Why Has My Toddler’s Appetite Decreased?

Many parents are concerned about their child’s intake during the toddler and preschool years; however chances are there is no need to worry. 

Age

Growth

1-3 years

Slows

4-6 years

Spurts

7-10 years

Slows

Infants consume calories frequently throughout the day due to the rapid growth that occurs within the first year of life.  From birth to one year of age, infants triple their weight and increase length by 50 percent.  After this time, growth begins to slow resulting in decreased appetite, which is why you may see a decrease in intake of your toddler.

The most important measure to assess your child is the CDC Growth Charts.  It is important to remember that when using these charts, the key is to track the trends of growth rather than at a specific point in time.  Your pediatrician can help you determine when your child’s growth pattern falls out of line. Starting at age two, Body Mass Index (BMI) can be measured to determine over- or under- weight status, keeping in mind that normal weight is between five and 85 percent, and that BMI may decrease during the preschool years.

If you think your child’s appetite and intake are significantly being affected, bring it up with your pediatrician.  There are several reasons your toddler may not be getting a sufficient caloric intake.  The following list includes some common causes:

  • Digestive problems, including celiac disease, diarrhea, gastrointestinal reflux, food allergies/intolerances
  • Asthma/breathing problems
  • Neurological conditions, such as seizures

Tips for feeding your toddler:

  • Introduce new foods with familiar ones to avoid food jags (consuming the same foods).
  • Continue to offer new foods each day, and don’t give up too easily.  It may take up to 20 times for a child to accept a new food!
  • Meal time should be an enjoyable experience so minimize distractions during eating, such as turning off the television and removing toys or games, and be sure to sit your child down at the table.
  • Try to eat foods with your toddler, you are the role model!  If they see you enjoying your food, they will be more inclined to eat too.
  • Serve your child a small amount of food at a time and wait for her to ask for more, rather than serving a large portion initially.
  • Offer healthy snacks throughout the day (avoiding juice/cookies/sweets/etc.) since children at this age are unable to eat large volumes of food at one time.  Work toward establishing a regular feeding schedule, with snacks between meals.
  • Engage your child in preparing meals and snacks, this will establish a positive association with mealtime and allow the child to be more apt to trying new foods.
By Alyssa Puorro, RD
Brown, J. (2008). Nutrition through the lifecycle (3rd ed.). California: Thomson Wadsworth.
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