Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Food Amounts for Toddlers

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A couple of weeks ago as I was finishing my latest read-through of On Becoming Toddlerwise, I was surprised to read about food amounts for toddlers. I had never noticed it before. It is on page 145.

For each item of food, you give one teaspoon per year of age. So a one year old would get one teaspoon of peas. A two year old would get two teaspoons of peas, etc.

Doesn't that sound like so little! I think as parents we are always worried our kids aren't getting enough. This guideline can help you know how much to feed your child without stress.

This doesn't mean if your one year old eats all of her peas and asks for more that you say no. Personally, when it comes to fruits and veggies, I let my children eat all they want. If they finish the main course and want more of that, but haven't eaten enough fruits and/or veggies, I require them to eat some of the fruits/veggies before getting more of the other food.

My husband's grandmother says children will eat more overall if you give them less in the first place. She says it isn't so overwhelming to them to see small amounts. I don't know if this is true, but some parents have found it to be true. Either way, giving less at a time will at least avoid wasting food.

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Carrie said...

Can you tell me how many items of food on average should be served at each meal? How many teaspoons overall makes sense? My one year old eats much more than 2 or 3 teaspoons at each meal, but I usually only serve 2 or 3 different items. So that line in the book really confused me and it's so timely that you just posted on it! Thanks for any help.

Hillary Kouba said...

Thanks for this post. I also followed up and read the creating a good eater post but my question is what if my 2 1/2 daughter won't even try foods? She won't eat ANY real fruit but bananas, no veggies but if I give her baby food containers of fruits or veggies (all flavors) she will finish those off all day long. Should I make a battle out of at least trying a bite? I don't make her different meals (she eats what we eat and it is very normal foods) and she only has one snack a day as well (but not even every day). If she says she's all done but hasn't eaten much, she has to stay in her chair until everyone else is finished and then she can get down. I would think that she would be very hungry for the next meal but she sometimes picks at that too. I just don't know if I should be making her at least try a bite (this will cause a battle) or keep letting her be done without eating much.She definitely doesn't get desert when she hasn't eaten but usually gets over that pretty quickly. I also have an 11 month old who I am trying to give real food too often and I am 5 months pregnant with a third!

bethers21 said...

So true! I constantly stress about my son not taking enough but I've heard the 1 TBS per year of age other places, too. I just make sure he's at least eaten that much and usually he eats more. I also agree about eating more if you start them out with less. I think Kai could eat for hours if we gave him piece by piece! He could eat a five course meal and then see someone else eating something different and want it, too.

Laurie said...

I've read a great book called "Take the fight out of food" that some of you might be interested in.

I'm a Chef and worked for a brief time at a very large church day care. We fed about 100 kids a day. We had to follow strict guidelines on portion sizes and nutrition based on government guidelines. You would probably be able to find those guidelines through your local county government services or on the internet.

Very few toddlers ever ate all the things on their plate. I often had to serve things many, many times before I noticed they were eating more of them. For example, I roasted broccoli and no one tried it at first. Eventually the kids tried it and loved it, but it was a slow process. I've heard that you have to try new foods, especially strongly flavored ones, 8-14 times before they will recognize the food as something ordinary and not too strange to eat.

Children seem to like to eat "fun" foods... fairy dust sprinkled on their food (wheat germ); eating trees (fresh broccoli); dragon's teeth (corn). Obviously you can't do that all the time, but for some children it's very intriguing. It's a good, low key way to get them to try something new.

The other remarkable thing I learned is that children's stomachs are about the size of their closed fist. It stretches of course, but when you think about how much food it takes to fill it, that puts it all in perspective. Kids are really pretty good about only eating what they need and not overeating if they are consistently presented with a wide variety of foods and healthy choices.

As my (US Marine) husband reminds me - "you can go three days without water and 3 weeks without food before you starve to death". So I really don't worry too much if there are meals where she isn't interested in food as much; I always have a well balanced meal and if she chooses not to eat, well, there is always the next meal. I do try to present new foods along with tried and true foods, or a meal she loves after a meal that might have been a bit iffy because we are trying something new and she's no used it yet.

