Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Toddler Nutrition

A post I did for Toddler's Dad blog:

Question: My child is underweight. How can I get him to eat more?

Underweight could be related to medical problems or just to a restricted diet. Either way, I make sure each pediatric patient’s growth is charted on a growth chart. We need to monitor trends and patterns. Sometimes underweight really isn’t a problem; trending positively in the right direction matters more. Provided there are no medical abnormalities, then we can quite simply address diet.

What parent hasn’t experienced concern and frustration when a toddler doesn’t eat what we think they should eat. But take note: A little one’s ability to regulate dietary intake is in fact as close to perfection as it’ll ever be for his entire life. Yes! They may not finish everything on their plate or eat their cruciferous veggies. This is normal. Children are true experts at regulating their intakes: one meal might be scant; another quite large. The result is ideal balance. Overall intake is what matters most. It’s not until well-intentioned adults (i.e., grandparents?) who interject insisting a child clean his plate that problems arise. This teaches the child to override his inherent ability to regulate dietary intake. In my practice, I insist families eliminate membership in the Clean Plate Club. Eat when hungry; stop when full.

Another consideration for a child’s eating pattern is that introducing new, unfamiliar foods takes time and patience. Research and my professional experience confirms that what a parent does—role modeling during meals—is the most important way to encourage healthful eating. Avoid food fights and food struggles. Gentle episodes of exposure to new foods—as many as to or more separate occasions—may be required ten successfully expand a child’s intake.

Happy eating!

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