Whenever a new mom tells me what a great eater her one year old is, I smile politely and say something encouraging like, “Gee, that’s great!” But I’m actually thinking, “You don’t even know what’s coming!”
Feeding toddlers can be challenging–after all, their growth has slowed (which can lower appetite) and they’re testing out their newfound independence. But stay the course: Continue to offer your child an array of healthy foods because “research shows that when left to make their own choices children will, over time, eat in a way that is nutritionally balanced,” says Dr. Yvonne Gustafson, Ph.D., co-author of the new book Tools For The Toddler Years. (You can enter to win a copy of the book in this giveaway that ends Friday.)
She offers these reassuring pointers that ring true for kids of all ages:
1. Each meal does not have to be nutritionally “perfect.” It is what is eaten over the course of a day—some pediatricians suggest over the course of a week—that matters. So, if on Tuesday your toddler is on a cereal kick, remember that it can be balanced with other essential nutrients on Thursday.
2. Understanding portion size can help you resist the urge to “push” food. In general, a serving size is one measured tablespoon per age of child. How many chunks of green bean can actually fit in a measured tablespoon? Two, maybe three? When your toddler eats four bites of green bean she has probably eaten an amount appropriate to her age and size. Further, you may find that when portions are kept small it is easier for the child to focus, rather than be distracted by the science of mixing and smearing all the food before them.
3. Understand that your child may have his own internal eating clock. He may love a big breakfast and lighter fare for dinner. Or, he may not be ready for very much food until mid-morning. Noticing and planning your offerings to match your child’s preferences can create a more positive relationship with food.
4. Expect fluctuations. When a child is in a growth spurt everything about serving size and interest in food can shift. Some days it may seem your child packs away more food than you! In the absence of power struggles over food, trust her body to eat what it needs to maintain the energy she needs.
5. Be aware of alternative sources of nutrition. For instance, for the child not yet ready to handle the textures of meat, try mashed up beans or cubes of tofu for protein.
For more parenting tips, check out Your Parenting Matters.
Illustration by Greg Bonnell