One of the primary concerns with a growing toddler is food and diet. Children between one to three years of age are classified as toddlers. The toddler stage brings about various parenting challenges as the child discovers the world around and responds with curiosity. Toddlers also see, recognize, and develop taste for new foods at this stage. As toddlers explore and sometimes reject new foods, a common tussle between parents and toddlers develop.
While parents may focus on regular eating and healthy diet, the toddler may not be keen on eating or may have specific food demands. Toddler eating problems and what to feed toddlers are two aspects of a toddler diet that must be addressed sensitively to ensure meal times are a pleasant and fun experience for both parents and toddlers.
Toddler Eating Habits
A curious exploring toddler does not understand the word ‘health’. Toddlers eating habits vary with every child and parents usually classify toddlers as fussy eaters or non fussy eaters. Usually toddlers are a good mix of both types depending on various factors such as their environment, hunger levels, health, and parents’ response to the food. Under normal circumstances toddlers prefer eating smaller meals more often, like varied choices, and may prefer to eat on their own. Allowing the child to eat with perceived eating etiquette can put tremendous pressure on the toddler. Allow the toddler to enjoy the experience of eating without any burden. As the toddler has better control of his hand movements and hand to mouth mechanism, parents can motivate and inspire toddlers to eat without messing the table.
Toddler Eating Problems
Toddler eating problems or toddler eating disorders can make meal times a stressful experience for both parents and toddlers. Parents may face varied situations with eating problems such as: toddler not eating at all, not eating dinner, toddler not eating for 3 days, not eating meat, not eating much, toddler not eating or drinking, not eating or sleeping, not eating solids or toddler not eating vegetables. Toddler eating disorders may also be an outcome of other health or behavior problems. Inability to address and understand the toddler’s food tastes may also result in situations such as a toddler not eating vegetables, not eating solids, or not eating much. Such circumstances force parents to either give in to the toddler’s demands and abandon any healthy diet plans or force the child to eat a planned meal.
Toddler Eating Disorder
Toddler eating disorders are of two types: when a parent believes the toddlers eating habits are not ‘normal’ and when a pediatrician considers this possibility. Some eating habits exhibited by the child lead the parents to think it is a disorder. Such problem habits are:
• Toddler not eating solids
• Toddler not eating at all
• Toddler being fussy
• Toddler not eating much
Parents who believe that their toddler has an eating disorder are most probably under pressure to give in to the toddlers demands. This situation requires a behavioral assessment rather than a medical one. It is important to note that every normal child has hunger and will not starve unnecessarily. Food and meal times may not figure high on the importance ladder to a toddler but the urge to eat must be satiated with healthy options. Toddler’s demands for unhealthy food options can be averted if parents devise a well thought approach to make healthy food options more attractive to the child. Being sensitive to the toddlers needs will also help parents communicate better with the toddler. If a toddler is not eating vegetables, there are various ways in which the child can enjoy the benefits of vegetables. For example, vegetable soups, salads, patty and sandwiches are some different ways of feeding vegetables to toddlers. Vegetable salads and sandwiches can also be cut in interesting shapes that appeal to the toddler. If the toddler is not eating solids, soups and milkshakes are the best way to ensure the toddler receives adequate nutrition. The health of the child or illness can also cause appetite loss.
Toddler Compulsive Overeater
Depression and compulsive overeating are serious toddler eating problems. Depression can cause loss of appetite while compulsive overeating causes unnecessary weight gain. Both depression and compulsive overeating require medical intervention while behavioral eating problems require psychological assessment. Most toddlers can be fussy eaters and therefore it can be difficult to diagnose eating disorders. Some key warning signals that indicate a problem are: toddlers not taking interest in playing, skipping meals or losing weight.
Handling Toddler Eating Problems
Parents have to think of different ways to ensure that the toddler has a balanced and healthy diet. A balanced and healthy diet must include:
• Cereal grains, breads, pasta, rice
• Fish, meat, eggs
• Dry fruits, nuts, peanut butter
• Fruits and vegetables
• Milk and milk products
Certain minimum foods that can provide adequate nutrition during toddler’s mood swings are:
• 2 ounces of protein: eggs, meat or iron fortified cereals
• 1 ounce of fresh fruit juice
• 16 ounces or 1 pint of milk of alternative dairy products such as cheese or yogurt
Some good options to get your toddler to try healthy food options are:
• Make finger foods such that the toddler can eat on his own
• Provide a variety of food choices and observe the toddlers food interests
• Variety of colors on the plate can be visually appealing for the toddler
• Allow the child his choice of foods and also let the toddler decide his portions
• Ensure foods are either warm, smooth textured or crunchy
• Meal times should be more or less fixed, a routine helps the toddler understand its meal time
• Inform the child ten to fifteen minutes before meal time, this helps the toddler associate with an upcoming meal idea
• Ensure meal times are pleasant and do not place too many expectations on the toddler
Some key eating habits that can raise toddler health concerns and must be avoided are:
• High intake of sugar, canned and fried foods. Though toddlers may crave for ice creams, cakes, pastries and fruit juices it would be wise to limit the intake of such foods.
• Avoid forcing the child to eat
• Also avoid threats, punishments and rewards for eating
• Parents should also avoid getting upset if the toddler refuses food. Try to act casual, as hunger creeps in the toddler is likely to avoid skipping meals.