Good nutrition is vital for survival, physical growth, mental development, productivity, health and well-being throughout our life-spans: from the earliest stages of fetal development, birth, infancy, childhood, adolescence and on into adulthood. But it’s also normal to worry when our children refuse to eat.
In our household, everyday is a battle trying to figure out what to feed our toddler. She’s not that much of a picky eater, but if she could, she would eat the same four foods everyday – avocado, spaghetti, bread, and blueberries. But the truth is we parents sometimes worry too much about what children eat because we want them to grow up healthy. Relax, it’s normal to worry if they eat the same four foods over and over, but they’d probably graduate from those and soon-enough give in to trying new flavors. The truth is children are born knowing when they are hungry, when they are full and when it is time to stop eating, and when to make up for not eating much at one meal by eating more at the next.
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Here are some do’s and don’t regarding toddler’s eating habits:
- Don’t use food as a reward. If you say, “Eat your string beans and you can have some ice cream,” you are teaching that string beans aren’t desirable.
- Don’t force kids to eat. If you do, children stop listening to their own inner voices telling them they are full, and that can lead to overeating and obesity.
- Don’t make special meals. Just make sure to always have something at meals that a child will eat (such as bread or milk) so they won’t go hungry.
- Don’t let children graze throughout the day. Provide food choices only at meals and snack times and try to stick to the same time schedule every day.
- Do provide a mix of healthy foods. The U.S. government recently replaced the food pyramid with a simpler Choose My Plate.
- Do serve small portions and let children ask for more. An easy guide for serving sizes is a tablespoon (about the size of a 9 volt battery) of each type of food for each year of a child’s age.
- Do provide healthy snacks between meals. Kids’ stomachs are small, but they use up a lot of energy. Children should be offered the opportunity to eat approximately every 2 to 3 hours.
- Do offer new foods often.
- Do model healthy eating habits. Toddlers are more likely to try food that they see others eating and enjoying.
- Do make mealtimes enjoyable. Let children help with meal prep, make the meal a social time, and take away distractions such as TV.
- DO RELAX! A parent’s job is to provide nutritious foods. A child’s job is to decide how much and whether or not to eat.
If you’ve tried everything and your child still shows no interest in food, perhaps it may be time to visit a nutritionist or a registered dietician. You can also read more about how you can help your child obtain adequate nutrition if your child has nutritional difficulties at HIE Help Center.