Healthy eating for children
Children grow at different rates during their early years so feeding recommendations vary by age and stage of development. Feeding children is a good way to develop trust and a sense of security. Babies require frequent feeding and will let you know they are hungry by showing signs or cues such as sucking on hands, smacking of lips or acting fussy. Breast milk is the perfect food for your baby. Breast milk changes to meet your baby's needs as he or she grows. It is recommended that women nurse their babies for at least 12 months. If you are not breastfeeding your baby, then you should offer iron fortified infant formula. Bottle fed babies also need to be held while feeding. Propping a bottle can lead to choking or ear infections.
Breast milk or formula gives your baby all the nutrition she needs for the first 5-6 months. At this time some babies are ready for semi-solid foods, such as iron fortified cereal. Speak with your doctor or a public health nutritionist for information on starting solid foods and when to progress to more textures and types of foods.
After the first year of life, children grow at a slower pace than during infancy. Sometimes their appetites lesson accordingly. Your toddler is eating enough, if she has plenty of energy and is growing. Some days she may eat more than other days. Toddlers have small stomachs and need small portions of food. A good guideline is 1-2 tablespoons of food from each of the food groups for each year of age.
One year of age is also the time to make the transition from drinking from a bottle to drinking only from a cup. Toddlers need only 16-24 ounces of milk per day, because they will be eating foods from all of the other food groups as well. You will want to give your toddler whole milk until age two. It is recommended that you continue to breastfeed your toddler as long as you both wish, as there are many health benefits for both of you.
This is also a time when eating "battles" may arise as toddlers are growing increasingly independent from their parents. It is important to follow a division of responsibility when feeding young children: Parents choose when to offer meals and snacks and are responsible for providing healthy food choices. Children are in control of how much and even whether they eat a certain food. A good pattern to follow is to offer 3 meals and 2-3 snacks each day. Children who graze on food are often not hungry for meals. Drinking too much juice or milk between meals can have the same effect. Try to keep mealtimes pleasant and avoid foods that might cause choking such as grapes, hot dogs, popcorn, nuts, raw carrots and hard candy.
Preschool-aged children (ages 3-5) are becoming more sophisticated eaters and are more aware of their food preferences than younger children. They often enjoy eating as part of a group because they can participate in socializing. This is a good time to teach children how to serve food themselves and to use language skills such as "please" and "thank you" when asking for food. Preschoolers also enjoy helping in the kitchen by washing fruit, tearing lettuce for salad or stirring pancake batter. Children can also help set the table and help clean up after a meal.
Keep mealtimes pleasant. Try to set a good example for your child by eating a variety of healthy foods. Do not bribe, play games or force your child to eat. It is also important not to use food as a reward or withhold food as a punishment. Children need to be in control of their own eating. Ignore their pleas for other food items than you have prepared. Give your child a choice of healthy foods at mealtime and leave the eating to them! Picky eating may occur but offer consistent meal times and snack opportunities so that a hungry child who didn't eat lunch can expect to have a healthy snack in several hours. Children this age need 16-24 ounces of 1% or fat-free milk, or the equivalent amount of other calcium-rich foods. It is also important to limit juice intake to 4-6 ounces a day. Focus on offering fruit and whole grains for snacks. Instead of drinking sweetened beverages, offer children water when they are thirsty.
- The Child Care Nutrition Resource System
- A Nutrition Guide for Infants (PDF)
- A Nutrition Guide for Toddlers, 18 months to 3 years (PDF)
- Child Health Promotional Letters to Parents
- Nutrition Café: Pacific Science Center and WA State Dairy Council
Three games that make learning about choosing healthy foods easy and fun.
- The Eating Disorder Referral and Information Center
EDReferral.com provides information and treatment resources for all forms of eating disorders. Their goal is to provide assistance, in the form of information and resources, to those suffering with eating disorders to get them started on the road to recovery and healthy living.