You’ll probably notice a sharp drop in your toddler’s appetite after his first birthday. Suddenly he’s picky about what he eats, turns his head away after just a few bites, or resists coming to the table at mealtimes. It may seem as if he should be eating more now that he’s so active, but there’s a good reason for the change. His growth rate has slowed, and he really doesn’t require as much food now.
Your toddler needs about 1,000 calories a day to meet her needs for growth, energy, and good nutrition. If you’ve ever been on a 1,000-calorie diet, you know it’s not a lot of food. But your child will do just fine with it, divided among three small meals and two snacks a day. Don’t count on her always eating it that way, however, because the eating habits of toddlers are erratic and unpredictable from one day to the next. She may eat everything in sight at breakfast but almost nothing else for the rest of the day. Or she may eat only her favorite food for three days in a row, and then reject it entirely. Or she may eat 1,000 calories one day, but then eat noticeably more or less on the subsequent day or two. Your child’s needs will vary, depending on her activity level, her growth rate, and her metabolism.
As a general rule, it’s a real mistake to turn mealtimes into sparring matches to get him to eat a balanced diet. Besides, the harder you push him to eat, the less likely he is to comply. Instead, offer him a selection of nutritious foods at each sitting, and let him choose what he wants. Vary the tastes and consistencies as much as you can.
If she rejects everything, you might try saving the plate for later when she’s hungry. However, don’t allow her to fill up on cookies or sweets after refusing her meal, since that will just fuel her interest in empty-calorie foods (those that are high in calories but relatively low in important nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals) and diminish her appetite for nutritious ones. Beware of foods marketed for toddlers that are high in sugar.
There is no nutritional value to fruit juice and sweetened beverages. We recommend that your child only be offered milk and water with juice as a special treat.
When planning your child’s menu, remember that cholesterol and other fats are very important for his normal growth and development, so they should not be restricted during this period. Babies and young toddlers should get about half of their calories from fat. You can gradually decrease the fat consumption once your child has reached the age of two (lowering it to about one-third of daily calories by ages four to five). Offer 12-20 ounces of whole milk each day. More than 20 ounces of milk a day can interfere with the absorption of iron and can cause iron deficiency anemia. As well, excess milk consumption can interfere with your baby’s appetite for other nutritious foods.
Your little one can still choke on chunks of food that are large enough to plug his airway. Keep in mind that children don’t learn to chew with a grinding motion until they’re about four years old. In his second year of life, make sure anything you give him is mashed or cut into small, easily chewable pieces. Never offer him peanuts, whole grapes, cherry tomatoes (unless they’re cut in quarters), carrots, seeds (i.e., processed pumpkin or sunflower seeds), whole or large sections of hot dogs, meat sticks, or hard candies (including jelly beans or gummy bears), or chunks of peanut butter (it’s fine to thinly spread peanut butter on a cracker or bread). Hot dogs and carrots in particular should be quartered lengthwise and then sliced into small pieces. Also make sure your toddler eats only while seated and supervised by an adult.
A vitamin D supplement of 400 IU per day is recommended for all children.