Published on 01/14/04

Be sure your toddler eats the right foods

By Morgan Roan
University of Georgia

Parents are often confused when their toddler's appetite suddenly decreases and his interest in certain foods changes, too.

"After the first year of life, food is not the focus because the child is more interested in experiencing the other senses," said Connie Crawley, an Extension Service nutrition and health specialist with the University of Georgia College of Family and Consumer Sciences.

This is a normal stage for toddlers to go through, she said. Their appetites decrease due to the slower growth rate, too.

"Train toddlers to eat a variety of foods through exposure and encouragement, not through pressuring them," Crawley said. "A child may need to be offered a new food up to 10 times before he willingly accepts it. Children tend to be ... scared of trying new things."

"Parents give up too easily," Crawley said. Instead, a parent should eat a certain new food in front of the child and encourage him to try it. A child's taste buds are always changing. Being a good "nutrition role model" makes it more likely that a child will mimic the food intake of the parents.

It's important for parents to establish a balanced diet for their children so they will grow and develop properly.

"It's best to feed your child healthy food first before offering sweets," she said.

A toddler should be fed 1 tablespoon of a food per year of age. For example, a 1-year-old should be offered on a plate 1 tablespoon of peas, 1 tablespoon of meat, 1 tablespoon of grains, etc., per meal. Of course if the child wants more, more can be offered, since each child's appetite can vary each day and even at each meal.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Guide Pyramid recommends a minimum number of daily servings for each food group. The numbers: grains, six; vegetables, three; fruit, two; milk and milk products, three; meat or other proteins, two. There is no minimum recommended for fat.

Remember, these are toddler-size servings.

Toddlers prefer to eat finger food, Crawley said. Cut up vegetables into cubes or strips, dice fruits and slice meat into strips.

After age 1, a child can eat whole eggs. "Don't make sweet foods like chocolate milk unavailable, but only allow small amounts," she said.

Parents often give children too many fluids, which can dampen their appetite. "Feed your child first. Then give them juice, water or milk," she said.

"However, limit the amount of juice to only 4 ounces a day," she said. "Juices in large amounts often cause diarrhea. It's better for the child to drink out of a cup so they won't consume as much as drinking from a bottle."

Give your child 16 to 24 ounces of milk each day. At age 2, you can switch to skim or 2 percent milk. Serve whole milk only to a child under 2 because "their brain is growing at a rapid rate so they need the fat for nerve development," she said.

Children commonly become anemic because they don't get enough iron-rich foods. A child who is often sick may be more at risk for being anemic.

To prevent anemia, provide foods such as meats, leafy green vegetables, fortified cereal and peas or beans. Meat, poultry and fish are the best sources for iron because they contain a more absorbable iron, Crawley said.

"Iron found in foods such as baked beans ... needs a vitamin C source like juice or citrus fruit to be consumed with it to increase absorption," she said.

"Introducing your toddler to the proper portions of nutritious foods," Crawley said, "will ensure that he is supplied with enough calories and nutrients for his healthy growth and development."

(Morgan Roan is a student writer with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

Morgan Roan is a student writer with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.