Making sure your toddler gets proper nutrition
As Baby transitions from infancy to toddlerhood, table food will begin to replace breast milk or formula as their primary source of nutrition. This shift can be a difficult time for children and parents, as you may find that Baby is less interested in mealtime, and prefers to keep playing, rather than to be strapped into their highchair to eat. In addition, many toddlers are picky eaters, which can leave parents to wonder whether or not their children are receiving the nutrients they need for healthy growth.
The good news is that this struggle is normal and, in most cases, relatively short-lived. Encouraging Baby to try new foods can feel like a waste of time sometimes, but the more often Baby is exposed to new foods, the better their chances are of getting used to these new foods, and expanding their range at dinnertime. Teaching good habits, and having some extra patience, can help make the transition to table food easier, until Baby is just another normal part of your mealtime routine.
Tips for Mealtime Success
- Offer a variety: At this age, you may find that Baby only wants to eat one thing, and that everything else has a new home on the floor, or piled in unwanted clumps on the edges of their plate. Don’t be discouraged by this – a picky period is fairly normal, and has a better chance of going away more quickly if you don’t make a big deal of it, which can give it the chance to become a power struggle. At each meal, offer something from each food group – even if it doesn’t get eaten. According to the Mayo Clinic, it can take repeated exposure to a new food before children will take the first bite, and even then it can take repeated tastes before it starts to taste normal or good to your little one. Continuing to offer a variety of foods with different textures can help you avoid pickiness down the road.
- Be a good role model: Let’s face it: french fries are delicious, and ice cream is a great after-dinner treat. Still, it’s important to teach Baby about moderation – even at a young age. Encourage them to try healthy foods by making meals a sit-down occasion as often as possible, and describe the food as you eat it (“this yogurt is cold and sweet”). As they begin to understand what to expect, it will make them more inclined to try a bite.
- Watch portion sizes: It’s difficult to gauge the exact amount Baby should be eating, though experts recommend toddlers get somewhere between 1,000 and 1,400 calories per day. Your goal is to ensure Baby is not only eating a variety of healthy foods, but also that you’re providing appropriate portions. A good rule of thumb is to start with about a quarter size of an adult serving, and to encourage them to ask for more if they are still hungry. Toddlers’ appetites are often smaller than what their parents expect them to be, based either on adult portion sizes or Baby‘s appetite in babyhood. Part of this is that babies in their first year of life grow incredibly quickly, and they tend to eat a lot more proportionately than toddlers, whose growth slows considerably. Offering small portions, and seconds if Baby wants more will help them to get in tune with their body, rather than providing an amount that is too large and then asking them to take “one more bite.”
If your child is growing along their regular growth curve, it’s a good indication that they are getting the nutrition they need. Don’t be discouraged by the occasional hunger strike, as they are to be expected, and generally don’t last long. If you have concerns about Baby’s growth or eating habits, contact their pediatrician for an evaluation.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. “Nutrition for kids: Guidelines for a healthy diet.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic, January 16 2016.