With obesity rates on the rise, you may worry whether your child is eating too much — or not enough. Children of all ages can be finicky eaters, barely eating at one meal and eating everything in sight later. Some children will eat only certain foods, while others will eat anything you put on their plate. Determine how much your child should be eating.
A Fluctuating Diet
You may worry when your child doesn’t eat anything at lunch or when he decides that the only thing he’ll eat is peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. These are all normal behaviors. You’ll find that your child will generally make up for this at later meals. For example, a child who doesn’t eat lunch may eat twice as much at dinner or a child who only eats sandwiches one day will crave fruits or protein the next. Look at your child’s diet over a period of weeks rather than what he eats in a single day.
The Growth Chart
The growth chart is an effective tool to determine whether your child is eating enough. In general, you’d expect your child to place in the same percentiles that she usually has — if she was in the 80th percentile for weight when she was a baby, she’ll probably be in the 80th percentile for weight as a toddler. If there’s a big jump in percentile — either up or down — it could be a sign that she’s either eating too much or not enough. Your doctor will tell you whether to be concerned.
Number of Meals
Whenever possible, it’s smart to offer three meals and two snacks per day. These do not have to be large meals. For example, a mid-morning snack might be one-half of a banana or a few graham crackers. When your child’s in school, it can be more difficult to get a snack in if the school doesn’t offer scheduled snack times. Give him something that he can eat quickly between classes.
Encourage your child to eat healthy foods by offering a wide range of healthy choices. It’s not uncommon for your child to balk at the appearance of spinach on the dinner plate, but after seeing it several times, she may try it and like it. The wider variety of foods you offer, the more likely she is to find healthy foods that she likes.
The Clean Plate Club
Avoid forcing your child to eat all the food on his plate. Children tend to eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full — a habit that can prevent obesity later in life. If you ask your child to clean his plate, he may lose the natural ability to tell when to stop eating.