The 4-1-1 on toddler nutrition

Don’t give-up on your picky eater.

As your infant transitions to a toddler, you may find that their eating habits have drastically changed. They can go from eating a variety of foods to being the pickiest little eaters on the planet. As tough as this challenge seems, it is important for parents to learn ways to cope with picky eaters. Getting your toddler involved and engaged in meal times is beneficial to your child’s development and can be an educational experience for both the parents and child.

Simple approaches like cutting food into animal shapes, involving them with the food preparation and having them assist at the grocery store can make positive impacts in the feeding process. Making food fun is an added bonus experience, and is perfect for bonding time. Another great tip is to cut fruit into a shape of a happy face or add a little umbrella to a smoothie/yogurt drink. But always be sure to include your toddler in the preparation process!

As you feed your picky toddler, limit the amount of sweets given to them. Sweets, including sugary beverages, are not nutrient dense; meaning they contain many calories but they are low in other nutrients, specifically essential vitamins and minerals. Each child’s recommended caloric intake varies by age. Staying within caloric intake recommendations and choosing nutrient dense foods more often has proven benefits for toddler’s growth and development. It can also be a means to managing a child’s weight to ensure that the child is at a healthy weight for their age and height. Physical activity can help too. To combat unhealthy snacking, prevent unhealthy snacks from making their way into the household.

As a parent, you have the most influence on your toddler’s nutrition. Eating habits that your child develops now will determine their eating habits as adults, which is why it is very important to be a good role model for your toddler. You can assist by fostering healthy eating habits. When children see their parent(s) eating healthy snacks they are more likely to eat healthy snacks themselves. If your child does not want to eat a healthy snack or try a new food, just be patient and do not force the food on your child. Being patient can help ease any frustrations and ensure a positive meal time experience. It must be stressed to always make meal times positive. It may get frustrating at times having your child refuse food or send it flying across the room, but the most important thing to do is not react, take a deep breath and keep trying.

Michigan State University Extension reminds you that your eating habits will influence your child’s eating habits. Also remember that you are not alone; other parents may also be experiencing the same challenges that you are facing. It may be a good idea to share tips with other parents; say family or friends of yours who are parents, other parents at your child’s daycare or your child’s pediatrician. Other parents may have successful approaches that you may not have tried before. The more support parents have for fostering their child’s good eating habits the more successful and healthier they will be. For further information on nutrition and toddlers, visit United States Department of Agriculture's website on toddler nutrition.

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