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Nutrition for Toddlers and Preschoolers

Food Jags
Food jags are periods when children refuse foods that they previously liked, or when they repeatedly request a particular food at each meal. This behavior is commonly observed in toddlers and preschoolers between the ages of two to six. During these years, growth is slower and appetite tends to decrease. This can cause concern and frustration in parents who want to be sure the child is getting adequate nutrition. Children at this age show more interest in discovering the world around them than in the food they eat. Food jags can happen because the child is bored with the usual foods or is trying to discover a new independence.

The best way to handle a toddler's food jags is to remain low key. The more you focus on it, the longer the food jag may last. Being either too rigid or too accommodating will not help. Children cannot be forced to eat foods they do not want. Food preferences develop as a child is exposed to new foods in a calm, nonthreatening environment. Realize that this is a temporary situation and a normal part of the child's development. You still have control over what foods are offered to the child, so continue to offer a variety of foods and allow the child to make food choices from what is available. It is fine to offer the food they want again and again, as long as other foods are offered to encourage variety. They will probably become bored with the same food and begin eating others that are offered. Offer their favorite foods as well as substitutions for the foods they refuse. Children will meet all of their nutritional needs over several days' time.

Fact: Toddlers control very few things in their environment. When a child discovers how upsetting it can be to a parent when they refuse to eat or demand the same food at meals, eating behavior can become a powerful tool for getting attention.

Continue to offer healthy and nutritious foods, and plan mealtimes appropriately. When a child sits down to eat, step back and allow the child to control what he or she eats. This will enable your child to develop healthy eating behaviors. If a child refuses entire food groups for more than two weeks, talk to a doctor or registered dietitian.

Trying New Foods
Getting your child to try a new food can be frustrating. Keep in mind that taste is not the only factor that is important in a child's food acceptance. Temperature of food is also important. Most toddlers will do best with lukewarm foods.

To help your child try new foods, try the following tips:

  • Offer just one new food at a time. Let the child know if the taste is sweet, sour, or salty.
  • Let children taste a very small amount at first to see if they like it.
  • Tell children that if they don't like it, they don't have to swallow it.
  • Many young children have to be offered a food several times before they accept it. If they don't accept it the first time, try again later.
  • Be a role mode! A caregiver who asks a child to drink milk or eat vegetables should be doing the same.
  • When introducing a new food, seat the child with a sibling or friends who are good tasters and will eat the food.
  • When serving a new food, serve it with one the child already likes.
The odor and presentation of food are also factors in whether the child will be open to trying a new food.


Copyright © 2002 by Kimberly A. Tessmer. Excerpted from The Everything Nutrition Book: Boost Energy, Prevent Illness, and Live Longer with permission of its publisher, Adams Media Corporation.

To order this book visit Amazon.com.

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