to identify possible offending foods. Remember to record what mum ate too if your baby or toddler is breastfeeding since proteins from foods and drinks can pass into breast milk.


Written by Natasha Subbiah

NEXT: How to Get Kids to Eat Vegetables - Thinking Anew


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