Chances are you have not had a whole lot of opportunity to ask your family physician or pediatrician about a few rules of thumb for your child’s nutrition. After all, there is hardly any time to talk about nutrition even on a routine wellness visit. Our experience has been no different as the doctor always seems to be in such a big rush to get you out of there!
That is why, I read with great interest an article written by a physician and a registered dietitian published in the American Family Physician, which is a peer reviewed journal of the American Academy of Family Physicians. The title of this article is Nutrition in Toddlers and it contains a nice table of 7 consensus recommendations you can use to manage your child’s nutrition. I wanted to share them with you in this article.
A toddler diet should include 2-3 servings of milk or other dairy products per day
Not a problem in most cases unless your child has a milk allergy or intolerance. Milk is a great way to meet your growing child’s calcium and vitamin D needs.
Toddlers older than 2 years old should get 30% of daily calories from fat
Not all fat is bad, even though we live in a world where low fat seems to be the golden rule. What you need to limit is saturated fat or trans fat and watch dietary cholesterol. Very easy to do if you reduce processed foods and rely more on home-cooked meals. Polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats and fatty acids are among the healthy fats you must include in your child’s diet.
Limit fruit juices to no more than 4-6 oz per day and emphasize whole fruits and veggies
It is easy to get comfortable with the no-sugar 100% pure fruit juice label on the box, but fruit juices are no replacement for real fruit. Getting your child to love fruits and veggies takes effort and patience, but don’t give up!
Vitamin supplementation is unnecessary except in undernourished or chronically ill children
I could not agree more! It is natural to worry as a parent, and sometimes feel the pressure to start using a vitamin supplement just to be safe. There days we hear so much about vitamin D deficiency but a supplement is not needed unless your child doesn’t get enough sun exposure or if he does not or cannot drink at least 2 cups of milk. There are situations where you may consider a multivitamin for your toddler, but the general advice is to manage your child’s vitamins and minerals needs through diet and healthy lifestyle.
Good nutritional habits should be fostered by sitting at the table, turning off the television and interacting socially
Sometimes we get so focused on the what of eating, that we forget about the how of feeding! Having a family meal without the distraction of TV or video games is a very powerful way of building lifelong healthy eating habits. Dr Kathleen Cuneo of Dinner Together is an expert in this matter whose opinion I respect a lot. I really like her approach and belief that feeding is parenting. That is what matters in the long run, not the nutritional facts on the label!
Parents should offer children a variety of foods, expose them repeatedly to healthy foods and model healthy eating behaviors
Like it or not, you are a role model for your young child. And when it comes to building lifelong healthy eating habits, your attitude towards food and eating is the most important factor. Being a role model is not difficult; just be consistent and completely natural with your child.
To reassure parents and detect undernourished children, physicians should monitor growth patterns including body mass index
While it is natural to worry if your child falls below the 50th percentile on weight and height growth charts, body mass index is a better tool to assess if your child is overweight or underweight. Body mass index uses both height and weight. It is very easy and you can use an online calculator if you don’t want to wait until your next wellness check appointment.
I think these recommendations pretty much sum up the latest thinking in child nutrition. They are based on sound evidence and practical experience of doctors and dietitians. You don’t have to try to follow all of them on a daily basis. You can try to make them a part of your child’s overall eating habits in the long run. It is also a good idea to tailor your approach to your child’s individual personality without getting hung up on a certain best way to practice them.