Compiled from assorted sources
Promoting Good Food Habits
H. Darlene Martin, nutrition specialist
Children often take the attitudes and habits they form during their preschool years into adulthood. So the preschool years are an excellent time to teach children that a proper diet is part of a healthy lifestyle. By 15 months old, most children can feed themselves without help—if they are allowed to try. It may be faster and less messy to feed a toddler, but helping him is not in the child’s best developmental interest. Give him the chance to feed himself.
When preschoolers are allowed to choose from a variety of nutritious foods, they will take in adequate nutrients over time.
Children need protein in order to grow. Milk, fish, poultry, eggs, cheese, and dry beans and peas all supply protein.
Children also need calcium for strong bones and teeth. Calcium is found primarily in milk and milk products, but it is also found to a lesser extent in green, leafy vegetables.
Iron is an important mineral. It is supplied by such foods as meat, poultry, fish, and eggs; green, leafy vegetables; and whole-grain cereals. (If you serve iron-fortified boxed cereals, the iron is absorbed better when served with a food rich in vitamin C, like citrus fruits and their juices.) Dark green or yellow vegetables are also good sources of vitamin C and vitamin A.
Small children need plenty of water for regulating their body functions. A higher percentage of children’s body weight is water, so offer water to your preschoolers several times during the day.
Children also need a certain amount of fat in their diet. Fat helps to provide extra calories and needed nutrients for active and growing children. Don’t restrict fat intake for children under the age of two. For children over two years old, fat should represent about 30 percent of total caloric intake.
Sugary foods provide few nutrients and should be eaten on a limited basis. If left on the teeth, chewy, sticky, sugary foods (even those using natural sweeteners) may promote tooth decay. Give children the opportunity to brush after they eat, and teach them to brush properly to help diminish tooth decay.
Most preschoolers experience food jags. For a time, they may eat only a few self-selected foods. Finicky food habits are often temporary. They usually disappear if you don’t make unnecessary rules about eating or make food choices an emotional issue. Don’t make food the object of bribes or punishments. If a child rejects a food, don’t make a big issue of it. Your insistence may make the child more determined to refuse the food being offered. Offer the rejected food at a different time. Preschoolers, like adults, should be allowed to dislike certain foods.
If you really want to promote good food habits, set an example for the children in your care. Children learn by example, so take time to sit down and eat with them. If they see you enjoying nutritious foods, they will be more likely to give them a try.
Feeding Dos and Don’ts
Here are some suggestions to help improve your child’s eating behavior:
Whatever you do, don’t engage in a power struggle. Remember that your child alone controls what she swallows. You control the food you put on the table, so you can gradually influence your child toward good eating habits. But if you engage in an emotional battle of wills over eating, you’ll lose-and the negative repercussions could last for years.
Coping with a Picky Eater—Not So Great Expectations
William G. Wilkoff
1. After their first year, children’s growth slows down considerably. An infant’s growth in the first year is explosive. At one year he will have nearly tripled his weight and grown almost a foot long. By his second birthday, he is growing only about one-tenth as rapidly as in his first year. As a new parent, you may come to expect this phenomenal growth rate to continue into the preschool period. It will not happen. (If it did, your child would have a serious medical problem!)
2. After the first year, your child needs relatively fewer calories. As your child gets older, her body becomes leaner; in simple terms she loses her “baby fat.” Her new body proportions require relatively less energy to function. For the preschool child this means that she needs only half as many calories per pound of body weight than she did as a baby. This is why the two- to five-year-old may appear to be eating less as she gets older.
3. Children “streak eat.” Young children develop an affection for certain foods that may remain favorites for weeks or months or years, and then inexplicably fall out of favor without warning. Children may eat very well for a few days and then just pick for a week. It is the unusual child who will eat a wide variety of foods in consistent quantities day in and day out.
4. Babies are born with a natural preference for sweet and a dislike for sour. All other preferences or tastes for things are learned. Breast milk is intended to be your child’s first food, and it is very sweet. By repeated exposure you can modify your child’s preferences for most foods. However, she may always prefer sweet things when given a choice.
5. Children are wary of new foods. Although toddlers are prone to pick up and put strange things into their mouths that they shouldn’t, they are resistant to trying new foods. It just isn’t in their nature. This does not mean that you shouldn’t offer them new things to try, but your expectations should be low. For a hard-core picky eater, I wouldn’t suggest offering something new more than once or twice a week; you’re not trying to look for trouble, just trying to make a point. Once you get mealtimes to be more pleasant for all concerned, you can become more adventuresome. Until then, help your child by allowing her to have more success at eating by avoiding too many strange things in too short a period of time.
6. Young children’s appetites seem to decline as the day goes on. This is very important for a parent to understand. Exactly why children eat less later in the day is unclear. It may simply be that they have already consumed the necessary calories and their appetite shuts down, or it may be that they are more tired than hungry.
7. Not everyone loves to eat. You may already know this but may have trouble applying it to your own child. Just as there is a wide variety of body shapes and sizes, there is a wide spectrum of appetites across the population of children (and adults). Some people love to eat and move it near the top of their priority list for the day. Others only eat to stay alive and seem to get little pleasure out of the process. Fortunately, most of us enjoy eating but keep it in perspective when it comes to the rest of our lives. There are children who were picky for the first six years of their life and then as if by magic suddenly become voracious eaters. Other children remain indifferent to eating for their entire lives.
Healthy Snacks for Toddlers
Canada‘s Food Guide to Healthy Eating and Toddlers
Toddlers have high energy and nutrient needs relative to their small body size. Their small stomach capacity has no room for foods that do not offer a good source of nutrients and energy. Offering a variety of nutritious foods at meals and snacks ensures a healthy diet. During this time, toddlers also experience fluctuating appetites, which cause great concern for parents. Children will generally eat when they are hungry.
Parents may think their child is not eating enough. Remember that toddlers eat smaller amounts than adults because of their smaller stomach size. This is why it is important to offer healthy snacks between meals. Often parents forget to count snacks when they consider how much their child is eating during the day.
Planning nutritious snacks is as important as planning meals. They should contribute to the child’s overall daily nutrient intake and provide energy. Snacks need to be offered well in advance of the next meal so they do not spoil the child’s appetite. To promote both dental and nutritional health, snacks need to be low in sugar and nutrient dense.
Nutritionally and dentally healthy snacks are:
Grain products: whole wheat breads, crackers, rolls, toast, muffins and loaves made with limited amounts of sugar, unsweetened whole grain cereals, rice pudding
Vegetables and fruit: lightly cooked vegetable and fruit pieces, grated raw vegetables or hard fruit, unsweetened frozen or canned vegetables and fruit, vegetable and fruit juices
Milk products: plain whole milk, yogurt, cheese, milk puddings and yogurt or cottage cheese dips
Meat and alternatives: hard-boiled egg, pieces of lean meat or poultry, tuna, salmon, peanut butter or other nut spreads, hummus or other spreads made from pureed legumes (dried beans, peas, lentils)