Nutrition for Young Children

I work with parents and caretakers of small children daily and the most common concern about this age group is: “is my child eating enough?” I assure you, despite the appetite fluctuations and occasional picky habits; offering routine, healthful meals and snacks will ensure that your little one gets enough to eat.

Here are some tips for managing picky habits:

1. Eat with your child.

Family meals are a great opportunity to model healthy eating behaviors.  Children will copy your behavior, if you refuse to eat green beans or drink milk, there is a good chance that your child will do the same.

2. Try to offer meals and snacks at routine times.

Children thrive off of routines.  If your child is not willing to eat their snack because they are not hungry, knowing that they will have another meal or snack in a few hours will help them (and you) to feel less pressured to eat.

3.  Respect their appetite; enforce boundaries and consequences during meal times.

It’s 6:30pm, you’ve prepared a balanced dinner and your child refuses to eat. They are now throwing a tantrum because you haven’t prepared nuggets and tater tots.  What do you do? This may sound harsh–but if you stand your ground despite the tears, excuse them from the table, and continue with the meal without them, they will be fine.  Picky habits are often a child’s way to exercise their newfound ability to make decisions.  Allow them to practice this skill, but be aware that providing consistent consequences will help them to refine their ability to make choices.  You do not have to surrender to being a short order cook.

4.  Offer age-appropriate serving sizes.

Remember, small children have small tummies.  Too much food can overwhelm a child, offer small amount of foods that are easy for them to eat and offer more if they would like seconds.

5.  Stay encouraged; picky habits and food jags usually improve over time.

It can be nerve-racking when your 2 year old has eaten half of a graham cracker and a cup of milk and refuses to eat for the remainder of the day.  Trust me, you are doing your part.  You are offering nutritious, foods at routine times and allowing your child to decide how much to eat.  Don’t try to force a child to eat; making the entire meal center around their picky habits will make the problem even worse.  Try to relax, they will eat when they are hungry.

See link below for more advice to manage children’s eating patterns.

Size-Wise Nutrition for Young Children from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.