Our daughter, Kaitlyn, the picture of toddler pickiness!
Why is it that we parents worry so much about how much our child is eating? I can remember thinking that how well Kaitlyn ate that day, determined how well I had parented. Not true! Children under the age of one usually nurse or formula feed well, and are eager for the introduction of solid foods. But seemingly over night, our toddlers start to have an opinion about what we feed them! I can remember being very frustrated because I was providing her with this wonderfully healthy meal, and often all she wanted was bananas! To make it more confusing, the next day she may have thrown all those bananas off her tray! My darling daughter was a typical toddler, and with toddlers, meals are often a challenge. Why?
1.Toddlers have slowed down in growth.
The first year of life a child grows very quickly, between birth and a year most children triple their birth weight! A toddler grows much more slowly and seems less hungry.
2. Eating interrupts a toddler’s activity.
Toddlers are busy…any parent can tell you that. Sitting for any length of time just isn’t on the toddler’s agenda!
3. You can’t force a toddler to eat.
A parent’s job is to present a toddler with a wide taste pallet of healthy foods every day. It is up to the child to eat them! The more you force, the more most toddlers turn up their noses. A healthy child offered healthy food will NOT starve themself! A parent’s job is to provide a toddler’s job is to decide!
4. Toddlers usually eat one good meal a day.
Often toddlers will eat a good breakfast, an OK lunch and pick at dinner. Toddlers only need about 40 calories an inch. (Now don’t get that calculator out for your child!) Most will only need about 1000 to 1200 calories a day. By dinner, many toddlers have eaten their required calories for the day!
5. Toddlers like to binge on one food.
Food jags are common in toddlers. One day you can’t fill them up on green beans, and then two days later it is bananas. Some days a toddler may eat only fruit, the next day they may fill up on protein. What a toddler eats over a week is a better picture of their diet intake.
So what is a parent to do….
- Offer food frequently! Toddlers need 3 meals and at least 2 snacks offered each day. Toddlers behave better when they are eating frequently. Their tummies are small and temper tantrums increase when blood sugars are low. Try planning snacks from at least 2 food groups 2 to 3 times a day.
- Dip it! Toddlers like to dip everything. It is fun, and it is messy…two essentials for toddler eating! Humus, yogurt, cottage cheese, guacamole, melted cheese, salsa, peanut butter and even ranch dressing are some essential dips for toddlers.
- Hide it! Hide the broccoli under cheese sauce, shred the veggies and mix them in humus or cream cheese and spread on a tortilla and cut into pin wheels, puree veggies and add them to pasta sauce, lasagna, meatloaf. Make “orange ” pancakes with sweet potato puree or carrot puree and a dash of cinnamon. Get sneaky! When you hide vegetables, make sure you include some on your child’s plate so they learn what a balanced diet looks like.
- Be creative! Kids like fun. Make faces on sandwiches, use cookie cutters and cut shapes in pancakes and bread, make shish-ka-bobs with fruit and pretzel sticks, make party bananas with sprinkles, serve fruit and yogurt in an ice cream cone, try smoothies….
- Remember the toddler serving size! A serving size is a tablespoon per year. One serving of vegetables for a 2-year-old is two tablespoons! Many times we are trying to serve our toddlers adult size portions! The American Academy of Pediatrics has a great “sample” daily meal plan. Take a look!
- Don’t let your toddler “drink” his calories. A toddler should only have 16 to a maximum of 20 ounces of milk a day. That is much less than the 28 to 32 ounces most were drinking before becoming toddlers! If your child drinks too much cow’s milk, he will not eat solid food calories! Too much milk provides too little iron and other needed nutrients! Juice should be limited to only 4 to 6 ounces a day, better to have the whole fruit than just the juice!
- Let your child “shop” for food. Give your child a few dollars and let them “shop” in the produce section. Your child will be more likely to eat the food he or she “buys”! You might learn to cook and eat a new fruit or vegetable too….you never know what your child may pick out! (this is how I learned to fix spaghetti squash!)
- Let your child “help” prepare food. A child who watches a parent make dinner and “helps” will often be more likely to eat! Let your child have a few choices, control is important for toddlers.
- Let your child be messy. Toddlers explore food with their mouths, taste buds, and hands. They smash food, throw food, spread food, “paint” with food and generally need a bath after most meals. You must allow your toddler to feed himself. You must introduce spoons and forks, and be patient with the fact that it takes time and messes to learn how to use them!
- Don’t battle…try a “No thank you bite”. Toddlers have opinions, and sometimes they are very strong! The more battle there is in a meal, the more likely you will lose! Offer healthy foods and a variety of foods. If your toddler refuses to try something, introduce a “no thank you bite”. One bite and then he can refuse more. You might even ask your child to “kiss” the food, not even take a bite. This may provide just a small enough taste to convince your child to take a bite! Remember, it takes 15 to 20 introductions to a food before your child will develop a definite like or dislike!
Remember, a parent’s job is to PROVIDE healthy meals and snacks….a toddler’s job is to DECIDE what he or she will eat that day. If left alone, toddlers will usually balance their own diet if we just provide good choices. Relax….
