Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The WHAT and WHEN of feeding a toddler

I've entered an interesting phase in the feeding of my little 1 1/2 year old (though if you've seen her, you'd realize she's not really so 'little'). My once enthusiastic eater who tried anything and everything now shows a little more skepticism about food. Oh yes, and sometimes instead of eating it she likes to wear it! Hence the photo above (a la PB in hair). Ah toddlerhood! Her suspicions about unfamiliar foods can sometimes create a little anxiety for me. However, I find comfort in knowing that as long as I fall back on the division of responsibility in feeding developed by Ellyn Satter, my daughter and I will be fine! So, here's my reminder about that division of responsibility:
1) Parents/caregivers are responsible for what, when, and where a child eats.
2) The child is responsible for how much and whether to eat.

Upon the request of a blog-reader and friend, I decided to address the what and when aspect of feeding a toddler this week.

Some find it amazing that children actually need more calories and protein per pound of body weight than adults! The average 1-3 year old needs roughly 990-1050 calories per day; however, don't start tallying up those calories yet! Starting around the age of one a child's growth begins to slow in comparison to that first year of life, and if you have a toddler or have ever been around one during meal times, you will know that their food intake can seem quite sporadic. That's because they go through periods of rapid growth and slower growth. You've also probably noticed that those little ones can be quite active at times! The great thing about children is that they are very intuitive eaters. That is, they can feed themselves very well depending on their hunger and satiety cues. So being overly concerned about the how much part of a toddler's eating can actually do more harm than good, and counting calories is not necessary.

With that said, let's dig into this what part. You may or may not be surprised to know that what a child needs to eat is really not that different from what an adult needs. Although the portion sizes are scaled down quite a bit. We can take some cues from the Food Guide Pyramid for Young Children. This suggests: 6 servings of grains, 3 servings of vegetables, 2 servings of fruit, 2 servings of milk, and 2 servings of meat each day. So, how do I know what a serving is, you ask? Well, a good rule of thumb is to offer about 1-2 T of food per year of life. That would be appropriate for foods like meat, fish, poultry, pasta, rice, vegetables, and fruit. As for milk, about 1/4-1/3 cup is appropriate. (1/4-1/3 of an adult portion is a good start on other food items, such as bread or eggs). Keep in mind that these are amounts that you can start with; however, depending upon your child's appetite, s/he may eat more or less.

I haven't mentioned the dread F word...FAT! For children, fat should not be a bad word or nutrient. Children actually need a greater proportion of their calories from fat than adults. One benefit of fat in the child's diet is that it provides a concentrated source of energy. Consider those tiny little tummies. They can only hold so much food, and as long as children have some fat in their diets, they can more readily meet their energy needs. There are also some special types of fats, essential fatty acids, that our bodies must obtain from the diet. These essential fatty acids are important for the proper development of the nerve, eye and other tissues. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics advises against fat restriction in children ages 2 and under. After the age of 2, high fat intakes may increase the risk for childhood obesity and cardiovascular disease. At this point, it's okay for children to gradually consume fewer high-fat foods (i.e., whole milk) and consume more grain products, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, lean meats, and other protein-rich foods. Slide 10

Now let's get to the when of feeding those tiny tots. If I've learned anything important about children, it is that they thrive on structure and routine. Throw that off, and you could have one rattled child on your hands! The same goes for feeding times. Children do well with about three meals and planned snacks in between (mid-morning and mid-afternoon are appropriate). Somewhere between 2-4 hours between meals/snacks works fine, and it's okay to schedule it at a time that works for your family. Let's revisit the whole tiny tummy thing again. Our little munchkins can't usually eat a large quantity of food at one time, so they often feel hungry before the next main meal. This helps the little ones maintain adequate energy sources throughout the day. It can also help mom, dad, or caregiver not feel so bad or worried if a child declines to eat what's offered at a previous meal because s/he knows that another meal/snack is coming down the pipeline soon enough and the child might be more willing to eat what is offered later, too.

So that's it in a nutshell...at least for now. This is another topic that I could expand upon, but I'll save that for another blog post.

Here's to a happy and healthy little one!


Samantha said...[Reply to comment]

I appreciate you so much!! And I feel MUCH more confident in how I'm feeding Noah now too.

Thank you, Dear Friend! :)

A said...[Reply to comment]

thanks for posting! i am one of samantha's friends. she informed all her FF buddies that you addressed the crazy toddler eating subject in your blog. i'm glad she did! thanks again.


Meredith said...[Reply to comment]

Thank you for this post! My daughter is almost 11 months old and has yet to eat anything other than cheerios and yogurt, and is still nursing what feels like 900 times a day. I'm following your advice of 3 meals offered per day, plus a few snacks and giving her lots of different finger foods to try. Your blog is a wonderful resource...thank you!

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