By Nicole Silber, RD, CSP, CLC
Nicole Silber, RD, CSP, CLC & mom is a registered dietitian, board certified specialist in P ediatric nutrition, and certified lactation counselor, Nicole has worked with hundreds of children and families with chronic medical conditions, food allergies, and picky eatin g. She is the creator of Tiny Tasters on-demand feeding classes. Prior to her current roles she was a clinical nutritionist at the Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital at New York - Presbyterian/Columbia.
Children undergo more changes to their growth, development and eating patterns in the years between birth and preschool than any other time in their lives. When babies turn into toddlers, their relatively consistent, predictable eating becomes very inconsistent, paving the way for what many parents would describe as picky eating.
Many parents are concerned with how their toddlers eat (and don’t eat for that matter). What we do know from the Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study (FITS) is that many toddlers and preschoolers eat too much sodium and saturated fat, and not enough key nutrients like potassium, Vitamin D and fiber. But, some of the concerns that I hear from parents regarding their toddlers’ eating stem from a gap in knowing just how much healthy toddlers actually need, and what are normal versus problematic eating behaviors. These concerns usually lead to mealtime tensions, which can perpetuate the picky eating cycle.
Understanding the Needs for Toddler Meals
Understanding what is normal can be very helpful for parents. Expect toddler meals to be consistently inconsistent - meaning they may skip occasional meals (yes, that means eat a few bites, or nothing), show fluctuating appetites daily based on changing growth needs (meaning when they’re going through a growth spurt they eat much more), and refuse foods one day that they gobbled up the day before. Their willingness to eat at meals may be affected by too much snacking (or grazing), fear of new foods that suddenly develop, or any minor discomfort from teething, a cold or even constipation can impact their willingness to put certain foods, textures and flavors into their mouths. And as a reminder, toddlers are much smaller than adults, so they do not need adult-like portions. For example, healthy toddlers need just 1 cup of veggies each day, so if that’s broken up into 2 meals and a snack that can be just 1/3 of a cup per sitting. One day they may eat double that, and the next eat none, so look at the average.
Managing expectations can help relieve some parental stress and make way for more positive mealtime environments. Pushing too hard, trying to convince, sneaking foods, accommodating requests (going to the kitchen and making 3 different dinners), offering bribes to finish the broccoli (yes, we’ve all been there) are all tempting, but can create power struggles that actually intensify the feeding refusals. But, there are some productive things that parents can do to encourage more variety with picky eaters, and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) offers some great tips, like including children in cooking, encouraging family meals, and offering foods repeatedly and in flavorful ways.
Supplementing Toddler Meal Ideas With Something Else
While it’s developmentally normal for toddlers to go through some picky eating phases, some children, and parents alike, struggle to eat balanced, varied meals. And, for children who have any major diet restrictions because of allergies, medical or other lifestyle reasons, they are at higher risk for nutritional deficiencies during times of picky eating. That is when a fortified toddler nutrition drink, like Else, can be a great supplement to their diets. Else complete plant-based toddler meals can help in 2 ways: A more direct benefit is that Else provides these children with an extra boost of calories, fat (particularly unsaturated fat), protein, fiber, omega 3s and many key vitamins and minerals, like iron, potassium, vitamin D needed to support this time of rapid growth. And, Else can provide parents with the reassurance that their little ones are getting the nutrients they need. This reassurance can minimize the stress and pressure placed by parents and felt by kids at mealtimes, which can ultimately encourage more relaxed, varied eating.
The content and advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical diagnosis, treatment, advice for specific medical conditions. Always consult a pediatrician to understand the individual needs of your child.