Nutrition for Toddlers
During the second year of life, baby’s gastronomic options have finally broadened to include all the fun stuff. You may feel exhilarated by the idea of introducing exotic tastes or special family recipes. The possibilities for enriching your child’s palate seem almost limitless...until those sweet, trusting, little jaws snap tightly shut.
It seems that as soon as those toddler feet hit the pavement, they are running away from everything you try to feed them. Even if you’ve painstakingly introduced a variety of foods, a child who opened wide during the first year may become suddenly obstinate at some point during the second year, often between 12 and 18 months of age.
This normal behavioral development is a nearly universal source of (usually unnecessary) worry for parents. Ensuring that toddlers really get what they need to eat has a lot to do with adjusting parental expectations.
What Your Toddler Really Needs
Although they are increasingly active, toddlers aren’t growing as rapidly as they were during the first year of life; therefore, their energy needs actually decrease. So it may look like your toddler isn’t eating enough when she actually is.
Rather than adjusting your child’s eating habits, you may need to adjust your eyes. A serving size for a child between 12 and 36 months of age is only one-fourth to one-half of an adult serving size. That means “one serving” of bread, for example, is only ¼ to ½ a slice! Just like adults, children need a variety of grains, vegetables, fruits and proteins, but they don’t need grown-up portions.
Don’t be alarmed if your toddler’s eating patterns are as erratic as her behavior. She may eat a lot one day or during one meal and very little during the next, or may go through eating jags where only one particular food will do for several days or weeks. Kids typically make up for these imbalances later, so try not to look at whether each meal is balanced, and instead look to find the balance over time.
Very active children may eat less at mealtimes because they prefer to graze throughout the day. Their constant activity level may demand a steady stream of caloric intake, which can provide ample nutrition even if it looks a little different from the traditional three square meals. Snacks are a critical source of nutrition for these kids.
The Snack Strategy
Snacks are a great way to ensure that these busy, little folks continue to thrive despite their frenzied pace and food aversions.
But we’re not talking about letting your toddler tote around a bag of fried taters. When we say “snacks” we mean something fresh and healthy that also tastes good, whether it’s simple carrot sticks, sliced grapes, grab-and-go organic snack bars, or something creative you and your child whip up in the kitchen together.
Offer several healthy snacks between the main meals, and make sure a lot of them are portable. Stash some that have a relatively long shelf life in your car, purse, diaper bag or stroller pocket so you’re never stranded without a quick bite.
Snacks are also a great opportunity to give your child a decision to make for himself. Don’t overwhelm your toddler with choices; just offer two or three different healthy options. Depending on his exact age, independence level, temperament and motor skills, you may even consider allowing some amount of free access to snacks.
To ensure your toddler is getting enough calories from the right dietary sources, stick to the recommended amount of milk and keep the juice to a minimum.
Just when you thought your baby was old enough to allow you to sit down and eat a civilized dinner . . . she can’t sit still!
With such busy minds and active bodies, sitting through an entire meal is not realistic for many toddlers. And in some cases, a toddler’s uncooperative behavior at the dining table is not about food, it’s about control. Toddlers are constantly testing and pushing the limits, and go through stages where they want to assert themselves, their opinions and agendas.
Experts advise that you shouldn’t let meals become a battleground, but that doesn’t mean you have to become a short-order cook who delivers anything your little diner orders. Simply prepare a variety of simple, healthful foods and offer them at regular intervals throughout the day, including the family’s usual mealtimes.
Don’t fret over a few missed meals or rejected foods. Most toddlers will quickly recognize a pattern and learn when to expect meals and snacks, and they will eventually focus on other areas to test the limits.
When your child is truly hungry, he will eat. When he won’t eat, don’t engage in a power struggle. Instead try to make meals enjoyable for your toddler:
Keep foods simple. While it may sound exciting to take your child on a tour of your favorite world cuisines, this may backfire. Don’t hesitate to offer interesting and exotic things, but do expect (and accept) refusal, and be prepared with a basic alternative.
Prepare sauces, dressings or seasonings on the side so the rest of your family can still enjoy them, but your toddler doesn’t have to eat them.
Provide child-sized utensils and dishes that your toddler can get her hands around easily to encourage self-feeding.
Make meals interesting. Eat with your toddler so he has a role model. Talk and interact; don’t just expect him to listen to adult conversations. Make foods into interesting shapes or decorate them with dried fruits or nuts (or allow your toddler to do the decorating if you’re up to it).
Give an older toddler an important job like setting everyone’s napkins on the table before the meal or taking her own plate and cup to the sink afterwards, so she feels important.
Find appropriate opportunities to give your child food choices to build confidence and reduce frustration by allowing him to feel some sense of control. During grocery shopping trips, allow your toddler to pick a few items, including a favorite vegetable or a few healthful snacks. Our shelves offer an endless array of choices designed to interest kids while satisfying their nutritional needs.
While shopping, foster a healthy interest in food. Teach your child where food comes from and talk about the importance of healthy foods. Answer any questions she has about different foods in the store (and if you don’t know the answer, ask one of our team members).
The bottom line: When dinner rolls around, expect your toddler to join you at the table (at least for part of the meal), but don’t expect to meet the majority of his nutritional needs right then. Instead, make mealtime about connecting and bonding with the family, and eventually he will join in on the eating fun, too.