Healthy Children - May 2017

Encouraging Healthy Habits through the Toddlers Years*

*Adapted from Feeding with Love and Good Sense by Ellen Satter

Our Children experience so many exciting changes from ages one to three. These changes can be stressful for parents when it comes to nutrition and feeding. Often we as adults are in the middle of doing several things at once, and some of the common developments for toddlers with their relationship with food can be frustrating. Ellen Satter points our attention to three characteristics of toddlers and offers some guidelines for developing healthy habits.

Toddlers are skeptical. Your two year old may need to get used to new foods at their own pace. The way food looks, tastes, and even the texture may not appeal to them right away. Never fear, after having a food on the table, watching others in the family enjoy that food, and several tasting bites, they may come to love that new food. A parent can set some guidelines to keep mealtimes pleasant for all the family members. Even though your toddler will need time to warm up to certain foods, do not let this limit the menu for the rest of the family. Your toddler is learning so much from observing what others in the family are eating.

Toddlers are unpredictable. Just because they liked a food yesterday does not mean they will want it today. This is also true with their appetites. Some days they will not be interested in eating much of anything, and then they will go through periods where they are hungry all the time. A parent can set an appropriate schedule for mealtimes and snacks. Parents offer healthy food at snack and mealtime to help keep up their all their energy needs. Since they have small stomachs, those snack times are very important.

Toddlers are opinionated! If your toddler does not like something, you will hear about it. Our toddlers take cues from their hunger and react to new taste/texture sensations. We as parents can offer food in forms that are easy for their small hands to manage. They may also eat in their own way, exploring the feel and taste of foods.

Satter reminds us that our responsibility is to provide a structured mealtime/snack time and healthy foods (the when and where of what is offered). Mealtimes can become a battle if parents also try to control how much a child eats, or if a child chooses to eat all the foods offered. Portions for toddlers are small, from ¼ a cup to ½ a cup. Even adults do not always know how hungry we are when we fill our plates, so it is okay if your toddler doesn’t clean their plate.

Finally, toddlers are curious! What a wonderful time as they learn to do so many new things. When adults provide healthy food options at regular mealtime and snack times, toddlers are free to learn about healthy foods as they grow. This can set the stage for healthy habits throughout their life!

Sherry Ann Ambrose
Register Dietician, Nutrition Education
University of Illinois, Chicago