How can I manage mealtimes so that my toddler gets the nutrition she needs?
Some simple guidelines for preparing for meals include:
- Offer meals and snacks to your child on a regular schedule. Allow about two to three hours between meals and snacks.
- Arrange for a quiet time before meals to help your child pay attention to eating. Too much activity around the table can distract a child.
- Provide you child with a comfortable chair and a good table support for food.
- Try to offer food before your child becomes tired and cranky.
- Give your child her own small fork and spoon. Children often enjoy feeding themselves.
- Give your child small servings. A normal serving size for a child is about 1/4 to 1/3 the size of an adult serving. Too large a serving may seem overwhelming to your child.
- Offer two to three foods during a meal.
- Serve your child different kinds of food. Offer you child food he likes, as well as new foods.
- Wait for your child to ask for seconds before giving him more food.
- Introduce new foods one at a time and in small portions. At first, your child may reject new food, but continue to offer it at another time. Most children take time to get used to new foods. Try offering a new food at the beginning of the feeding time when your child is hungriest.
- Never force-feed your child.
- Don't interrupt your child's meal to look for other foods to offer him if he isn't eating what you serve.
- Cut food into bite-size pieces or serve soft finger foods.
- Cut sandwiches into triangles or small shapes using a cookie cutter.
- Avoid foods that may cause choking, such as nuts, chips, whole grapes, raw carrots, celery, large pieces of fruit, raisins or hard candy, popcorn and large pieces of hot dogs.
- Give your child enough time to enjoy the meal, which could take 20 to 30 minutes. If your child is finished earlier or starts misbehaving, stop the meal.
- Take your child's food away when he loses interest in it. For example, if he stops eating or pushes food away, it's time to stop.
- Limit juices and sweet drinks to four to eight ounces per day.
- Give your child water if he is thirsty between snacks and meals.
- Don't offer your child food or drinks (except water) between snacks and meals.
- Your child will learn how to behave by watching you and you family. Include your child at family meals.
- Praise your child for good eating behavior.
- Don't punish your child if he or she refuses to eat.
- Don't reward or bribe your child with food. For example, don't tell your child that he may not have dessert unless he finishes his meal.
- Don't worry about the mess your child may make. Toddlers are too young to be tidy at meals.
What should I feed my child?
Your child's diet should include food from the groups below every day:
- meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs and peanut butter (protein)
- milk and milk substitutes, yogurt and cheese
- bread, cereal, rice and pasta (grains)
- fats, oils and sweets (in small amounts)
Mealtime and snack suggestions
- strips of lunch meat
- small cooked and cut meatballs made from ground beef, ground veal or ground turkey
- cooked chicken pieces, soft pieces of meat or fish
- chicken nuggets: pre-made breaded type or chicken fingers
- fish sticks
- cooked eggs: scrambled, hard boiled, fried or poached
- cooked dried beans in sauce
- thinly spread smooth peanut butter on bread or crackers
Milk, yogurt and cheese group
- strips or cubes of cheese, soft types are best
- string cheese
- pudding or custard
- cottage cheese
- fruit shakes made with milk and fresh fruit
Fruits (don't give raisins and other small, dried fruits to your child; they may cause her to choke)
- peeled, sliced and pitted apples, oranges, tangerines, peaches and soft pears
- peeled, sliced and pitted papaya, mango, watermelon, prunes and avocado
- sliced banana, sliced grapes and canned fruit
- mashed potatoes and potato puffs
- cooked pumpkin or squash cut in squares
- steamed peas, carrots, green beans and broccoli (can be served with low-fat dip)
- cherry tomatoes cut in small pieces
- other soft vegetables, such as spinach and cooked plantains
Bread, cereals, rice and pasta
- muffins, rolls, toast, mini pitas, croissants and breads of all kinds
- pasta, like elbow macaroni and rigatoni
- waffles, pancakes and French toast
- crackers (can be spread with cheese, a thin amount of peanut butter or bean dip) and graham crackers
- ready-to-eat cereals
- brown rice
Fats, oils and sweets
- canola or olive oil
- butter or margarine
- cream cheese and sour cream
- butter or margarine
- seedless jams and jellies
What does the USDA suggest for my child?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has recently revised its eating guidelines; the new focus is on variety, moderation, proportion size and gradual improvement in eating habits. The "My Pyramid" plan can be personalized based on your child's age, gender and activity level. Based on information you provide, "My Pyramid" recommends appropriate calories as well as fruit, vegetables, grain, meat/bean, milk and oil servings per day to ensure that your child gets adequate nutrition.
More information can be found at Mypyramid.gov.