As a mother, it is natural to always worry if your child is getting enough nutrition for his or her proper growth and development. But, you might find it difficult to predict your child's eating habits. He might eat a lot on some days, and on other days, hardly anything at all. Even though this behaviour is quite normal, it is important to know if your toddler is eating enough or not.
Assessing your child’s intake
Use subjective and objective measurements to know if your child is eating enough. Subjective measurement includes observing if:
- Your child is eating from all food groups or refusing a particular food
- He or she is trying new foods or sticking with the old ones
- He or she is constantly feeling hungry even after he/she finishes a meal
- They are sleeping well, and having proper bowel movements
- He or she is growing out of his/her clothes
Objective measurements are usually taken with the help of a doctor, by assessing your toddler’s growth pattern, weight for age and height for age graphs, and developmental milestones.
Effects of inadequate nutrition
If your child doesn’t eat enough, it might affect his or her health in more than one way. Adequate nutrition is very important for a child’s mental, social, physical, and behavioural development. The negative impacts of improper nutrition might include
- Poor growth
- Mood swings
- Reduced concentration
- Increased tantrums
- Mental and physical sluggishness
- Poor muscle strength and delayed growth of teeth and bones
- Early childhood tooth decay and muscle cramps due to lack of calcium and magnesium
- Inflammation of the lining of the oral cavity, tongue, and oral ulcers
Helpful tips if you think your child isn’t eating well
- It is your responsibility as a parent to provide healthy foods in the required proportions, and it is your child's role to decide how much he can consume. Overall, you need to give your kids 3 regular meals and 2 or 3 healthy snacks such as vegetable sticks, yoghurt, apple slices, or whole-grain crackers with peanut butter.
- Snacks help in bridging any nutritional gap even if they don't eat enough of the main meals. Do not worry if they eat all meals one day and do not eat as much the next day. It usually balances out in the long run.
- To balance the calories of your child's meal, do not give him or her oversized portions. Fill about half of his/her plate with fruits and vegetables. You can even opt for non-fat or low-fat milk.
- Choose foods like soups, breads, and pre-packaged foods with low sodium, and give your kids water instead of sugary drinks. The number and type of snacks that they have eaten, count too. As they have small stomachs, they will not be able to eat large meals, so give them healthy snack choices.
- Ideally, give your toddler 6 servings of grains, 3 servings of vegetables, 2 servings of fruits, 2 servings of protein, 16 ounces of dairy or other calcium sources, and very little of fats and sweets.
- What happens usually is that, parents put adult portions of food on their child's plate, and then worry that their child hasn't completed the meal. Do remember that a toddler's portion is only a quarter or half of a normal adult's portion. To keep this in mind, simply offer them a tablespoon per food group for every birthday they have had. For example, a 1-year-old's serving size will be 1 tablespoon of vegetables or grains, and for a 3-year-old child, it will be 3 tablespoons of vegetables and every other food group.
- When your kids are not interested in eating, do not cajole them if they are full. Else, they might never understand how to read hunger and satiety signals.
- If they are not eating, keep track of the amount of milk or juice they are drinking. Too much juice can fill their stomach and curb their appetite. So, try limiting the beverages and see if their appetite improves.
- The right eating environment is also essential to inculcate healthy eating behaviours in a toddler. Make mealtimes happy and show your toddler that you love eating the food that you have cooked.
- Do not portray new foods as a negative thing by punishing the toddler if they do not have these. Do not bribe your child for eating healthy, because then healthy eating might be seen as a chore.
- Let your toddler lick, play, and create a mess with food. Allow him/her to feed himself/herself and when he or she seems disinterested, take the food away. Keep offering them new foods even if they refuse, as their interests will keep fluctuating.
- Involve your toddler while making a meal or while grocery shopping. Present foods in a fun way by cutting them into various shapes and have your kids give them their own special names.
- Offer them choices like broccoli or cauliflower and mix new foods with old, familiar foods. You can also give them healthy dips like yoghurt or hummus.
If your child does not eat food, do not let your disappointment show, as your sign of disapproval may cause them to do it repeatedly. If your kid is constantly refusing food, there might be an underlying health condition too, and consulting a doctor might help.