A child between the ages of 1 and 5 will generally consume three main meals and two snacks a day while some children may eat smaller but more frequent meals. This is also normal. It’s important to remember that we are all different; if your child doesn’t eat in the same pattern as you do, there is no problem with this. Most children require food every three to four hours nestled nicely into their daily routine. Delaying a meal or snack only 10 minutes past the usual time can cause hunger-induced irritability, which may result in poor choices of foods in order to calm a cranky child.
Don’t be at all surprised if, at around 12 months, your child – who is usually a great eater – slows down in their growth rate and begins to show signs of indifference to certain foods or even gets fussy.
Most healthy children will not starve themselves. Remember, your child’s growth and development are key indicators of how they are getting on, rather than the quantity of food they eat at each meal. And importantly, keep in mind that it’s what you offer a child to eat that is important. After all, you do the offering and they do the eating.
These are some general suggestions that may help establish a balanced, healthy and nutritious diet, and develop healthy attitudes toward meals and food:
Toddlers refuse foods for various reasons: disinterest, preference for self-feeding, teething, illness, and sometimes dietary habits earlier on. Infants fed on soft foods for too long can become quite fussy; so too can bubs feed predominantly on sweeter foods such as fruit at the expense of bitter foods such as vegetables.
Toddlers have small tummies so they can easily fill up on snacks, milk and other drinks. Avoid feeding your little one too close to a main meal, avoid junk foods, and offer things like milk after a meal. It is recommended to leave 1.5 to 2 hours between snacks and meals.
Some toddlers don’t adhere to our views on dietary habits, preferring to get most of their nutritional needs in just a couple of meals and pick the rest of the day. Some even have a main meal at lunch and barely touch their dinner. These are all quite normal and ultimately it is a case of ‘you can lead a horse to water?’ Never force a child to eat. This is likely to induce a long-lasting negative association with eating. Just keep offering healthy foods at the usual times and allow your little one to choose from these selections. Be patient, persistent and consistent.
One of the really valuable tools you have as a parent is control over the environment – what happens in the home, how it happens, and its regularity, where it happens and who is involved. These are all, as Doctor Phil says, ‘currency’ that you can use to keep things on track.
You run the kitchen, so use it! Get the kids involved in food preparation and cooking. Enlist your little helpers in peeling, cutting (with assistance), pouring, stirring, dishing up, setting the table and so on. Always supervise and ensure that the environment is safe. Teach your little one about cleanliness as you go. My son gags at the sight of a green vegetable, but he helps me grate the zucchini we put in a cake, we mix it, pop it in the oven and he utterly annihilates it once it is baked.
Growing your own vegies is another fantastic way of making food fun and a voyage of discovery for kids. Even if you don’t have a garden, there are loads of things you can do. Most children will get a kick out of seeing a carrot or potato head sprout or mung beans split open. Be inventive and go the extra step of involving the children by using an old toy trolley, unloved bucket or a decorated planter as your pot.
Other things to keep in mind: be consistent, avoid distractions (such as the TV and toys), be persistent and try to be relaxed about this phase. You may also need to be cunning with how you get the ‘good stuff’ in. Importantly, never give up, and always offer healthy food. Once you start with the junk food the flood gates open.
At around 6 months of age, it is best to use feeding cups and lidded cups for liquids other than breast milk or formula. Allowing your child to drink fluid other than water from a bottle may potentially increase their risk of cavities from the sugars which bacteria love to munch on. Keep an eye on your little one if they are very attached to their bottle as the continual washing of their teeth with milk sugars isn’t ideal.
Always offer your child regular drinks throughout the day. Their thirst reflexes are still developing, so they may not know they are thirsty. This, in turn, can lead to constipation.
Additionally, while milk is important for calcium and protein, an excessive intake of milk (or juice) can displace food and thereby reduce the nutrients that your child is getting over the course of the day. Uh-huh, I hear you say, so this is why my child hardly seems to eat but will gulp down milk by the bottle!
So many of us believe that if we give our children a little fruit juice, this will ensure they are getting vital nutrients such as vitamin C. While fruit-based drinks and even milk alternatives such as soy, oat and rice can be added to a healthy diet (in appropriate amounts), they can present problems. One of the big issues is that juices (and even, to a certain degree, too much milk) displace food, which can lead to nutrient imbalances. Promoting healthy drinking habits by encouraging your children to drink water, or age-appropriate amounts of milk, is far better.
Children between the ages of 1-6 years should not drink more than 150ml a day (roughly half a cup) over two sittings.
Common sugar (table sugar also called sucrose) is the big guy in tooth decay as well as potentially contributing to other illnesses such as diabetes and obesity. Monitoring your child’s intake of sugar is a good habit to get into.
Sugar is a notoriously ‘hidden’ ingredient in many foods; it can turn up in foods you may not expect – such as salad dressings, savoury biscuits, tomato sauce, baked beans, canned and packet soups, canned vegetables, breakfast cereals, yoghurt and fruit juices.
A 2015 survey of 34 breakfast cereals aimed at children found that:
Source: May 2015 Choice Magazine, Australia
Other offenders include soft drinks, cordials, jams, ice-cream, confectionery and cakes. In particular, soft drinks should be avoided as they have an average of approximately 8-9 teaspoons of sugar per can.
Did you know that dairy products may be protective against oral bacteria that cause tooth decay?
Of course, dental hygiene is one of the best things you can do to avoid cavities but did you know that dairy may be protective against tooth decay? It appears that some of the components of milk can prevent plaque from forming during the decay process as well as preventing the loss of minerals from teeth. In fact, the Australian Dental Association recommends that you give a ‘small amount of cheese after sugary food and drink as this will help neutralise the acid produced by the oral bacteria’.
Many types of yoghurts are simply thickened milk with added sugar and fruit. Real yoghurt is made from fermented milk which is started off with a culture of bacteria such as acidophilus. Because it’s fermented, the bacteria can partially digest some of the milk sugar (lactose) which enables many who are lactose-intolerant to cope with these healthy yoghurts. Lactobacillus has been shown to reduce respiratory infections in babies as well as improve their stool consistency. Probiotics also benefit immunity by supporting the gut as a line of defence. This may also help allergy sufferers and those with irritable bowel syndrome.
This information has been provided by Leanne Cooper. Leanne is a qualified nutritionist and mother of two very active boys.