Health Education

Toddlers and Picky Eating

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After the first year of life, growth rate slows dramatically. Most children will double their birth weight by 6 months and triple it by one year, growing an average of 14-16 lbs in the first year. In the second year, weight gain slows to 7-8 lbs and, in subsequent years, slows to an average of 4-5 lbs per year. Height growth rate similarly decreases from 12-14 inches in the first year to a steady rate of 3-4 inches in all subsequent years. There are many reasons for this drop in growth rate, not the least of which is the accelerated movement that coincides with the first birthday. The important result of all this is there is a concurrent decrease in energy requirements and a drop in the food intake. This change in the food consumption pattern, usually worrisome to most parents, is normal. To repeat, this change in the food consumption pattern, usually worrisome to most parents is normal.

Why are toddlers such picky eaters?

Toddlers are extremely interested in learning about their environment. Because of the ready availability of food, they are quite capable of using food creatively in pursuit of this important priority much to the chagrin of their parents. Developmentally, the average 12 month old can place food on a spoon but has difficulty in directing the spoon and the food on it into his or her mouth. The same thing occurs with a cup. Spills and messes are the rule rather than the exception.

What are the basic needs for my child?

Nutritional requirement vary from 1400- 2400 calories per day! Children ages 1-3 require approximately 600 mg calcium per day (12-15 oz) where children 4-5 need 800 mg (15-18oz) a day. Remember that 2% or skim milk is fine after age 2. Cheese and yogurt are fine for calcium supplements but beware of excess sugars and look for Vitamin D supplementation.

What about the portion size?

It’s less than you think. One portion equals about 1 tablespoon per year of age. For example, a two year old requires about 2 tablespoons (or 1/8 of a cup) of carrots to equal one serving of vegetable! (The average adult serving is ½ cup).

What can I do for my child?

In general, patience is a necessary virtue. Introduce new foods gradually; toddlers have erratic tastes and it takes a while to become used to a particular food item. Often coupling a familiar, tasty food with a new one is helpful in overcoming this resistance. Use small, child-size portions and provide seconds when your child seems interested. Frequent feeding of small portions may not be as convenient for you, but will encourage your toddler to eat. However, beware of “grazing” all day long. Offer food at 3 meals and 2-3 snack times.

Make eating an enjoyable experience. Quiet surroundings with no blaring TVs or radios help reduce distractions and enhance food intake. Try to imagine yourself in your child’s place. Remember that it’s difficult to enjoy your food when your feet are suspended in midair and provide a high chair that allows your child’s feet to lie on a foot rest. 6) Set a good example yourself. Children need role models for all of their behaviors. Be patient and understanding, but set boundaries. Offer lots of variety but limited choices. The whole family will then benefit from the experience.

Shop smart! Remember, you control what your children eat so choose some healthy foods. Follow the recommendations for 5 fruits and vegetables per day. Good habits start now!

What if my child refuses milk?

Try to serve it at room temperature because cold milk is painful to a teething child, serve with a colored straw, cook cereals with milk and use other milk-based products like yogurts and cheeses, use flavored milk products.

What if my child drinks too much milk?

Offer milk only at specified times like after meals, substitute water for milk whenever possible. Children never need more than 24 oz. per day.

What if my child refuses meat?

Remember that rotary and side to side chewing don’t develop until the end of the second year and give minced moist meats or meats that are easily chewed like turkey and chicken, offer mild flavored fish including tuna, offer eggs, peanut butter and tofu/legumes as meat protein substitutes. The truth is that meat is not critical and that protein and fat can be provided with vegetables and dairy.

What if my child refuses fruits or vegetables?

Use milk to moisten mashed potatoes, introduce small portions of bite-size pieces of raw or cooked vegetables, add fresh or dry fruits to cereals, jello, pudding or ice cream, and when all else fails, remember there’s always tomorrow.

What else can I do to increase my child’s familiarity to foods?

Sing familiar songs about food-“On Top of Spaghetti," "I Found a Peanut," "Ten Bottles of Milk on the Shelf," or sing "Old MacDonald Had a Farm," using a variety of vegetables instead of animals. Play games that involve food like grocery store (keep old boxes and jars) or restaurant. Take a food related field trip. Also, let children explore foods; sometimes it’s okay to play with food. Identify similarities and differences (colors and shapes, tastes and textures) and play counting games.