My child does not eat” is one of the most frequent consultations at pediatricians’ offices.
This often has to do more with bad nutritional habits than with physical problems.
Many times the problem focuses on the lack of adequate foods, an excessive quantity of flour and starch, and poor ingestion of meat and fruits.
Other inconveniences are related to the absence of the mother, who has to work outside, and a “compensation” based on sweets, ready-made food, fast food restaurants and a lot of fizzy drinks, which in adequate quantities do not harm the children but in excess prevent them from being hungry and from getting the necessary nutrients to grow up healthily.
Finally, the slimming obsession (“I do not want my child to be obese”), the influence of some publicity stereotypes and certain permissiveness also cause problems that can be avoided.
Quality and quantity
The best thing for a child is love, shown to him/her through affection, stimulation and good examples, but also through the preparation of simple dishes which are nutritional and tasty.
Parents should stimulate children to do outdoor sports, besides going to school, which together with games, socialization and the example always set by parents, educate them day after day.
Though schoolchildren can eat a bit of everything to grow up healthily, they need an adequate proportion of proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, micronutrients (iron, calcium and vitamins) and minerals found in the great variety of foods the market offers: red meat, chicken, fish, vegetables, fruits and dairy products with their derivatives.
It is true that children have their own likes and dislikes; that is why, mothers have to “conceal” those foods they do not like.
In general, vegetables are not very popular so we should prepare omelettes, canneloni, puddins, etc.
If it is fruit they do not like, we would rather make ice-cream, juice, custard, fruit salad, etc. Likewise, we can “change” meat into schnitzel, stew, etc.
Of course, the best thing is to teach children to eat “good” foods as from the moment they give up the nursing bottle. Here intervenes the example we mentioned before, since parents cannot make a child eat vegetables, fruit or meat if they themselves do not eat them.
Cases and cases
There are children who have an adequate weight but nevertheless are undernourished. They are called “farinaceous” because the basic ingredient in their alimentation is flour (pasta, bread, etc.)
Other are overweight and in some cases there is incipient anorexia.
If there are no physical problems we generally talk about a “disease of the family”; we start by knowing about the children’s every day life by means of an alimentary calendar where they write down what they do and eat during a day or week.
Many times we can only talk about habit problems, easily solved with family help.
When a mother notices any kind of problem as regards feeding, the first and most essential thing she must do is to consult a pediatrician.
Secondly, she must observe her child’s social behaviour, encourage him/her to do varied activities, establish a timetable for the child to watch TV (forbidding is not a solution).
Parents can try to change the children’s nutritional habits by offering things to them; we should have, for instance, fruit juice, fresh fruit, delicious sandwiches, home-made desserts, etc. at hand.
The idea is that sweets and fizzy drinks should be “prize and celebration”, as they were when parents were children. We are not saying they must be forbidden, but they must keep the importance they have in the alimentation, and not more. Moreover, it is important for children not to have diet products without having being prescribed by the doctor.
What about breakfast?
This means trouble to a lot of mothers, no matter whether the child goes to school in the morning or in the afternoon. In the first case, children are not hungry if they get up on the edge of time; thus, they have a cup of coffee and milk, at most. If the child attends school in the afternoon, sometimes breakfast and lunch are too close to each other.
In the first case it is important for the child to get up early enough to have a good breakfast. This meal should be made a ritual during which the parents and the child share the food, a conversation and the news on the radio.
A full table, properly laid with butter, cheese, jam, toasts, juice, yoghurt, etc. is a temptation and, little by little, the child will make it a habit.
Breakfast is an important meal because the body has received no food for at least about 8 hours.
We must bear in mind that it is not a big sacrifice, even though the mother must go to work; preparing our typical argentine breakfast, coffee and milk with toasts, only takes a few minutes. The occasion will also be a chance for the family to be together .
In the case of children who attend school in the afternoon there are two courses of action:
They can have breakfast early so that there is time before lunch or they can have “brunch” . If the child is tense before going to school, a big breakfast is not good so he/she will only have a cup of coffeee, milk, tea, etc. and will take something to eat at school later (sandwiches, an individual tart, fruit, etc.) and he/she will have a proper meal when he/she returns home.
It is important to talk with the child to know exactly what he/she would like to eat. We could give him/her a list of foods out of which he/she could choose.
The child is a person who can be taught but who has his/her own personality.
Until some years ago, the classical argentine alimentary programme had been composed of breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner. This has been changing due to two reasons: scientists assure that eating less and more often is healthier (about 6 times a day); the other reason is that city life nowadays does not let us follow all the customs we have inherited.
In many homes lunch has been left aside and, therefore, communication has deteriorated. We need to rescue those moments when the family, including children, can be together (breakfast and dinner).
Those moments are not only to eat but also to educate.
Some practical advice and recipes
As children must have fruit and juice, a good idea is to make fruit salad with orange and / or tangerine juice. Remember that fruits must be squeezed when they are about to be drunk, otherwise, they lose their quality.
If the idea is to “conceal fruit”, make ice-cream with yoghurt or cream.
Home-made burgers, with minced meat, ground cheese, salt, onions and garlic, all chopped and pre-cooked. Mix and form the burgers. Put them in the fridge. They can be served as a sandwich or on a plate.
We can do the same using fish or chicken.