What to do if your child is losing weight

Words of wisdom from one of our dietitians, Shannon Burkett.

When your child has a problem with gaining weight, it can be worrisome and cause stress.  Weight loss can be a result from an underlying medical problem, therefore it is important to you’re your child evaluated by their physician.  Certain eating behaviors and food aversions can also decrease your child’s nutrition intake and can cause poor weight gain or weight loss. 

Here are some things you can do as a parent to help your child get the nutrition he or she needs. 

  1.  Always ask a physician or dietitian before buying expensive nutrition supplements advertised on television or the internet.  These products may have claims that are not supported by scientific evidence and can put a big dent in your wallet.
  2. Keep a journal of your child’s diet.  Track what time your child eats, how much time it takes your child to complete meals, types of food and drink along with amounts consumed, where meals are eaten, and any other information, such as distractions.  This will help you and your physician or dietitian identify possible causes of eating problems.  
  3. Increase calories in foods your child already likes to eat.  Add 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil to dishes, such as pasta, salads, and other vegetables.  Use oil in place of cooking spray when preparing your child’s meal.  Avoid low fat dressings and dips.  Add sugar or honey to foods to increase calories, such as fruits and cereals.  Use whole milk in place of low fat for drinking and for cooking.
  4. Commercial drinks are available to supplement calories and protein in your child’s diet.  Talk to your child’s doctor or dietitian about which supplement fits your child’s needs.
  5. When children drink a lot of juice or milk, this can suppress their appetite for mealtime.  Avoid offering fluids 30 minutes before it’s time to eat.  Limit juice to no more than 4 ounces per day and do not offer more than 24 ounces of milk daily (16 ounces for under the age of 3 years).  Offer water for fluids.
  6. A parent’s role is to prepare healthy foods.   It is up to a child whether he or she chooses to eat the food offered.  Never force a child to eat his or her food and avoid nagging at meals because this is a battle you will never win.   Mealtime should be enjoyable for all family members and this behavior only leads to bigger problems. 

Dietitians can work with you to help ensure your child gets the proper nutrition he or she needs.  Talk to your child’s physician about a referral to our outpatient nutrition clinic where you can work one on one with one of our dietitians.

About Shannon Burkett

I’ve worked at Dayton Children’s for 3 years  and cover hematology and oncology as well as parenteral  nutrition support.  I graduated with a bachelor degree in elementary education from Purdue University in 2000 and graduated in 2004 from Loyola University of Chicago, where I studied Nutrition and Dietetics.   I  spent 1 year as a dietetic intern at Miami Valley Hospital.  My love to run and my goal is to complete the Air Force Marathon next year.  I also love cooking and spending time with my 2 children.

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We have created this blog as a way to communicate key childrens' health and safety issues to parents and other child advocates. It is managed by Dayton Children's department of marketing communications. Comments can be sent to rodneyg@childrensdayton.org.

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