Toddlerhood is one of the most fun child development stages, as parents watch their children become more mobile, talkative and assertive with their desires. Of course, this stage can also be frustrating, as a toddler’s mind can change as quickly as a clean room can turn into a disaster zone (we all know that with young children, this can happen in the blink of an eye!). Because of this, getting your toddler to eat can be especially challenging.
I often receive questions about how much to feed a toddler and when. Here are four parenting tips to help take out some of the guesswork:
1. Establish a pattern
Setting times for regularly scheduled meals and snacks early in life helps establish healthy habits for years to come. Ideally, your child should be eating three meals a day with snacks in between if there are more than four hours between meals.
Snacking, if necessary, should be spaced out between meals. If a child isn’t eating well at a particular meal, it could be that a recent snack is the culprit. A suggestion by Jill Castle, co-author of Fearless Feeding, recommends that the kitchen be closed between meals and snacks. This is good for both adults and children alike so that all-day grazing doesn’t interfere with meals or lead to overeating. Keeping a consistent eating schedule helps your child know what to expect.
2. Offer an appropriate amount
Offer your child appropriate portions for his age. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a portion for a toddler may be:
- One ounce of meat or two to three tablespoons of beans
- One to two tablespoons of vegetables
- One to two tablespoons of fruit
- One quarter slice of bread
It is normal for a toddler’s appetite to fluctuate meal to meal and day to day. Offer a variety of foods at meals and snack times to let your child’s hunger dictate what and how much to eat.
Over the course of a few days, or even a week, your child will probably get all the nutrients she needs. Of course, every child’s needs and hunger levels are different. If you allow your child to decide how much to eat rather than trying to force her to eat a certain amount, she will use her fullness as a guide.
4. Accept pickiness.
Picky eating is part of normal development for most toddlers. At this age, many children become picky eaters as they are seeking to establish their independence and test boundaries in most aspects, including eating. For more information, read my blog post on strategies for overcoming picky eating in toddlers.
Looking for other great online resources? Check out the American Academy of Pediatrics and Choose My Plate. For more helpful hints, you can also read this post about preparing for toddlerhood. All of these offer helpful information for parents of toddlers!
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