As the holidays quickly approach – followed by so many New Years’ resolutions – we focus on food. Many of our celebrations and gatherings will revolve around meals. It’s the time of year when our portion sizes get a little larger than normal, and while our foods may be tastier, they also tend to be more sugary. Even though this is a topic that affects us daily, I thought this would be an appropriate month to discuss eating habits for our children.
Many parents are concerned because their toddlers are not eating enough or do not seem to be growing. This is a very common comment, but is usually met with reassurance by the physician. A child doubles their birth weight by the time they are four months old and triples their birth weight by the time they are one year old. After one year, a toddler only gains about 4-7 pounds a year, so it is certainly a change in pace parents must adjust to.
In America, we are also accustomed to larger portion sizes and truly forget how little nutrients a toddler or child really needs. A child should only need about 40 calories or less per inch of height each day. For example, a 30-inch child (an average one year old) would only need 1,000-1,200 calories per day. Compare this to an average, active adult male, who should be taking in 2,600 calories per day.
Another way to consider portion size is that at a toddler (1-3 years old) should be eating about one-fourth of what the parent is eating at each meal. Preschool age children should be eating about one-half of the parents’ portion size. Once they reach the age of 4-5 years old, they should be able to choose their own portion size. It is normal for them to be inconsistent in their portion sizes from day-to-day. It is also normal for preschool age children and toddlers to not join the “clean plate club” at each meal.
Children are usually pickier eaters between 2-5 years old. It is not unusual for them to refuse all but one type of food for weeks at a time, and then the next week despise the taste of last week’s favorite food. Parents should encourage children to try at least one bite of whichever food groups are being served. If children are going through a picky phase, it would be advisable to give them a daily vitamin. This is good practice at every age, but especially if you are worried about them getting their daily vitamins naturally through their choices of food – or lack there of.
Once children reach middle school years, which is usually around the onset of puberty, they should be eating close to adult-size portions. Healthy food choices are always important, of course, but especially so at this point in a child’s development. Regular servings of fruit and vegetables, limitations on sodas and junk food, and consumption of water will help encourage a life of healthy eating practices for their future.
I hope everyone has a blessed holiday season, and enjoys the good cooking! The most helpful thing to remember is appropriate portion sizes. Your children are looking up to you, so set a positive example and make healthy diet choices for your whole family.