By Katherine M. Tomlinson
Mounting research links childhood diet to everything from brain development and mental stability to risk for obesity and other health conditions. So how can make sure your child gets enough—yet not too much—of the nutrients he needs? When it comes to portion sizes for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, experts say the little ones themselves know best.
If he turns away, he’s full.
“Children do not need to be taught how much to eat,” writes Eileen Behan, RD, in The Baby Food Bible, “but you must support this by showing them how to recognize feelings of hunger and satiety by feeding them when [they’re] hungry and allowing them to stop eating when they indicate a sense of fullness.”
Little ones need small, frequent meals.
When feeding your baby, keep in mind, however, that she may get full quickly and soon show signs of hunger again. Because little ones’ stomachs are small, they need to nibble on demand. As your child grows, he will gradually eat more at one time and extend the time between feedings. Ultimately, you’ll want to feed him at regular meal times, but it’s likely that he will not be ready for just three meals and two snacks a day until he is at least a year old.
What and how much to offer
You can and should see to it that your child is offered the most nutritious foods appropriate for his age. The concentration of nutrients required to fuel his rapid growth and development leaves no room in his tiny stomach for sweets and junk food. To demonstrate this, we’ve assembled the following chart of guideline portion sizes for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers based on recommendations from the USDA and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Since needs vary widely depending on a child’s size, growth rate and activity level, these examples should be used only as rough idea for how much to prepare and make available to your child as he grows. Remember that your little one’s internal cues are the most accurate indicators of the amount of food he needs to eat. Never restrict your child’s supply of healthful food or force him to eat anything. Once your child is old enough to enjoy an assortment of foods, the best way to foster healthy eating habits is to offer him a variety of nutritious fare in a relaxed way, then let him decide what and how much to eat.
Click through to see guideline portion sizes for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers.