As young children move into their second year of life, they grow at a slower pace and sometimes their appetites lessen too. Toddlers have small stomachs and they only need small portions of food. You want to ensure that your toddler grows up with a healthy appetite but for the right foods, so you as parents are responsible for offering good food choices. To minimize the chances of any future eating disorders and weight problems, you should try to practice normal eating habits yourself and promote normal eating with the rest of your family. This sets the stage for a future normal eating pattern.
Daily eating routine
As we have said, toddlers have small stomachs, so a good routine to follow is to offer breakfast, lunch and supper with a healthy snack mid morning and another mid afternoon helping to provide the energy and nutrition your toddler needs during the day. Drinking milk or juice at other times can often affect their appetites so encourage drinking water instead in between times. In fact juice should be limited to one serving per day and then only pure natural, unsweetened juice mixed half and half with water. Fruit and whole grains are great for those snacks. A smoothie can include milk, fruit and fiber and your toddler will enjoy the taste. Everything your toddler eats should count towards his daily nutritional requirement. Offer a variety of different foods, flavors and textures for balance and to help your toddler enjoy new tastes. Toddlers can balance the amount of food eaten with exactly how much they need if they are not forced to overeat or finish all the food on the plate.
If your toddler is still breast feeding then try to continue this as long as you both wish, as there are so many health benefits for both of you. If your toddler is formula fed, he can now change to cow’s milk and this can be from a cup. He will only need 16 to 24 ounces of milk a day as he is eating foods from all of the other food groups. The cow’s milk will need to be whole milk until at least the age of two.
Avoiding future eating disorders
While you decide what and when to feed, your toddler will decide whether or not to eat and how much he will eat. Remember he will eat when he is hungry and he will not starve himself. Toddlers have a natural ability to sense when they are hungry and when they are full, so if you insist on something being finished, you are actually overriding this natural ability – even leading to future eating disorders and weight problems.
Phobias – food jags and food neophobia
Apart from small stomachs and even inconsistent eating patterns (where the amount toddler eats can vary from day to day and is perfectly normal) your toddler may also have one or other of the following:
Food jags – this is where he decides to eat just one food item meal after meal – for example he just wants “French toast”. Don’t make an issue of it and he certainly won’t become malnourished from eating only French toast for a week. Continue to offer other foods and his insistence will pass with time.
Food neophobia – this is actually a fear of new foods and even previously good eaters can start to reject any new food. However, you need to avoid pushing them to try new foods as they will become more determined to resist. Just remove the food after a reasonable length of time but continue to offer the same food regularly and again in time this phase will pass. Some toddlers may require 5 to 10 exposures to a new food before they decide to try it.
Tips for establishing a good eating and mealtime routine
1. A quiet activity or a rest before meals or snacks is a good idea as a tired or energized toddler may well not be interested in eating.
2. Meals and snacks should be in a quiet and pleasant environment without distractions. Try to serve all meals at the table and not while he is walking around.
3. Toddlers should sit at the table and eat with the family whenever possible so they can watch and copy others as well as enjoying the company.
4. Give your toddler adequate time to eat his meals and snacks so that he is not rushed, to ensure good digestion.
5. Make sure his foods are easy to handle (he should be able to explore food by touching but expect some mess) and always be around even at snack time as choking can easily occur.
6. To help your toddler drink adequate amounts of water, always have this on the table at meal and snack times. A jug of chilled water in the fridge with slices of lemon or a sprig of mint tastes good while in summer you can freeze small pieces of chopped fruit in ice blocks and add to his water. Always take filled water bottles when you go out with your toddler so you do not have to resort to buying unsuitable liquids if he gets thirsty.
7. Keep mealtimes relaxed and chat to your toddler and not just about food.
It is easier for your child to make good food choices if you offer him a healthy assortment of food from an early age. One way to encourage variety, add interest and expand the range of nutrients in your toddler’s diet is for your family to try foods from different cultures and with different ingredients.
Normal eating promotes a healthy mind and body and even fosters healthy relationships in all areas of life. Once your toddler has a say in the food he eats, he will then always be able to make a decision regarding food in the future and you will have been instrumental in this process. You will have given him yet another stepping stone towards independence