Recently I was reminded of the power of a competent eater – even when sick. A competent eater is able to know what their body needs to be healthy.
My little one was sick recently, and as is normal with an illness, he lost his appetite for a couple days, and had a fever. During this time, as most parents, I was concerned with his fluid intake as dehydration is a common due to fever and poor intake when they are sick. (This is exacerbated by the hot, tropical climate in which we live.) What happened? As is often the case, he didn’t want to eat anything, but was drinking milk like it was going out of style. I often use Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility with fluids when my little one is sick – I offer the standard 3 meals of day, as the rest of the family has to eat, and provides the option to eat, but I also offer a variety of fluids – milk, chocolate milk, juice, yoghurt drink, water, coconut water. I have an assortment that I rotate to encourage fluid intake. After his appetite starting picking up, he went on a protein spree – all he ate was the protein from the meals for the rest of the week and slowly increased other foods back into his diet. By trusting my little one knew what his body needed, there was no struggle over food with him and limited additional stress for me, as I trusted he was getting his needs met. From a nutritional standpoint, the additional need for protein makes sense as protein needs go up with fever and illness as the body combats the illness.
Often, parents are concerned that their child will only drink fluids and limit the amount of fluids they provide. For normal times, my recommendation is to often offer milk (if child can consume) and water at meals, but during times of illness, relaxing any limits on beverages to encourage fluid intake, especially if a child is not consuming fluids well. Fluids like food, cannot be forced to be consumed unless a child is hospitalized and provided intravenously. If this can be avoided by providing a child options, it will limit the stress. Illness is common during childhood, and can be a stressful time for parents. Keep following the Division of Responsibility and trust your child knows what his/her needs are.