Every day in the office, I have at least one parent expressing concern over their child’s diet. I know I shared this same concern as a new mom, but as I continue to watch my children grow and thrive, I have finally relaxed a bit. I wanted to share some facts and tips on starting your infants and toddlers with healthy eating.
Your infant and toddler watch EVERYTHING you put in your mouth.
If you are drinking sodas, they will want soda too. If you are eating cheese puffs, they will expect the same. The best way to ensure your child establishes good eating habits is by eating well yourself.
Variety is the spice of life
A study from researchers at the London Metropolitan University (Wansink et al.) showed that children are most attracted to food plates with seven different items and six different colors. Adults prefer only three things and three different colors. Using this knowledge can allow you to diversify your child’s palate and improve their nutrition.
Mealtime should not be a battle zone
So if you can negotiate a bite of each thing, you are a lucky parent. Forcing a child to finish her meal will not help you or your child’s physical or mental health. It is more important to teach her to eat until her tummy is happy.
Children who sit down to eat with their family eat more nutritious diets
This may not be an option every day, but when you can, make the most out of this time. Turn off the T.V. (and mobile devices!) and focus on each other. Your infant or toddler will rarely make it through a whole meal without wanting to get down and wiggle, but this will get better as they get older. Just make sure the eating part of the meal only happens when they are sitting down. A toddler eating on the run is a risk for choking (and a risk for ruining your rug). Remember: family mealtime should not be a battle zone, so have realistic expectations.
Juice works great for a constipated infant, but has NO role in proper nutrition.
It can also help you introduce a sippy cup or try to keep a toddler well hydrated on a scorching day. It is still better to water it down in these cases and limit his juice intake to less than 4-6 ounces in a day. Yes, juice originally came from fruit, but you are left with a lot of sugar after it is processed. Unfortunately, you won’t find many of the vitamins or fiber in the original fruit’s skin and pulp.
French fries should NOT be considered vegetables!
A survey done about ten years ago of 3000 kids from 4-24 months showed the most common vegetable eaten by these kids was french fries. I hope we are doing better now. French fries are salty, fatty starch. If you offer your kids chips, please do it infrequently and in tiny amounts. Dark, leafy green and orange vegetables tend to be the most nutritious. I haven’t figured out how to get my kids to love salad, but they eat a lot of carrots, peas, and sweet bell peppers. I am optimistic, though, so every day, they get a small offering of our salad and usually be talked into one bite.
Too much milk CAN be a bad thing.
After his first birthday, your child can start drinking whole milk, but too much milk will fill his tummy and make less room for solid food. Too much milk (over 24 ounces in a day) can also block your child’s ability to absorb iron from other foods leading to severe anemia (low red blood cells). In my opinion, chocolate milk should not even be considered a dairy but rather a dessert. There is more sugar in a cup of chocolate milk than in most sodas or juices!
Vitamins may make us feel better about our child’s nutrition, but they do little to improve your child’s health.
I admit it. I gave my picky little toddlers a multivitamin because it made me feel better. That is OK. The truth is a healthy child who is growing well is getting enough nutrients from their food. The exception is vitamin D. We need to use sunscreen to protect our kids from the real dangers of U.V. radiation, but blocking their absorption of vitamin D. Vitamin D is important for bone growth and immune function. Therefore, it is recommended that all infants and children receive vitamin D supplementation (400 IU/day for infants less than one year and 600 IU/day for over a year).
Snacks should be nutritious too.
Did you know that two tablespoons of Nutella have as much sugar as 5 Oreos? Wow. Most of our diets are already overloaded with carbohydrates, salts, and sugar. It is better to offer veggies, fruits, or protein fatty snacks (cheese, yogurt, or nuts in older children) a day. Having a bowl of fishy crackers available to graze on all day will diminish their interest in real food at mealtime.
Try; try again.
Kids are fickle with food. My daughter will swear she hates avocados, and a week later, they are her “absolute favorite.” If you reintroduce unpopular food regularly, your child may decide she likes it.
The bottom line
If you put everything your child ate in one week on a plate, how would it look? One day she may not eat many veggies; another day, she may not have much protein. At the end of the week, was her overall consumption pretty well balanced?
For more information on what a well balanced plate would look like check out: www.choosemyplate.gov
Do you have any tricks for getting your kids to eat more veggies? Any great kid-friendly recipes to share?