Why does my child not want to eat?

Why does my child not want to eat?

Parents worry when their growing children do not want to eat.  Parents use many ways to encourage their children to eat, but sometimes without success.  Some parents even put the food into their child’s mouth but the child spits it out.  If you are having this problem with your child, I think you will have a greater idea of how to solve your issue after reading this article.

1.  What is Poor Appetite?

Children who for a long time have no appetite or only eat small amounts of their food or even refuse to eat the generally common food.  This issue actually greatly affects their health and the growth (growing including the brain and the body).  These children usually have the following symptoms: pale face, skinny, tire quickly after their activities, irregular bowel movement and some of the children feel nauseous after eating.

Three weeks ago, before I wrote this article, I had a young client, an 11 year old boy, with a poor appetite for many years.  His mother told me that her son is the shortest child in his class and he complains that he’s always tired.  After a couple of weeks of treatment with Chinese herbal medicine, the boy started to become interested in eating his food again.

It is very important to balance a child’s diet before their teenage years so as not to have a long term effect on their development.

2. Cause of Poor Appetite

Most parents want to cook more interesting foods to increase their child’s appetite.  Instead, I suggest that they find out the cause of the poor appetite.

i) Unsuitable feeding, including over-feeding, eating more raw and cold or frozen foods, eating too much sweets before their main meal.  All of these issues can affect the Spleen and Stomach which are responsible for the transportation and digestion of the food.  This causes the food to be stuck in the intestine area longer than it should be and the child loses interest in eating their next meal.  These children might also experience the following symptoms: craving certain foods, irregular bowel movements, bloating, emotional.

ii) Weakness of the Spleen & Stomach: certain children’s digestive system is weaker than normal.  This can be something they’ve inherited as a result from an unhealthy pregnancy or their parents’ constitution, or certain medications, major illness.  All of these conditions can make the digestive system very sluggish and cause poor appetite.  These children can experience the following symptoms:  very fussy with their food, feel hungry and only eating a small amount, pale, skinny, tired, complaining of stomach discomfort or mild pain and irregular bowel movement.

3. How to balance your Child’s food to avoid Poor Appetite

As a lecturer, whenever I address indigestion as part of paediatrics, I always pay attention to a suitable diet for the children.  This will give a greater help to rebuild the childrens’ digestive system.  I make the following suggestions for parents:

i) Avoid fixing large meals for children or over-filling them.  It is better to have smaller meals with snacks in between.  Under the age of 6 months, this is avoidable by adding water into their milk, making it easier to digest.

ii) Avoid feeding children very cold or frozen foods, such as ice-cream or foods and drinks straight from the fridge.  Small amounts of these items are appropriate occasionally, not everyday.

iii) While children are eating, encourage a pleasant and happy environment.  Avoid complaining to them as distress can upset their digestion.

iv) Encourage children to have a regular bowel movement everyday.  I suggest the morning is best for this.  This is a habit that will not only benefit the child now, but also for the rest of their lives.

v) Avoid feeding children snacks, sweets, soft drinks or large amounts of water before their main meals.

vi) If your child already suffers poor appetite, the first thing you should do is attend your doctor to give the whole body a general check.

vii) If your general check comes up with nothing significant, consult your experienced Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner for a further check of the cause of the poor appetite (as mentioned above).  From my clinical experience, we can usually rebuild the digestive system in a few weeks.

I hope this article gives you a greater idea in assisting your child to set up a healthy digestive system for the rest of their lives.


Dr Ping Wang is the clinic founder and senior practitioner of Ping Ming Health. She has over 30 years of experience in traditional Chinese medicine teaching and practice. Dr Ping especially enjoys sharing her knowledge of Chinese medicine through our popular clinic articles, seminars and clinical training of students and practitioners.