Take a breath, enjoy the joyful moments of each day, and remember you don’t have to be perfect to be the perfect parent.
The Holiday Season is here and the shopping has begun! I was in Target this past weekend, the toy choices are overwhelming and expensive! What are the best toys for your child? Which toys will be fun and valuable for your child’s development? It is difficult to decide what toys are the best choice!
I can remember feeling like toys in our house multiplied every night. SURELY we didn’t have THAT many stuffed animals yesterday! Too many toys results in a child who doesn’t play with anything well, they become overwhelmed with the number of toys. Parents also can fall into the trap of buying the newest flashiest toy on the market. We all love our kids, so why wouldn’t we stand in line to buy the “most popular” toy of the season? Many of these flashy toys encourage a child to play passively, using no imagination or creativity. Toys should allow a child to play in several different ways. A child should be able to decide how to play with a toy, the toy should not determine how a child plays. Play is a child’s work, it is through play that a child learns how the world works. As you make that holiday wish list, here are what I think every child needs in his playroom. You might be surprised!
- Blocks and construction type toys
Wooden blocks, cardboard bricks, Legos, and magnetic tiles are all great choices. Depending on your child’s age, you will see children build towers, knock towers over, sort blocks by color, create designs, make roads for cars and tracks for trains and more.
- Art supplies
Creative juices start flowing when a child has a blank piece of paper, crayons, paints, markers, stickers, scissors and any other item you can find in the craft aisle to help with their masterpiece. Blank paper rather than coloring books will provide more encouragement for a child to create. Children age 2 and older love to create on an easel which allows for larger muscle movement which makes drawing and painting easier.
- Books….lots of them!
Provide books in bins so children can see the front of them. The front of the book will interest a child more than the words on the spine of the book on a shelf. Provide books that have flaps, pop ups, and colorful pictures. A corner with a small chair or big floor pillow encourages reading.
- Play kitchen supplies and other child sized house hold items like keys, phones, brooms, rakes etc.
If space allows, a play kitchen is a great investment. Play food, dishes and utensils and other child sized household items encourages great imaginative play and cooperative play with others.
- Doll stroller or shopping cart
All children like to push dolls, stuffed animals, and other toys around. Toddlers and preschoolers are “gatherers” and a doll stroller or shopping cart provides a way for them to collect “treasures” on walks outside or around your home.
- Dress up clothes
Role play is a great way to encourage imagination and development of social skills and empathy. Keep those Halloween costumes out all year in an easily accessible dress up box.
Puzzles help a child learn to problem solve, develop patience, practice persistence, and develop spatial awareness.
- Medical kit
Play helps a child work through scary or anxiety producing experiences. All children like to give Teddy or Baby a check up and/or shot after a visit to the doctor.
- Musical instruments
Children love to create music. Drums, xylophones, tambourines, shakers all help develop rhythm and a love of music. Children exposed to music and rhythm often are more successful in Math!
- Tool bench
Boys and girls love to hammer and build with “tools”. Allow your child to build. This is the basis of STEM education.
- Tent or play house
Children love small places to hide, read, play quietly or play house, school, or camping. This play house or tent could be as simple as a large box or a blanket thrown over a card table.
- Dolls/stuffed animals
Playing with dolls or stuffed animals fosters empathy development. Pretend role play of Mommy and Daddy is very important.
Throwing, catching, kicking are all developmental milestones. Simple games with balls introduce cooperative play and turn taking along with fine and gross motor development.
- Shape sorter
This is a basic toy that will grow with your child. Young toddlers will fill and dump, older toddlers will sort by shape and color, and often children will use it to gather other items. Another great sorting tool is your kitchen muffin tins! Have your child sort different cereals, different colored pompons, or any other item!
- Stacking cups
This less than $10.00 toy is a bargain! This will last a child from 6 months through preschool. Children bang them, stack them, pour and dump water and sand, “drink” from them and learn size and volume with them!
Children will love to squish, roll, and create with clay. The use of hands to roll and shape creations develops fine motors skills used for writing.
- Pedal powered ride on toy
Learning to pedal is a developmental milestone for 2 to 3 year olds. Ride on toys get children needed outdoor time and exercise along with development of coordination.
- Cars, trucks, and or train
Children love toys that move. Purchase cars, trucks, and trains that are easy to handle and run on “kid power”.
- Farm or other toy with animals
Farm animals, dinosaurs, and/or zoo animals are a great way for children to learn about animals, habitats, and encourages imaginative play.
- Board games
Even preschooler can participate in board games. Board games help a child develop skills in handling winning and losing, taking turns, and cooperative play. Board games are much more valuable than video games which do not provide as much person to person interaction.
And yes, sometimes just a large box or two, plastic containers or a few laundry baskets will provide hours of entertainment and imaginative play for your child! Toys do not need to be expensive! Remember that a toy is only valuable if your child plays with it! Quality is more important than quantity of toys. Often the best toys don’t come with batteries. And most important, allow your child to play freely…a child who plays well is learning!
Take a breath, enjoy the joyful moments of each day, and remember you don’t have to be perfect to be the perfect parent.