A healthy diet provides adequate nutrition, is on target with a child’s age and state of development and results in appropriate growth. Yet, when it comes to toddlers, parents and caregivers often have a difficult time getting their busy toddler to sit in the high chair and eat real food. There are a number of reasons for the disinterest. First, children, one to three years old are learning many new skills, including walking and talking; food may take a backseat to their mobility and exploration. The second reason may be that when it is time to sit and eat, a toddler’s belly may not be telling them they are hungry.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, toddlers and young children should be offered three balanced meals and two nutritious snacks a day; milk should be limited to 16-24 ounces. While milk is important, too much milk is unhealthy. First, milk is low in iron. Second, toddlers who drink a significant amount of milk typically do not experience hunger and subsequently do not eat other nutrient rich foods. This unbalanced diet can lead to iron deficiency anemia and, for some children, a failure to thrive.
Toddlers and food are of concern for many parents. When a child does not eat, parents and caregivers, worried about food intake, often put food in front of the child continuously throughout the day. During the day, a child may have a bite of food here and there and a gulp of milk as they travel from place to place. When food and milk are readily available, their little tummy never learns hunger and, as a result, a healthy eating routine does not take hold.
If mealtimes are inconsistent, it is important to work toward a routine. Offer breakfast, lunch and dinner and two nutritious snacks at regular times each and every day. Remember that children often eat sporadically over one day or several days, just like we are hungrier on some days and not so hungry others. In addition, limit the amount of liquid calories in the child’s diet, including juice. When meals are scheduled, parents and caregivers can start to relax in the knowledge that if the child did not eat at lunch, they will be offered a nutritious snack within a few hours.
Mealtimes are an opportunity for the child and family members to interact. Try to sit down together, without distractions, share a meal and conversation. Every child’s health and development depend on good nutrition, emotional stability, stimulation and positive encouragement.
As pediatricians, it is our role to partner with parents to help their child though many social, emotional and physical developments as they grow into young adulthood. Be sure and discuss concerns or ask questions about your child’s physical, emotional or mental growth. One of our main goals is to assist and encourage the healthy and continued growth and development of your child.