Many parents worry whether their children are getting enough – or too much – to eat. And for good reason, since kids’ appetites can change frequently and be difficult to predict.
In general, kids are pretty good about eating according to their hunger, but they do need us to offer healthy & appealing foods, limit snacking and sometimes prompt them to listen to their body’s signals. Below are some general guidelines for how much food children might need at each age (though keep in mind, individual needs may vary).
Keep in mind:
- Growth slows down by about 30% after the first year, so don’t worry if your toddler’s appetite seems smaller or erratic.
- Don’t push your child to eat more than she wants. She will not starve, and you want her to listen to her body signals!
- Avoid food bribes. Promote a positive relationship with food by offering your child healthy foods and letting him choose what he eats.
- Stick to a meal/snack schedule. Toddlers usually like to eat frequently (every 3 hours or so) but avoid offering unlimited access to food.
- Don’t panic. Really, children will eat when they’re hungry.
|Sample Menu – Ages 1-3|
|Breakfast||½ cup oatmeal with ½ cup fruit and ½ cup milk|
|Lunch||Grilled cheese sandwich on whole wheat with 1 oz cheese and ¼ cup diced tomatoes on the side|
|Dinner||1 oz chicken, ½ cup roasted asparagus, ½ small sweet potato|
|Snacks||1) 4 oz plain yogurt with ½ cup fruit or ¼ cup whole grain cereal 2) ½ sliced apple with a string cheese|
|Drinks||Serve meals with water or ½ cup milk; limit juice to ½ cup/day|
Keep in mind:
- Kids this age eat slowly, so they may not finish their school lunch simply because they didn’t have much time. Make sure to give them ample time to eat what they’re served at home.
- Since you can’t control everything your child eats anymore, focus on providing a healthy food environment at home, and don’t freak out too much about what happens outside the home.
- Watch out for emotional eating. If your child is always asking for snacks, help her determine whether she’s really hungry and if not, find something else for her to do.
- Allow your child to serve himself at meals, but don’t require that he finish everything on his plate.
|Sample Menu – Ages 4-6|
|Breakfast||1 piece whole wheat toast with 1 Tbsp nut butter + 1 banana|
|Lunch||½ turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread with cheese & veggies,½ cup baby carrots with 2 Tbsp hummus, ½ cup chopped fruit|
|Dinner||2 oz meat or fish, ½ cup cooked grains, ½ cup roasted veggies or chopped salad|
|Snacks||1) ¼ cup trail mix 2) ½ cup yogurt with piece of fruit|
Keep in mind:
- Weight gain may slow down during these years, but calorie needs rise as kids become more active. Offer healthy after-school snacks, especially if your child plays sports.
- Kids in this age group may become a little heavier in preparation for a growth spurt, which is not necessarily worrisome. Do avoid caloric drinks and limit treats to help prevent your child from becoming overweight.
- Include foods you know your child likes in meals you prepare at home. Kids this age may not love what you serve for the entree, but if you provide some side dishes they enjoy, you won’t have to prepare separate meals for each member of the family.
|Sample Menu – Ages 7-9|
|Breakfast||1 whole wheat English muffin with 1 scrambled egg, 1 piece of fruit|
|Lunch||Pasta salad with veggies & cheese, 1 piece of fruit|
|Dinner||3 oz meat or fish, ½ cup roasted veggies or raw veggies with 2 Tbsp dip, 1 small cookie or popsicle for dessert|
|Snacks||1) ¼ cup trail mix 2) 1 cup edamame with sea salt|
For all ages…
Remember, your main nutritional jobs as a parent are to:
1) help your child develop a healthy relationship with food
2) provide a healthy food environment
Healthy eating will ebb and flow but as long as these two things are your focus, odds are good that your child will develop good habits over time!
Sample meal plans adapted from Parents Magazine April 2013