Five tips to improve your child’s poor appetite

Mothers often bring their children to see me in my clinic and some of the children I see suffer from poor appetite.

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During the treatment, I often find out that the child’s poor appetite is associated with the following five issues. If parents can pay attention to the following five points, it can have a great impact on their child’s health.

These children have the following common symptoms:

  • they appear pale
  • skinny
  • poor muscle tone
  • dry skin
  • irregular bowel movements
  • cravings
  • lack of concentration
  • very emotional
  • easily anxious or cry easily
  • unsettled sleep

Chinese Medicine can provide great help to children with a poor appetite, but generally we need to check a child’s pulse and tongue to determine the individual diagnosis and treatment. In my clinical experience, children will become interested in eating usually after 2-3 weeks of treatment.

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1) Keep your meal time conversations positive

Some families are busy the whole day and the only time to gather together is at meal time, so parents often use meal time to check in with their children about their study and behavior – and this conversation, if done negatively, can affect the child’s digestion. Avoid criticising the child at meal times. In the long-term, a negative atmosphere at the dinner table can cause children to lose interest in the meal.

Suggestion: talk about positive and happy topics during meal times with your children; maybe even have soft music playing in the background.

2) Encourage your children to drink small amounts of warm fluids around meal times

Generally, the body creates mild digestive juice before meals and sends it to the stomach in order to create appetite and digestion. Digestive juice is very important to help digestion. If you drink too much, the digestive juices will not be as effective, resulting in poor appetite, bloating and indigestion. In the long-term, it will affect a child’s digestion and cause poor appetite.

It is also important to avoid giving children large amounts of cold drinks before / during / directly after meals, as this will reduce circulation around the stomach, causing poor appetite.

Suggestion: have very small amounts of warm soup or tea around meal times to support digestion.

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3) Leave room in their tummies for meals

It takes two to four hours for solid food to clear from the stomach. If there is a certain amount of food in the stomach before the meal, it will reduce the child’s interest in eating. Avoid filling your child up on snacks an hour before meal time.

Suggestion: give small snacks (e.g. a small apple or banana, or small tub of yoghurt, a boiled egg) between meals.

4) Make dinner time a regular, early affair

Children (especially under 10 years of age) are better off not eating dinner too late, as they need to go to bed earlier. If a child eats too late at night, they have no time to digest the food and their appetite for breakfast the following day will be affected.

Suggestion: there should be at least three hours between the meal and bed time to allow proper digestion and a restful sleep.

5) Encourage children to have more outdoor activity in the sunlight, during the day

Chinese Medicine considers activity to create Yang (warmth) and Qi (energy) for the body, as well as improving internal organ function and digestion. Physical activity helps stimulate the appetite and bowel movements.

Suggestion: let children enjoy a minimum of 3 hours of ‘green’ time (outside, away from computers and television).

Long term poor appetite can not only affect a child’s physical growth but also their emotional development. Therefore, establishing good eating habits early will benefit children for the rest of their lives.

We hope these five tips can help to improve your child’s poor appetite and allow your family to enjoy your mealtimes together.

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