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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Is Your Child Eating Enough? - The Proper Serving Sizes for Toddlers and Children

Until I had my own child, I didn't really understand why during a child's check-up so many parents would be concerned that their child was not eating enough. For the most part, these were children who were following their growth curves perfectly and looked very healthy. I would reassure the parents by showing them the growth curves and telling them that they are obviously eating enough to grow and that they shouldn't worry.

Now, after having my own child, I get it. Many meals I sit there and think, "That just couldn't be enough food for her." Then I remember what a proper serving size is for her age. Like most children she is usually eating exactly as much as she should.

Servings, especially for toddlers, may seem impossibly small: 2-3 tablespoons of vegetables, or a quarter to a half a slice of bread. In reality, that means a quarter of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich may be all they will want. The trick with toddlers is variety. If they are done with the PB&J, then offer a few slices of banana, half of a piece of fruit, or a few berries. Then switch to some dairy, a small glass of milk or a piece of cheese.

As you can see from the American Academy of Pediatrics "Feeding Guide for Children," although the portion sizes are small, the number of portions a child has in a day are often between 3-5. This means that at most meals, he may not eat a lot of one thing but will eat a small amount of many things.

Trying to serve balanced meals may seem overwhelming to the new parent. But, it is often easier than it seems. Try to offer protein, dairy and fruit/veggies at every meal. This will usually ensure that he is getting enough protein, carbohydrates and fat for the day. Having a few no-cook back-ups in the fridge will help to round-out meals and allow you to serve him a tablespoon or two and save the rest for another meal.

Children often require repeated exposure to a food before they will actually taste it. So don't be discouraged if your child won't eat strawberries. Try again in a few days. At the same time, there may be some foods your toddler really does not like. If he has one or two foods that he seems to dislike, you don't need to push the issue. However, if all your child will eat is cheese, you may need to start rounding out his diet and broaden his palate or you will find yourself facing a four-year-old that expects a special dinner of food he likes prepared for him every night.

Some Helpful Go-To Foods To Have On Hand:
No-Cook Proteins for Toddlers:
1. Humus - It lasts a while in the fridge and can be served on toast or crackers. It also comes in many varieties. You can try red pepper humus or baba ganoush as a way to sneak in some vegetables.
2. Deli meats - Aim for the healthier meats such as turkey or chicken breast.
3. Smooth Peanut butter
4. Canned tuna or salmon. These can be mixed with a little mayonnaise as well as canned vegetables like corn or peas.

Dairy - Most dairy products have a decent amount of protein so if you have a lower protein day increasing these may help:
1. Yogurt
2. Milk
3. Cheese

Fruit/veggies:
1. Canned fruit
2. Canned veggies
3. Berries