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Toddler Nutrition

Food provides the energy and nutrients that young children need to be healthy. Toddlers are learning to feed themselves and to eat new foods. They should eat a variety of foods from all of the food groups.

The toddler (ages 1 to 3 years) phase can often be challenging when it comes to feeding. Several developmental changes occur at this time. Toddlers are striving for independence and control. Their growth rate slows down and with this comes a decrease in appetite. These changes can make meal time difficult. It is important for parents to provide structure and set limits for the toddler.

The following are suggestions to help manage mealtimes so that the toddler gets the nutrition he/she needs:

♥ Avoid battles over food and meals.
♥ Provide regular meals and snacks.
♥ Be flexible with food acceptance as toddlers are often afraid of new things.
♥ Be realistic about food amounts. Portion size should be about one-fourth the size of an adult portion.
♥ Limit juice intake to about 4 to 6 ounces per day.
♥ Dessert should not be used as a reward. Try serving it with the rest of the food.

Make the food easy for your toddler to eat:

♥ Cut food into bite-sized pieces.
♥ Make some foods soft and moist.
♥ Serve foods near room temperature.
♥ Use ground meat instead of steak or chops.
♥ Use a child-sized spoon and fork with dull prongs.
♥ Seat your child at a comfortable height in a secure chair.

Prevent choking by:

♥ Slowly adding more difficult-to-chew foods.
♥ Avoiding foods that are hard to chew and/or swallow such as nuts, raw carrots, gum drops, jelly beans, and peanut butter (by itself).
♥ Modifying high-risk foods: cut hot dogs in quarters, cut grapes in quarters, and cook carrots until soft.
♥ Always supervising your child when he/she is eating.
♥ Keeping your child seated while eating.

Nutrition and activity tips for toddlers:

♥ Try to control when and where food is eaten by your children by providing regular daily meal times with social interaction and demonstration of healthy eating behaviors.
♥ Involve children in the selection and preparation of foods and teach them to make healthy choices by providing opportunities to select foods based on their nutritional value.
♥ For children in general, reported dietary intakes of the following are low enough to be of concern by the USDA: vitamin E, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and fiber. 
♥ Parents are encouraged to provide recommended serving sizes for children.
♥ Parents are encouraged to limit children’s video, television watching, and computer use to less than two hours daily and replace the sedentary activities with activities that require more movement.
♥ Children and adolescents need at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity on most days for maintenance of good health and fitness and for healthy weight during growth.
♥ To prevent dehydration, encourage children to drink fluid regularly during physical activity and drink several glasses of water or other fluid after the physical activity is completed.

How Much Should My Toddler Eat?

Parents are often concerned whether or not their child ate enough at a meal or throughout the course of a day. They want to know that they are meeting the needs of their growing child. A parent’s role in feeding their child involves many steps.

General guidelines for feeding your toddler

♥ First, it is the parent’s responsibility to decide which foods to serve and to serve the correct portion size. Remember portion sizes for toddlers are a lot smaller than portion sizes for adults. Hopefully the meals will be healthy and balanced, reflective of the parent’s own diet. Even preschool-aged children eat more when large portions of highly palatable foods are offered. Providing parents with some guidelines for age-appropriate portions may be helpful.
♥ It is your child’s job to determine how much to eat of the correct portion you serve. Some may choose not to eat at all and that is OK! Research reveals that 99% of children are very good at listening to their own hunger and satiety cues. Trust them on this skill.
♥ Lastly, remember to reinforce the importance of regular meal times and healthy food choices. Good eating habits are formed early in life.

Daily servings for toddlers

♥ Fruit 3-4 servings a day: fruit- 1/2 to 1 small fruit, 2 to 4 tbsp canned fruit
♥ Vegetables- 3 servings a day: 2 to 3 tbsp cooked vegetables
♥ Dairy- 4 to 5 servings a day: dairy- 1/2 cup milk (whole milk for 2 years or younger) per serving or 1/2 cup yogurt
♥ Protein- 2 servings a day: 1 to 2 oz meat, 1 egg per serving, or 4 to 5 tbsp cooked legumes
♥ Grain products- 3 to 4 servings a day: 1/2 to 1 slice of whole grain bread; 1/4 to 1/2 cups rice or pasta, preferably whole grain like brown rice, whole wheat pasta or quinoa pasta, or 1/2 cup to 1 cup dry low sugar cereal, 1/4 to 1/2 bagel, 1/2 to 1 whole wheat or corn tortilla

How do I know if my baby is getting enough to eat?

Keep track of your baby's wet and poopy diapers. Once mom's milk comes in, the theory of "what-goes-in-one-end-comes-out-the-other" works. If your baby has 4-6 wet disposable diapers (or 6-8 cloth) and 3-4 poopy diapers in 24 hours that usually means they are getting enough breastmilk. Talk to your baby's health care provider at your office visits about your baby's growth chart if you are concerned or curious. (See below for online growth chart links.) It is important to remember that as babies get a little older the number of bowel movements per day may decrease. Some breastfed babies have only one bowel movement per week (after about 2 months of age).

How and when do I start my baby on solid foods?

Don't rush to start solids. They will only upset your baby's tummy if you give them before your baby is ready to digest them. Breast milk or formula is far more nutritious than any solid you could give your baby. Solid foods aren't as convenient, anyway! Wait until your baby shows signs that they are ready. Your baby's health care provider can talk to you about the signs of readiness. Usually babies are ready around six months old, and sometimes a little earlier. Your baby's first solid food should be an iron-fortified rice cereal. You may hear that solid food will help your baby sleep through the night, but this is a myth. Be aware of the potential risks to babies of foods prepared using well water.

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