When she had just weaned her child, she was not sure what the baby would eat. Ruth Akello was keen about giving healthy foods to her baby but had started feeding her when she was about four months because she did not have enough breastmilk. At first, the baby liked the food that had been introduced and would cry if it was not fed.
“When she got used to the food, she literally ate everything whenever she was hungry. After three months, she, however, developed a very poor appetite that she would even vomit the little food I forced her to eat.” Akello had tried all the soft foods that friends had recommended in vain.
Poor eating is becoming one of the biggest problems among toddlers, according to Peter Rukundo, a researcher at the department of human nutrition and home economics at Kyambogo University. Many children in the transitioning period from weaning to solid foods are malnourished because complementary feeding is a big challenge to most mothers.
“If a mother starts feeding the baby on other food before it is six months, the baby loses appetite along the way. Breastmilk is more desired and they keep refusing the food,” he says.
He cautions parents to be very vigilant about their children’s health because the leading cause of poor appetite is infection and illness. “A healthy baby will never fall short of appetite. It will always want to eat unless they have an infection in the lungs or any other illness.”
Also, children may become poor eaters, especially if the meals are not served regularly at the same time. Uniform meals bore toddlers.
He says: “Even the way the food is prepared can be a reason toddlers refuse to eat it. Food for children needs to be lightly fried with fortified oils and if the food is too plain, it is very boring for the children. You can season the food with local vegetables and herbs to add flavour to the food.”
What to do
Rukundo also advises parents and child caretakers to avoid adding a lot of artificial sugar to their food until they are about two years or no sugar completely. This is because such artificial sugar affects their teeth and is likely to cause infections in the stomach.
He says: “There is need to appreciate the needs of toddlers when it comes to nutrients. Essential nutrients include proteins because they are still growing and many of their organs are still developing, energy giving foods because this is the time they are very active, calcium for healthy bones and teeth, as well as fruits and vegetables for essential vitamins and trace minerals.”
Foods like fish including mukene are a wonder food for children, chicken with the skin and eggs, yoghurt, whole grains, legumes, avocado and green vegetables are all very important. Avoid monotonous meals that contain one type of food for toddlers. They get bored very quickly.
Remember, also at the time of weaning, to keep the complementary food as soft as possible so that it can easily be digested. “Their digestive system at that time is basically used to milk, if you give them hard food, it will be hard to digest and they are very likely to refuse it,” he says. Rukundo also warns that: “For toddlers, give a variety of foods in a meal and give smaller amounts that are more frequent to cover up the gap. Never force a toddler to eat food when they refuse or they will vomit.”