Feeding your toddler

Create healthy eating habits that are appropriate for toddlers.

A basic understanding of your toddler's nutritional needs can help make eating routines calm, pleasant and productive.

A basic understanding of your toddler's nutritional needs can help make eating routines calm, pleasant and productive.

Many parents struggle to create healthy eating habits for their toddlers.  Around the ages of one and two-and-a-half, children are beginning to recognize hunger, identify what they want to eat, enjoy food and stop eating when they have had enough.  At this time, toddlers are also beginning to assert their independence which can make mealtime very stressful.  When children experience many negative feelings around mealtime it can lead to poor eating habits.  A basic understanding of your toddler’s nutritional needs can help make eating routines calm, pleasant and productive.

Children need to eat far less than adults and are often given food portions that are too large. An appropriate serving for a child is about one tablespoon of each food for each year of the child’s age.  Toddlers need fewer calories than they did as infants because their physical growth has slowed dramatically.  The greatest amount of growth for a child’s body will happen between the ages of zero and two.

Michigan State University Extension suggests offering healthy foods in bite-size pieces and set regular meal and snack times.  It is common for a toddler to eat a limited variety of food and only two or three different food items.  You may also find that there are days when they hardly eat anything at all, while other days they eat more.  It is important to pay attention to what a toddler eats over a period of time rather than variety or amount of food on one particular day.  Try to avoid conflicts over these eating issues; it may create larger issues in other areas and create stress for both you and your child.  Children tend to listen to their bodies better than adults and will ask for food when they are hungry and decline food when they are not.  They are also attempting to take some control of themselves by demanding and accepting only a few food choices.  Therefore, finding a middle ground on this issue will be key for you and your child.  Trying to manage or intrude too much on their food consumption or choices can lead to poor eating habits.  While on the other hand if you completely ignore food selection and leave too many decisions, it can have the same effect.

Keep in mind that your eating habits also have a great influence over your child.  Just like other behaviors, children tend to model what they see.  Eating a variety of healthy food choices yourself will encourage your child to do the same.  You are also in control of what types of food come into your home. Avoid buying junk food to eliminate arguments and children will not demand it.  Also, make time to share meals together!

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