Feeding Your Toddler Can Be Easy (I Swear!)

Christie Haskell

Once babies are off formula, cutting down on breastfeeding, or weaned, their diet ends up becoming a little more ... shall we say ... complicated. How can we get them to eat healthy, eat avocado and green beans and carrots, and eat enough without them saying "all done" and throwing most of it on the floor?!

I did some digging and realized that a lot of our feeding "issues" are from us not fully understanding of the right eating behaviors and expectations for toddlers. So we just have to figure that out and it becomes a piece of cake -- well, we should say piece of banana to make it healthy!

So what are the correct eating behaviors and expectations you wonder ....

Well, it's complicated of course. But figure this. Babies eat all. the. time. In their first 9 months of existence in your belly, they are on a 24/7 food supply. Then in their first year of life, they learn to space out feedings to every couple hours. Then they become dun dun dun! Toddlers! They need breakfast, a snack, lunch, a snack, dinner ... and often one more snack before bed. Or, you can go the Montessori/kiddo-led route and just make food available for them. I'll take a few baby carrots, sticks of celery, or blueberries and put them in a bowl at the table that my child has access to throughout the day. She nibbles when she wants some. Just like adults do! (Only thankfully it's healthy stuff and not cookies.)

We also often don't realize how much a toddler is supposed to eat. A toddler serving size for a typical breakfast could be 4 ounces of orange juice, 1/2 cup of cereal with 1/2 cup of milk and 1/2 a banana. While it may look too little a serving on the plate, it's just right because the size of your toddler's tummy is about the size of his or her fist. 

So we should try to fill that little belly with the good stuff like whole grains (sprouted is best), fresh fruit and veggies in as close to raw form as possible, and protein from eggs or meat. Of course there will be days when your munchkin only wants to eat strawberries and string cheese, and maybe only a couple bites. That's okay. As long as the next day, you get some more good stuff in. Toddler diets are best looked at in a week -- if over a period of a week they've gotten lots of variety, then each individual day isn't as important (though that doesn't mean you shouldn't offer).

Another thing we all say: "I can't get her to eat but she loves milk." So if 1/4 cup of milk is a serving, then 3 cups (or 16 ounces total) over a period of one day is more than enough for a toddler. Limiting milk to meal and snacktime can help avoid tummies full of milk instead of nutritious foods. Water is also great between meals, better for the teeth, and digested quicker. Juice is really rather worthless, unless you're making it at home. Apple juice has all the sugar and none of the fiber and is practically a liquid candy. If you insist on juice, it's really not hard to make it yourself, and in the limited amounts that should be given (one serving a day, if any), it's not unrealistic either.

As your toddler gets a little older, the more involved they are in the selection process and the more control they have over feeding themselves when they want, the less you'll have power and control battles over food as well. (Hopefully!)

Our kiddos' growth slows way down as get into toddlerhood. My pediatrician and I talked about how a lot of parents freak out around 18 months when their child suddenly "won't eat", when it's just their growth slowing down. Barring non-neurotypical children or those who've already been taught to ignore their own body's signals, almost all toddlers will eat until they're full, and only eat when hungry. As long as you're providing a wide variety of food, respecting your toddler's tastes, and not deciding your toddler "won't like it" without even giving them a chance, most toddlers are going to be just fine.

Do you overfeed your toddler or wait too long between meals? Do you have a picky eater on your hands?


Images via Christie Haskell

Read More