Monday, October 21, 2013

Food Portions for Children Baby-8 Years

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Brayden...I guess a bit ready for cookies? 
Food is a basic need in life. It seems like it is something we should be able to manage intuitively, right? We shouldn't have to think about it so much! But it is a huge part of our day to day and such a stress in many ways. And it doesn't get more stressful than when you have kids. You can have a child who barely eats anything. You can have a child who has a food aversion and basically doesn't eat at all. You can have a child who seems to be eating more than humanly possible. Is your child getting enough? Too much? How much should you offer? AAAAaaahhhhhhh!!!!!

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:
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. 

See also 

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.


Shea Lafferty said...

I agree. I firmly believe that you should feed a child when they are hungry. There are so many things going on with them when they are young including brain development that requires increased nutrition at times. That being said, I also think as a parent, you should control the quality of the food they eat. If they have been allowed some chips or sweets and come back hungry for more give them 2 healthy choices to pick from like "Do you want a banana or apple? Or do you want yogurt or cheese? Or carrots or cucumber? My children do very well with this method. I truly believe that the child obesity is more a result of decreased activity and poor quality food instead of how much children eat during the day.

~Nikole~ said...

I recently attended a Public Health class about this exact topic! It was so interesting and certainly beneficial. My 7 month old is a great eater, but I still learned a few things to help me in the future (in case future kids aren't so awesome).

The basic rule the AHS (Alberta Health Services) laid out was this:

Parents are in control of What, When and Where Food is Eaten. Children are in control of If they eat, and How Much to Eat.

Children know their own appetites and sometimes, they just aren't very hungry! But if we as parents are providing the healthy food choices at proper times (BabyWise certainly helps with this) the kids will get the nutrition they need. Forcing kids to eat causes negative food experiences, which can lead to food aversions, obesity, and other negative habits. When my son is done, I don't force him to finish because I know he knows his own body and appetite better than I do. So far, it's been great and has turned my already awesome eater into an All Star!

Sorry for the long comment, I really wanted to share what I recently learned about this topic! Thanks for the great blog! I'm in awe! Thanks again!

Valerie Plowman said...

Thank you so much for your comments ladies! I appreciated it. Good thoughts.

Nikole thanks for sharing that. That is what I was trying to get at. I am glad my thoughts are close enough to true that someone else thinks the same thing :)

Book a Day said...

Kids drinking 32 oz of milk a day are at risk for iron deficiency anemia and constipation..
"I recently saw a toddler with severe iron deficiency anemia, who ended up requiring a blood transfusion, and the problem ended up being that he was drinking too much milk and not eating enough healthy foods. The Pediatric Hematologists in our area say that they see it very often too".

Alex said...

Hi, my baby is 10 months old and eats her veggies, grains and meat blended, but with a bit of texture. Lately, she eats about 6 or 7 spoonfuls and then puts her hands in front of mouth and nose, so that I will stop feeling her. BUT, if I add yogurt to the tip of the spoon with food on it, she will eat A LOT more. Should I encourage this habit? Should I stop feeding her food when she signals done, or should I add the yogurt and keep going? Any advice would help. Thanks!

Ashley said...

We just started solids with our 6 month old and are now at 1 T of oat cereal 2 times a day. When you say 2-4 T of a fruit and grain, do you mean 2-4 T each of fruit and grain or combined? Also, she was eating between 32 and 35 ounces of formula and breastmilk combined a day before we started solids. How much should we decrease her bottle intake (if any)? I know I'm over-complicating this, but I'm an engineer and can't help it! :) Thanks for the help!

Valerie Plowman said...

Haha--my husband is an engineer so I know all about it :)

For the 2-4 of a fruit and a grain, I would often mix the fruit with the grain. So say 1-2 T of the grain, add in 1-2 T of the fruit and then as much liquid as needed. But not all babies like them mixed. Also, don't be afraid to feed her more if she wants more. Different children eat different amounts.

Feed the bottle first and then offer the solids. So stick with your normal amount of bottle and then do solids.

Roxana Cooper said...

Hi! From what I understood in BW- rice cereal was to be introduced with 1 Tbsp day 1, then 2 Tbsp day 2 and so on until you're up to 1/4 cup dry cereal (4 tbsp). So as I introduce veggies next I would decrease the cereal by 2 tbsp and replace with 2 tbsp of veggies/fruit, right? In other words, the meal portion total should be about about 1/4 cup per meal through the 1st year?

Thank you!

Valerie Plowman said...

I always just did the food I was introducing first and then still offer the same amount of others, but if the baby didn't want more I would be okay with that. That is why I liked to do nursing first. That way the milk was there and I could offer as many solids as baby wanted without spoiling the milk portion.


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