What's For Dinner? (Toddler Edition)

Hello again! 

I’m back and answering a question today on pediatric nutrition.  This blog post is in response to a question on Dr. Ann’s Facebook page about proper nutrition for children under the age of 3 with an emphasis on what to feed a child who doesn’t have all of their teeth yet.

Generally speaking, children in this age range require about 1,000 to 1,400 calories a day.  This calorie range includes all meals, snacks and beverages.  If the ability to chew is a concern, harder food items can be cut into smaller pieces.  Children have smaller stomachs than adults so smaller meals with snacks in between are perfectly acceptable.  In our house if the children want to eat a snack too close to a mealtime we offer a piece of fruit or a vegetable (apple slices, baby carrots, bell pepper strips and cucumbers are all favorites here).    

Of the allotted calories for the day, 4 servings should be of fruit and 3-4 of vegetables.  The serving size for this age group is ¼ - 1/3 cup.  Fruit juices should be limited as much as possible because they contain calories but not much else.  Children can easily fill up on juice and not get enough fat, protein or fiber.  Offer a wide variety of fruits and vegetables and don’t be discouraged if your child doesn’t like something or eats it once and enjoys it and the next time won’t eat it at all.  Sometimes something cooked will go over better than the raw version of the same item, and vice versa.

2 cups of milk or dairy products are the minimum recommended amount for this age.  For children under the age of 2, low or reduced fat milk is not recommended.  Yogurt, cheese, and cottage cheese can be substituted for liquid milk.  For children who cannot or do not consume dairy there are a variety of non-dairy replacement milk products available.  The calcium and protein content of non-dairy milk does vary quite a bit so be sure to check the label of the product.  Children this age need 500 mg/day of calcium for proper growth and development.

Children also need a minimum of 2 ounces of lean meat per day at this age.  If a child is not interested in eating meat you can substitute eggs, nuts/nut butters, or legumes (beans).  2 tablespoons of peanut butter, one egg, ½ cup of cooked legumes and 1 oz of cheese are all equal to one ounce of meat.  Meat should be taken off the bone and any circular meat items such as hot dogs should be cut in half to avoid choking.

Whole grains should be encouraged for all ages.  This age group needs 3 oz of grains per day.  A half of a cup of cooked oatmeal, 1 slice of whole wheat bread or ½ cup cooked brown rice are all equal to one ounce of grains.  Sugar sweetened cereals and sweet breakfast items should be given sparingly.

Once a child has had all foods introduced and has no sign of allergies they can and should eat everything their parents eat.  I’m sure you have heard the saying “variety is the spice of life”.  That phrase certainly holds true with small children.  Try serving meals in different ways or different places or with different sauces.  Let your child make some dinner decisions.  I’ve had my children involved in dinner preparation from the time they could sit up.  I let them sniff spices, taste anything that isn’t harmful in the raw or uncooked state, and help me stir and use the mixer.

Someone once said to me “your job as a parent is to provide healthy balanced meals and your child’s job is to decide if they want to eat what is provided”.  Steer your children towards healthy choices but don’t expect them to always eat the best choice.  Eat what you provide to your children and they will be more likely to try it too. 

Stay healthy!

Angela

Caloric and serving information was taken from http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/117/2/544/T3.expansion.html  accessed 4/2/2015

Angela Bilbrey is a Registered Dietitian, mom, avid home chef and a long distance runner.  She is excited to be a guest blogger for the Mobile Health Team and help Dr. Ann answer your nutrition questions.