I don't know how much of this fits in with the babywise stuff, but thought I'd share.

Plowmanators said...

Carrie, that is a really good question. I am not sure. I would assume you serve one teaspoon per food group. If you aren't having every food group at a meal (which is fine), then you would realistically expect your child to have more than one teaspoon of some foods.

Unless your child is obviously not capable of governing herself, I wouldn't limit the amount of food at a meal. Most kids are really good at managing their own hunger. I have found both of my children are more average for weight/height when they feed themselves, where they are in the 20% when I am in charge of how much they eat :) I do know some moms, though, that do have to limit food for their LOs because they can't seem to appropriately govern themselves.

Plowmanators said...


I think I would make it a requirement that she eats at least one bite. I really appreciate that I was good about doing that with Brayden from the beginning. I haven't been so good with Kaitly, but have recently instituted that rule for her also. She is doing well with it.

When you do the one more bite, be sure to phrase things that put her in control of her "fate." For example, you say, "you are free to get down from the table as soon as you take one bite of your peas." Then it isn't YOU that is keeping her there, but her. Also show her empathy, "I know you want to get down. I want you to get down too. You can as soon as you take your one bite." Be sure you don't get emotional/frustrated about it. Just be very matter-of-fact.

You also might try different methods to get her going. Kaitlyn was sometimes resistent at first. My husband is really good with her when she gets stubborn and would take a bite of the same thing and say, "Oh this is so good. Kaitlyn you should eat yours with me" and she would. She now responds to me with no problem.

Plowmanators said...

Oh, Hillary, another thing. It sounds like you are busy :). I would be sure to start this with your 11 month old also :)

Plowmanators said...

Thanks Bethers. I have noticed it seems like they eat more if I start them with less, but I wasn't sure if it was just an optical illusion or what. My husband's grandmother says they aren't so intimidated with a small amount.

Plowmanators said...

Thanks for your thoughts Laurie.

I have also read that about trying a new food 10ish times before knowing if you like it or not.

Good ideas about the fun foods too.

I like your husband's reminder, also. It can help those who freak out with a low-intake meal try to remain calm :) I also like your point about being sure to include foods she likes with foods that are new. I also do that.

Good tips!

Stephanie said...

First of all, thank you so much for your blog. It has been so helpful to me. I see these comments were posted some time ago, so I hope you get my comment. I have a 19 month old son and I have always tried my best to create a good eater. Up until recently, he has been good at eating, or at least trying, all the foods I give him. I give him a healthy, well-balanced diet. Well lately, meal times have become such a battle where he won't want to try anything - even foods I know that he's always loved. He'll put it in his mouth and then spit it out - veggies, meat, fruit, anything. I don't understand this. He eats what we eat and I don't make separate meals for him, and if he doesn't eat, that's it until next meal time. I think then at least he'll be hungry, but the same thing happens again. He has all his teeth except for his 2 yr molars, so I don't think he's teething, he isn't sick, and he's a great sleeper for the most part. I can't figure out what it is or what to do. Any ideas?? Do I make it a battle every meal, or just put the food there and if he eats, great, and if he doesn't, just call it a day? Do I just hope it's a phase? And if it's not, then what? Thanks again, and any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Plowmanators said...

Stephanie, I don't think there is one right concrete rule. I do things a little differently with each child.

With Brayden, I insisted he try at least one bite at that age (and I still do). But if a child doesn't like something, I don't force them to eat it. I don't eat things I don't like. But I do require trying, even if it is a food he has hated for four years. Someday it will likely change.

With Kaitlyn, I am pretty careful about her food. She had reflux and I think she still gets heartburn sometimes if she eats the wrong food (she says her tummy is burning). So I have certain foods she never has to try, but for fruits and veggies, at this age I do require she try at least one bite of something.

McKenna has always been a good eater, so I never force any issue.

My basic policy is to put the food in front of the child and let the child eat what they want. If we are having a dessert that day, they don't get a dessert unless they eat a reasonable amount of food.

For the most part, I think it is best to not stress about food and not make it a battle ground.


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