Want your toddler to eat better? Portion control, persistence and even a little underhandedness might be the answer, according to instructors at area hospitals that offer courses in toddler nutrition.
“We really try to help parents understand why toddlers eat the way they do,” says Anita Berry, director of the Healthy Steps for Young Children program at Advocate Health Care. Advocate offers toddler nutrition classes throughout the year at all of its hospitals, including Christ in Oak Lawn, Lutheran General in Park Ridge and Good Samaritan in Downers Grove.
A parent’s mantra, Berry says, should be: We’re in charge of offering our children healthy food and giving them opportunities to eat it. Our children are in charge of how much they eat.
One of the most common mistakes parents make, Berry says, is overestimating how much a child needs to eat. The general rule for a serving size is one tablespoon per year of age.
To encourage children to try more foods, Leslie Savino, a registered dietitian at Palos Community Hospital in Palos Heights, suggests being creative and getting the children more involved. Offer a cottage cheese “sundae” topped with granola and a cherry. Let them pick out an interesting-looking vegetable at the produce stand.
And stealth is OK. Broccoli or other “undesirables” can be minced and cloaked in spaghetti sauce.
“I think children experience food in a completely different way,” says Patty Morse, a pediatric dietitian at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood. Morse is in the process of revamping a children’s nutrition class to be offered this spring.
Her classes also offer tips on avoiding power struggles at meal time. “Kids are at a developmental stage where they want to be their own boss,” she says.
Recent studies have shown that a parent might have to offer a food a dozen or more times before a child will actually eat it. Morse says that as long as parents continually offer good foods to their children, they can usually relax, even if the veggies are ignored a couple nights in a row.
Morse asks the families she works with to keep “food journals,” a record of everything the child eats over the course of several days. Almost always, she says, the journal shows that the child is getting the necessary nutrition over time, if not every day.
In addition, Morse explains, children are very good at heeding what their body is telling them and eating the amounts they need.
“It means having a lot of trust, and that’s not easy,” Morse says.
Paige Fumo Fox