Developmental stages of nutrition in young children ages zero to three

Children are able to communicate with adults as to food preferences.

Children ages 12 to 24 months are able to feed themselves a variety of food. Photo credit: Pixabay.
Children ages 12 to 24 months are able to feed themselves a variety of food. Photo credit: Pixabay.

Feeding a young child is not only about eating and being healthy, but also offers an opportunity for a child to develop social skills and bonding. Michigan State University Extension says a common concern of parents is whether their child is eating enough, or too much, of the right foods. Children may also be fussy eaters, display different eating habits as they get older and can help their parents develop good eating habits for them.  According to Zero to Three, from zero to12 months a child may communicate by being vocal, making faces, reaching for or pushing away a bottle or breast. Parents can respond by feeding or stopping depending on the child’s actions. Holding the child and making eye contact may assist in making feeding easier. Parents can help the child calm down so the child can focus on eating. These responses will help children learn that the parent will meet their needs, that the parent is listening to them and that they are important. They can also count on being fed at particular times throughout the day.

Children ages 12 to 24 months may be able to feed themselves a variety of food. They will use their fingers to investigate textures and will begin attempts at using utensils to eat. Parents can start teaching their child to use utensils by having the child hold a spoon or fork, while they model movements by holding a different one to feed them.  The child may use actions and words to communicate what they want, don’t want, when they are hungry or when they are full. Most likely, the child will also display facial expressions that will indicate to parents whether the child likes or dislikes what they are being offered.  A parent can offer three to four healthy choices during mealtime, two to three healthy snacks a day and food that is easy for the child to chew, swallow and pick up. Parents should avoid foods that are choking hazards. Consider cutting snacks in half or smaller portions.  With a responsive parent the child is learning to try new foods, do things for themselves, ask for help and that parents will help them when they struggle.

Children who are 24 to 36 months old may ask for, point to or choose foods they want to eat. They may express their thoughts, and can help out during mealtime; they may also push the spoon or fork away. This can signify the child’s want to feed themselves or they don’t want any food.  It is also important for parents not to prepare separate meals children and they are encouraged to model healthy eating. Toddlers can be encouraged to help out in simple tasks including putting napkins and paper cups on the table. Getting your toddler involved teaches them that they are capable of completing tasks, an important part of the family and that helping out is fun. Parents should also encourage polite behavior. Parents are encouraged to sit, talk and listen while their child eats to let them know they are important. Finally, sitting at the table and talking to your toddler also helps develop language and social skills.

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