Healthy Eating Habits For Toddlers

Your toddler insists on eating only string cheese, throwing anything that so much resembles a vegetable to the ground for your dog to scoop up. Need help dealing with a picky eater? See what this pediatrician (and dad) has to say.

Tips for feeding a picky toddler

Photo credit: Alison Langley/Photodisc/Getty Images

As a parent of a 1-year-old, I'm well aware of the challenges that come with feeding a little one who is being "particular" about her food choices. Sometimes my daughter happily munches away on whatever we place in front of her. And other times, well, let's just say our dog is well-fed from her scraps being thrown to the floor.

So when I recently interviewed Dr. Scott Cohen, co-founder of Beverly Hills Pediatrics and author of Eat, Sleep, Poop: A Common Sense Guide to Your Baby's First Year, about toddler nutrition, I picked his brain for tips on feeding toddlers.

Here's what he has to say:

Don't worry — your tot won't starve

Dr. Cohen says the biggest misconception parents have about toddlers is they aren't eating enough food. Parents will have days when they wonder if their toddler has eaten enough, but "they're not going to starve themselves."

The first year of Baby's life is spent obsessing about the baby's weight, Dr. Cohen explains. From family members guessing how much the baby weighs to reviewing growth curves during checkups with a pediatrician, a lot of emphasis is placed on how quickly a baby is growing.

But growth really slows down after the first year of age.

"Even the most picky eaters grow," he says.

5 Tips for feeding a picky eater

  1. Be a role model. "I think modeling is important," Dr. Cohen says. "Kids eat what they see you eat, so if you're not eating healthy — if you go into your pantry and there's nothing healthy in there —most likely your child's not eating healthy as well."
  2. Don't push. He suggests "not forcing it" if your child is being particular and just know that they're going to be OK.
  3. Offer a variety of foods. Put three or four choices on their plate, knowing they'll eat one or two.
  4. Establish healthy eating habits. "As a parent it's more important to teach healthy eating habits than worry about volume so that we create healthy eating habits that are lifelong," Dr. Cohen stresses. "Not chasing them around, not sitting them in front of the TV, offering them a wide variety of foods, and trying different foods that have those added benefits that we want them to have and knowing they're going to be fine."
  5. Offer nutritious food before snacks. "I hear lots of parents say 'Oh, my child skips lunch, but an hour or two later goes to the pantry and they get a snack like goldfish, and isn't that great? At least they're eating something.' But the problem is, then why would they ever eat lunch if they get the thing they want an hour later?" Dr. Cohen recommends trying to feed your child something you want them to eat before they get the "snacky food."

Just how much snack food should you let your toddler have?

Moderation is important. "I think when we as parents prohibit something 100 percent, those are the kids who tend to sneak it out and abuse it. You say, 'Absolutely my child can never have sugar; my child can never have dessert.' Guess what's going happen when you're not around? They're gonna sneak those things out and they're going to binge on them," Dr. Cohen explains.

"I think it's important that you have family rules and you set them up so there's expectations with your child," he recommends.

"You may say 'You're allowed one treat a day or two desserts a week' or whatever you do. Then there's an expectation so it's not a punishment," Dr. Cohen says. "You never want to make it a struggle over food or a punishment that 'you can't have this,' because then you're setting up problems later on."

Setting expectations isn't just for establishing good eating habits; it can help maintain a healthy parent/child relationship.

For more tips by Dr. Cohen, pick up his book Eat, Sleep, Poop: A Common Sense Guide to Your Baby's First Year, or visit his website, www.commonsensepediatrics.com.

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