From one to three years, your child will make the big transition from infancy to childhood. During this phase it is very important to create a foundation of solid nutrition for healthy later years.
The biggest problem now is that they will be choosy about what and how much they eat. The way they think, act and eat can lead to frustration in parents.
- They don’t eat what you want them to eat or they play with their food and expect you to play, too.
- They take ages to swallow one mouthful.
- They throw a tantrum when they are denied a sweet.
- They will go on hunger strikes.
- They want to eat at the most awkward times in the most inconvenient places.
Good news moms! A healthy child has never died of hunger!
Your child is still in a phase of rapid development and the time between one and three years covers a major learning stage in which his brain almost doubles in size. Physiological and nutritional needs are fairly specific and it is essential that small children eat a good variety of healthy foods to satisfy their highly specialised needs. Although toddlers grow at a slower rate than babies, they still need enough energy and nutrients from food to fuel this active play and growth phase. A car cannot operate on water – it needs petrol!
Common reasons why toddlers refuse to eat
- Teething. Remember at this stage they are cutting their molars and eye teeth. This can be extremely painful and usually goes hand-in-hand with cold symptoms and irritability.
- Sore throat.
Remember, we all have appetite fluctuations from day to day or even from meal to meal. Never be tempted to force-feed because this can result in a lifelong aversion to certain foods.
Toddler years are the ideal time to help children to form a positive attitude towards food and to develop sound eating habits. It is well documented that early teaching of healthy eating habits reduces the risk of obesity and heart disease as well as metabolic syndrome in later years.
Tips on feeding:
- Offer small portions, several times a day. Remember the toddler’s stomach is only the size of her little fist. They have small tummies but unique energy needs. Frequency is much more important than quantity.
- Listen and trust your child’s hunger cues. If they have had enough, respect it; they will eat when they are hungry. But remember not to become an “obedient slave” parent who prepares one dish after another when they don’t want to eat. Take away the food that you have offered when they don’t want it, and when they come back after an hour to say they are hungry, offer the same food.
- Avoid clean plate practice and overeating. This will either cause obesity or an aversion to certain food as they grow up.
- Offer at least one food that you know they will eat at every meal.
- Try to keep to an eating routine. This will certainly lead to a happier mealtime and snack time approach.
- Let them eat after a favourite activity. They are usually relaxed and less distracted.
- Eat with your toddler; if they never see you eating they won’t eat. After all, a family that eats together and prays together, stays together.
- Encourage them to feed themselves. Although this can result in mess, remember it is an important part of a child’s development.
By Sr Ida Bester
Courtesy of AECYC – Association for the Education and Care of Young Children