|Brayden...I guess a bit ready for cookies?|
While there are some good things to understand about food and nutrition, I personally think it is all simpler than we sometimes make it out to be. But with our own issues with food and body image, it can be hard to step back and relax about it all.
My basic philosophy in feeding my children so far as food portions goes is to feed the child until the child is done. I have an eater who has often eaten so little I wonder if she could really survive on it and I have the other extreme to where I have to really wonder if her legs are hallow...There is no doubt, there are more overweight children today than there ever have been. Because of that, many people might have a desire to limit the amount of food a child eats.
I am no nutritionist so I won't pretend to be one. And you definitely should talk to your doctor if you are having weight concerns. But let's speak intuitively for a minute. If your child is of "normal' health status and you offer your child a varied diet from the beginning and make healthy foods a normal part of each meal, it stands to reason you can let your child set his or her own pace on how much food to eat. Granted if you let the child set the pace on sweets and snack foods, very few would cut themselves off (Brayden would--he has noticed he doesn't feel good when he over-indulges at family parties and he doesn't let himself go that far--but my other kids would over-indulge away).
Remember my child who doesn't eat much? I have to monitor and require her fruits a vegetables. If I left her to her own devices, she would live off of carbs (and I so sympathize with her!). My child who eats a ton lives primarily off of fruits and vegetables. These two girls are in the end at right about the same place on the growth curve for weight even though they eat a drastically different amount.
There is guidance for us as parents, though. We don't have to go just by "intuition." So here is what you want to know--how much food will your child eat?
BABY (0-12 Months)
For your baby who is eating solid foods, plan on about the following:
- 24-32 ounces of a milk in a day (formula or breastmilk)
- At breakfast, offer 2-4 T of fruit and a grain.
- At lunch and dinner, offer 2-4 T of fruit and 2-4 T of vegetables. One of my children also liked some oatmeal at dinner.
Start with those basics and adjust as you get to know your baby's personal needs. I have had a huge range among my four children. If you are offering healthy foods, trust your baby to know when he or she is done eating. A normal healthy baby will not let herself starve. There are babies out there who fight food, and if you are a mother to one you already know it. Consult with a doctor about foods if you are in that circumstance.
Also be mindful of growth spurts. Your baby will likely eat more food during growth spurts.You baby also might have one meal where she eats a lot and then the next where she eats almost nothing.
PRE-TODDLER (12-18 Months) and TODDLER (18 months to 3 years)
This is a stressful age because your child starts to overtake the job of feeding herself. The amount your child eats will vary depending on her own natural metabolism and her activity level. There is a rule out there for children ages 1-3 to eat 40 calories per inch of height. Counting calories does not sound appealing to me! But it might to you.
As a general rule, a child in this age range will still eat:
- 1-2 T vegetables per meal
- 1-2 T fruit per meal
- 1-3 T protein per meal
- 16-32 ounces of milk or equivalent a day (there is variance on suggestions for this. I personally go for 24 ounces) See my post on adding milk/dairy to the diet without milk for alternative ideas to milk and Pre-Toddler Milk Intake for more on amounts
- On Becoming Toddlerwise says to give one teaspoon per year of age of each food to a child
As you give food to your child, keep in mind the plate:
That gives you an idea of how to portion out the meal. But don't live and die by it! Remember that ten years ago, it was all about the pyramid. Now it is the plate. Trust your instinct. And remember nutrition isn't all about one meal--it is about how it looks over the week. If your child wants to eat mostly fruit one lunch time, do it! She will likely have a meal later in the week where she is all about the vegetables.
Let me give a caveat--if your child always wants the fruit and no veggies, take measures to help with that. Give the unwanted food first with no other foods and let her eat that for a bit before you bring out the favorites.
PRESCHOOLERS and CHILDREN AGES 4-8 YEARS
Children in the age range of 4-8 eat a different amount than 9 and up. Even when you are planning for food storage, suggested amounts to store are different for a 6 year old than a 10 year old. Makes sense right? We all have heard the stories about teens and their appetites...
In this age range, have a standard for your family. How often will you eat? Some families like to eat six smaller meals a day. Some eat three meals plus two snacks. We do three meals and one snack at our house. Have a standard and set it. So far as snacks go, if your child doesn't eat well at mealtimes, cut down on snack time. And of course offer healthy food for snacks.
Remember growth spurts still happen. If my child is hungry at a time that is abnormal, I allow fruits or vegetables to be eaten. Just have a family policy so you don't head down a path to unhealthy eating habits.
So far as how much to feed a child in this age range, linked below are a couple of helpful charts if you want things broken down into quantifiable amounts. Still keep in mind your food plate pictured above.
Here are some general tips when feeding your children that apply to all ages 0-8.
- If your child tends to be picky, give the food the child is picky about first. The child is more likely to eat that food when hungrier. For older children, I give all food at once but require what was given to be eaten before seconds are given of favored foods (or sometimes before the child leaves the table).
- Give small amounts at a time. When you first put food on your child's plate, put a small amount of each food so your child doesn't get overwhelmed at the food before her. This is a tip my husband's grandmother swears her life on, and I have found it to be true.