“My belly hurts.” You’ve probably heard your child say it after she’s finished eating. The good news? Most post-meal tummy troubles aren’t cause for concern, and they’re often easy to fix once you figure out the cause, says Julie Khlevner, M.D., a pediatric gastroenterologist at Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital in Manhattan. Here, some common complaints you might recognize from your own kid-and the easy ways to alleviate them.
The Problem: Three bites in and he’s full!
The Culprit: Compared to adults, kids are better at registering when they’ve eaten enough, so they’re more likely to be satisfied faster. “Young kids still have the mechanism that tells them to stop eating when they’re full,” says Alissa Rumsey, a registered dietitian at New York Presbyterian Hospital/ Weill Cornell Medical Center.
The Fix: Allow your child to react to his personal and internal fullness signs–even if there’s more food left on his plate than you might like. Forcing young kids to eat when they’ve had their fill can lead to overeating and negative feelings about food when they are older, says Jenifer Thompson, a registered dietitian at John Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore, Maryland. Worried he won’t get enough nutrition? Encourage your child to eat the nutrient-dense foods on his plate first (like veggies or chicken) and save the heavier, starchy stuff (like potatoes) for last.
The Problem: She’s plowing through her meal to get back outside to play with her friends.
The Culprit:Eating too fast can cause extra air intake, leading to stomach discomfort, says Rumsey. Plus, if digestive tract muscles can’t keep up with the amount of food passing through during digestion, kids can get queasy.
The Fix: Eat as a family when you can–and be a role model by sitting and eating slowly yourself. “This helps reinforce the concept that meals are a time to relax and focus on eating, rather than something that must be rushed,” Khlevner says. Proper chewing helps, too. Experts recommend chewing food 20 to 45 times before swallowing. If you’ve got a real speed racer, try having your child take a small bite and count on her fingers the number of times she chews before swallowing.
The Problem: He’s tooting and has a puffed-out pooch.
The Culprit: Some of the healthiest foods are also gas and bloat igniters. High fiber is one of the things that makes food like broccoli, legumes, and whole grains so good for you–yet it can be hard for some kids’ digestive systems to break down.
The Fix: The key is easing kids into high-fiber foods gradually: Figure out his fiber goal by adding five grams to his age (a five-year-old needs 10 grams of fiber a day). Over the course of a few weeks, slowly up the amount of fiber he’s eating until you reach his recommended daily amount. (Check out nationalfibercouncil.org to learn what foods have what fiber amounts.) If this gradual plan doesn’t work, and the discomfort persists, worsens, or is more frequent, talk to his doctor–it could be a sign of a food intolerance or irritable bowl syndrome.