Nutrition for Toddlers and Picky Eaters

How to avoiding food wars and establish good lifetime eating habits

The Basics
 Offer a moderate serving of protein at each meal and most snacks (milk, cheese, yogurt, nuts/seeds if over 4, meat, beans, soy)
 Offer at least 5 servings of vegetables and/or fruit daily
 Offer two eight-ounce servings of milk, or dairy substitutes, or cheese or yogurt daily. Ask your doctor about calcium supplements if your child does not eat or drink these foods. Limit milk to 16 ounces a day from ages 12 months to 8 years.
Whole grains until satisfied
Minimize sweet drinks, sweets, processed foods, saturated fat, trans fats, fatty meats, and fried foods.
The most important thing you can do to promote healthy eating habits in your child is to model healthy eating habits yourself.

Meal times are an important social time spent with the whole family.
 Make sure you sit with your child at meals so he can see you enjoying a variety of foods.
 Your child will learn to sit peacefully in his chair and enjoy his food if you are sitting too.
Kids who fight the high chair usually have family members that don’t sit with them.

Safety first
To avoid choking, infants and toddlers need to be offered only small pieces of mashed foods or foods that can easily dissolve in the mouth with minimal chewing.
No nut pieces, hard candies, gum, whole grapes, hot dogs or other foods that can cause choking until after age 4 to 6 years, and even then, only while sitting. Avoid large blobs of nut butters. Only offer nut butters if thinly spread on breads or crackers.
 Always have your child seated for meals and snacks so they are less likely to choke.
Snacks are a significant part of your child’s diet
 Eat healthy foods for snacks as well as meals.
 Kids love snacks like Cheerios, bits of toasted whole grain bread, cooked whole grain pasta, soft fruit and even chopped cooked veggies.
Make sure meals and snacks are served at the table.
 Because they can pick up, chew, and swallow graham crackers, cookies, and goldfish crackers, and it gives them great pleasure to do so, parents often succumb to both peer pressure and to their child’s insistence on eating these fun foods. These processed unhealthy foods have no place in an infant’s diet.

Sometime between a year and two years, ravenous little babies become finicky toddlers.
Continue to offer healthy foods to your child, even if very little is being eaten.
Don’t give in and buy junk food just so he’ll eat. If the healthy food is there when he finally gets hungry, then that is what he will eat. Your child will develop taste preferences based on what he is exposed to the most often. If she is offered fast food, cookies and chicken nuggets, that is what she will eat!

Cautious kids (AKA picky eaters)
 If cautious kids are repeatedly exposed to healthy foods like carrot soup, bean burritos, and oatmeal they will become favorite comfort foods rather than unhealthy typical American fare.

Avoid food battles
 Accept that your child will be picky or hardly eat at times, and don’t worry about it, as long as your child’s pediatrician says that your child is growing normally.
Resist the temptation to give your child junk food because he whines for it.
 Setting the ground rules now will save you a lot of trouble later.

Let the Portion Fit the Child
 Most fruits and vegetable servings are about one tablespoon per year of age up to age 8
Let them serve their own plate after age 3.
 Use child-sized plates, cups, and utensils.

Never force your child to eat if he is not hungry.
Forcing a child to eat a new, unwanted, or disliked food usually backfires. The forced food becomes a hated food to be avoided at all costs.

Set the Time, Place, and the Table
 Have set times for meals and snacks.
Unpredictable eating habits and allowing kids (or adults) to graze make it more difficult to self-regulate food intake.
 Letting kids over a year of age eat on demand encourages consumption of unhealthy convenience foods, especially if they are allowed to eat anywhere other than the table.
 Preschool aged kids and older can serve their own plates
Eating at the family table at least once a day is essential

Enjoy Food Without Distraction Never let them eat in front of the TV.
Nobody but your Child Knows How Much She Needs to Eat
 The amount a child needs to eat varies widely with his energy output for that day, her age, and how much she is growing.
No adult can accurately gage exactly how much a child needs to eat at a certain meal.
Letting a child develop a sense of how much food he needs is pivotal in keeping a child from becoming overweight

Watch the Drinks
 Teach your child that water is the beverage that quenches thirst.
 Skim milk and occasionally 100% fruit juice are foods that one drinks when hungry.
Don’t keep sodas, fruit drinks, or sweet tea in the house.
Set a good example. If your child sees you drinking a sweet beverage she will inevitably want some.


Dr. Kocsis is the author of Savvy Eating for the Whole Family: Whole Foods Whole Family, Whole Life and practices pediatrics at Cornerstone Pediatrics in Cary, NC, (919) 460-0993 copyright 2006