Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Mercy and Practical Help for Feeding Toddlers

Because toddlers and small, and their tummies are small, they can't eat very much at any one sitting, so they get hungry every few hours. They need nutritious food at these times to fuel their growth, meet their energy needs, and keep the "crankies" at bay.

Planning healthy snacks every few hours indeed takes work. When we're busy, and they start whining that they're hungry, it's often easier to grab something quick from the cupboard. These quick choices may not provide optimum nutrition. I have found it helps so much to plan some snack ideas for each day as I'm writing my menu plans for the week (even though I haven't posted them lately, I'm still writing them!).

There are other challenges when it comes to feeding toddlers as well. That's why I am sharing the following tips, which are excerpted from my Cent$ible Nutrition Cookbook and based on Ellyn Satter’s approach as a dietitian to feeding children. As with anything, adapt these to fit your own family. I should also note that these tips are intended to help families with reasonably healthy children; children with special needs may need a different approach.

  • Serve foods near room temperature. Foods that are too hot or too cold can hurt a young child’s sensitive mouth.
  • Offer new foods gradually and matter-of-factly. It is advised to not force a child to try the new food. Introduce new foods only when the child is hungry and serve it with familiar foods. Talk about the new food, its taste, color, texture, how it grows. Accept rejection but serve it again in a week or so. A food can be offered 8 to 10 times before a child will accept it. Try preparing it different ways.
  • Set a good example yourself by eating healthy foods.
  • Provide three meals and planned nutritious snacks so that food is available every 2 to 3 hours. Energy needs are high and a child’s stomach is small.
  • Children (usually at about 3-4 years old) may have food jags where they demand the same food over and over. Continue to offer a variety of foods at regular times. As long as the child demands food that is not high in calories and low in nutrients, be patient until the food jag passes.
  • Present a variety of foods at mealtime, and let the child pick from what is available. [Again, this is the recommended advice in my book; modify it to fit your family.]
  • Plan meals in advance, including requests from all family members. Planning helps moderate food jags. [By planning, you can say, “We’re having ____ for lunch today. I’m not making macaroni and cheese again. But we’ll have that in a few days.”]
  • Children may develop food rituals where they always want to wear a certain bib, use a particular cup, or have their sandwich cut in a particular way. “Food rituals help children feel more secure…Let them have their rituals; they are usually short-lived.” [In my house, one of my boys always had to eat with a certain color utensil. He has since outgrown this.]
  • Your child may learn to get attention by refusing to eat. Give the child plenty of attention before and during the meal for reasons other than not eating.
  • Give children small portions and let them ask for seconds. This makes them feel successful and helps reduce overeating.
  • As children reach age 4-5, parents may still need to cut up some foods, especially meat.
  • Children may tire of chewing and may take food out of their mouths. You can train them in how to use a napkin when one needs to discreetly remove food from one’s mouth.
  • Offer a variety of colors and shapes in meals.
  • The more involved in the preparation of a meal, the more likely the child is to eat it. Give children age-appropriate jobs.

These tips really helped me with one of our children in particular, who was quite picky and ate like a bird. His eating made me very anxious. But once I learned that my job was to supply healthy food every few hours (meals and snacks), and his job was to choose what to eat and how much to eat (my husband and I still offered guidance though), it helped me loosen up. Now he eats pretty well. That works for me!

Other helpful information can be found here. Ellyn Satter's site offers nutrition and meal-time advice for children from birth through age 17. I also recommend the following of her books:



Next time, we'll be addressing ways we can use food to help teach various skills. Whether or not you homeschool, there are some fun ideas here!


No comments:

Post a Comment