Baby Care :: Nutritional Needs – How Much Food Is Best?

Obesity is often caused by overeating. Children can learn to overeat by watching their parents or other adults. They may learn that food is a reward for good behavior. For example, adults may say: ‘Here?s a piece of candy for being such a good girl or boy.’ Or they may learn that food can fill needs other than hunger, such as when they miss mommy, they suck on a bottle or eat a cookie.

The best guide for feeding children is their appetite. In feeding infants, learn to recognize the first sign of fullness, even if the bottle still has formula in it. Toddlers and preschoolers often have poor and unpredictable appetites because they are not growing as fast as before. It is best to offer small servings and allow children to serve themselves when they are able.

Encourage children to taste all foods served – at least one bite, but never force them to eat or punish them for not eating. Avoid praising children for ‘cleaning their plates,’ and do not withhold dessert if a child does not eat everything. This way, children learn to respond to their hunger and not someone?s praise. Because young children have small stomachs, it is hard for them to get all the nutrients they need in three meals, so nutritious snacks are essential.

School-age children may change from day to day in the amount of food they want. If you watch children over time, you will notice that each child?s appetite has a sort of rhythm. First, the child seems to eat you out of house and home but then eases up for a few weeks or even months. The increases in appetite correspond with increases in physical activity and with growth spurts. It is fascinating to watch the way children in the school-age years grow. First their bodies get a bit more thick and heavy, and they eat a bit more than usual; then they seem to stretch out overnight and get taller and a bit thinner.

You may be tempted to coax children to eat more, but it is best to allow children to serve themselves and just note the general amounts eaten and their food preferences. It is perfectly alright to ask children for their opinions of the food you serve. They may have preferences that can fit quite well with the menu plan and overall nutritional needs of the group.

Realizing that the children in your care have varying tastes and appetites, plan nutritious meals and snacks that will provide the nutrients their growing bodies need. Do not skimp on carbohydrates because these contain essential nutrients. And, between meals, encourage children to run, jump, dance, ride tricycles, and play outdoors to get lots of exercise.

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