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Feeding a Toddler

The rule in our house is generally eat what you are given, this is in terms of what you are given to eat rather than amounts, at most meals we eat the same foods as I think cooking different things for different family members is extra work I do not need. I try not to worry when my toddler doesn’t eat as I know he won’t strave himself and I can tell he is a healthy size and weight. If you are really concerned about your child’s weight talk to your GP or health visitor, the graphs in the back of the Red Book are quite a good guide to how they should be doing, but remember all children are different and not all of them will follow a perfect line!

Despite not being worried about my child’s eating habits, at the back of my mind is the nagging doubt that he’s getting enough of the right foods. He’s started to not each much, especially at dinner time. However, he eats a big breakfast, which feels like a good thing. I am starting to think more about what he eats and doesn’t eat and how I react to it. I am aware I don’t want to turn eating into an ‘issue’ or for him to be a fussy eater. Do I only allow eating at meal times or let him eat little and often?

Everything I ‘know’ about food and eating is from the traditional stand point of eating at meal times and eating everything you are given. However, I am also aware that I have a fairly unhealthy relationship with food and have had to overcome my need to eat when emotional and this is something I am still working on. Having researched eating habits as I’ve got older I believe eating little often is better, especially for a toddler with a little stomach. I suppose my frustration stems from the time and effort that goes into cooking a nutritious evening meal and it being refused.

I was having a conversation with some other parents of toddlers (and babies) and it seems a refusal of food and being a picky eater is a common issue that parents worry about. How do we know they are getting enough? What if they will only eat certain foods? I promised to do a little research on the issue and write a post on it.

I have used a few sources for information. A book I have had since my teen was a baby is The Great Ormond Street New Baby & Child Care Book, it’s a great guide and covers everything from pregnancy to 5 years. I’ve also looked at the NHS advice website and Netmums (the Netmums post has a list of brilliant advice). All links are at the bottom of this post.

The consensus seems to be that an adult and active woman requires around 2000 calories per day and a man around 2500. A toddler needs around 1200, however, toddlers will go through days where they will eat more and days when they will eat less. It is important with a toddler to look at what they are eating over the week, rather than day to day. For example, yesterday my toddler hardly ate anything, he had a few bites of toast and some fruit all day, but then he was a little under the weather, today he has eaten lots!

I have found that if I don’t feed my toddler between meals he is hungrier at meal times and so will eat more. Having said that, I know he expends lots of energy and only has a small stomach so I do believe snack times are important. So, I don’t really think ‘starving’ them between meals is a good idea. Endless snacks are not good though, it might be an idea to have a set snack time and to try and make the snack a healthy one, so that if the main meal isn’t eaten they have at least got a variety of food across the day. A typical day of food for our toddler is as follows.

7am Breakfast – usually 3 Weetabix and a banana, maybe even some toast!

10am Fruit bar & some vegetable corn crisps (both of these are the Organix range so do not contain added sugar or salt)

12pm Lunch – Sandwich & yoghurt

3pm Fruit or bits of cucumber & carrot

6pm Dinner – whatever we are having that evening. Typically a range of foods; pasta or rice and lots of vegetables.

We have found that at dinner time he will often eat very little; what we’ve done during the day, how tired he is, whether he really likes what’s on offer and so on all have an impact. I have stopped offering a ‘treat’ for eating his dinner but rather just let him see what’s on offer and let him get on with it. We all sit together at the table and if he chooses not to eat that’s fine, as long as he sits with us, partly because it’s polite but also because he sees the rest of us eating and they really do learn by example. We don’t chivvy him along or mention eating, though we might comment about bits of our meal being tasty. All the same food is available for him to eat and we often find he will just start eating, but we do not pass comment but do include him in dinner time conversation.

The Great Ormond Street book has the following to say about children who won’t eat:

“If you largely ignore the problem and do nothing but offer meals without making a fuss or letting your child continuously nibble in between, his hunger will ensure he takes what he needs. The more you try to encourage of force him to eat, the more he will discover how important this is to you, and what power he has to command your attention. No healthy child will allow himself to starve.”

I think from a young age food should be fun and interesting, while they are young try not to worry about manners and using cutlery. We make sure cutlery is available but if he wants to put his hands in his dinner and use his fingers that’s fine, manners can be dealt with when they are older. If they see you enjoy food they are more likely to join in. Another really good thing we’ve found is getting the children to cook with us, when we prepare veg we give them some to prepare with a butter knife. Vegetable peelers are pretty safe for them to use with supervision, they are far more likely to eat something they have helped cook (we started this with our toddler at around 18 months).

I do not offer any food to my children after our evening meal. If they have not eaten it is their choice and if they are hungry later they will learn that the evening meal is what’s provided for them. If they know that if they don’t eat dinner but will get some toast or a snack later they will do this.

The important points for me are these:

  • A healthy child will not starve, if you have real concerns speak to your GP
  • Look at what they are eating over a week, not just a day
  • Eat together, they will want to copy your eating habits
  • Try not to show your concern to your child
  • Limit snacks to set times where possible & make them healthy

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