If you feel like your toddler lives on practically eating nothing and is very picky with meals you are not alone. In fact most mums feel this way. In order to build realistic expectations we first need to understand a few things about the eating behaviours of toddlers.
Appetite : the previous robust appetite of infancy is no longer there. The reason is simple : infants have a gigantic growth rate ( they triple their body size from birth to age 1 ) and they need lots of calories to maintain that. On the other hand after infancy the physical growth rate is much less which means less calories needed. The average toddler needs around 1000 calories per day which after taking out 1/3 of that coming from milk what is left is actually not a lot of food. The emphasis should be at quality rather than quantity.
Emerging autonomy and independence : this leads to the first clashes with parents but is a normal phase of development all children go through. They start expressing their wants , needs and preferences and fancy doing something on their own than having parents doing it for them – that often includes eating along rather than being fed .
Parenting styles : it is now well known that coercive parenting styles are less effective compared to positive styles bases on setting good examples and praising good behaviour. Force feeding a child that does not want to eat at that particular time will probably not take you far.
Fostering healthy eating habits from early age is important
Studies show that children who learn to eat healthy from early on tend to maintain these habits later in life and are less likely to become obese or develop diabetes . Parents setting a good example during family meals is vital as toddlers tend to mimic what parents do. ‘’Do as I do’’ will work better to ‘’ Do as I say ‘’. Remember that at such early age much of our behaviour is still easily modifiable and adjustable and is the golden time to try and foster traits that will last for life.
Encourage self- feeding
Once children realize that they can use their hands and eat on their own , is absolutely understandable that they may be unhappy if you do that for them. In fact building self- feeding skills is an important milestone in their development and parents should encourage it. Most toddlers can use a spoon at around 18 months. It doesn’t matter if the process is messy or most of the food end up on the floor. It will get better with time .
What about milk
After infancy milk becomes much less important as a source of nutrients and should be limited to 500-700 ml per day. Your child should by now be getting most of the needed nutrients from solid foods. Although many parents continue to use toddler formula milks ,this is not absolutely necessary and you can use fresh cows milk .
Fruits and vegetables
Their importance in our health is paramount and is well established scientifically that people who eat the right amounts of fruits and vegies lead healthier lives and have reduced risk of diseases like cancer and heart disease. We now recommend the ‘’five a day rule’’ which means five portions of fruits or vegies per day. What counts as one portion is the amount that can fit in your child’s palm for example in a 2 year old that would be 2 slices of apple = one portion.
Vegetarian and vegan diets
If you are vegetarian or vegan and you are wondering if its safe for your child to follow the same type of diet you should discuss this with your paediatrician . In general a well designed vegetarian diet under the supervision of a dietician is not expected to have any detrimental effect in growth or health . Vegan diets however carry risks of adverse effects in a child’s growth and health.