News article

Shaping a Toddler's Diet

Posted:  Monday, September 10, 2012

Consistency is key when encouraging a healthy toddler diet – prime focus areas include: a positive eating environment, appropriate portion size, education and meeting developmental needs.

Planes, trains, and automobiles—these are all tricks that parents and caregivers use to get food into their children's mouths. These methods may work for a while, but once a child reaches the toddler age, he craves the independence to do it himself, learning, exploring and deciding on his own what he will, or will not eat. Of course, this can create special mealtime challenges, the most difficult being: How do I help maintain my child's healthy diet when he doesn't want to eat his vegetables?

The Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study™ (FITS) recently reviewed the transition to table foods, and showed that during this pivotal developmental time, children go from several fruits and vegetables a day to almost none. This finding was echoed in the Continuing Survey of Food Intakes of Individuals, in which 63% of children aged two to nine years weren't consuming the recommended number of fruits, and 78% weren't consuming the recommended number of vegetables. (Lack of availability, "finicky" eating, or the perceived taste of vegetables could be possible causes.)

Highlighted nutritional concerns included calcium, fibre, fruit and vegetable intake; portions; and the alarming number of high-calorie, low-nutrient-density foods that enter the diet at this time.

Overall, despite the efforts of food organisations, health care professionals and the media, there remains little change in the dangerous trend of children consuming unhealthy diets. As more of our toddlers transition away from fruits and vegetables toward fatty, salty and sugary snacks and meals, more are ending up obese or with a higher risk profile for many diseases. Now, more than ever, we need to increase our efforts to get the message through to parents: establishing healthy eating habits at the toddler age is absolutely critical to future development.

Article by Marilyn Tanner-Blasiar, MHS, RD, LD | Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis | Department of Paediatrics, Patient Oriented Research Unit and St. Louis Children's Hospital | American Dietetic Association Spokesperson | St. Louis, MO