Sitting down and eating with the kids has brought some challenges to light. Many of the kids still need some coaching on what to eat and how much of it. For the most part, we want this to be as autonomous as possible. We like the kids to independently open their lunch boxes and all the containers. We trust that parents send healthy food items and let the kids choose what they want to eat and how much. While we try to allow self-direction in the entire process of lunch, if we see a child packing up their lunch before they've tried anything then we intervene.
I've been unsure about how much to intervene in this situation. As usual, there is no hard and fast answer. It depends on the situation, the child, what they've eaten so far that day, how they are feeling that day, what they brought for lunch and whether or not they are in hurry to do something else instead (like ride the new bike in the yard).
A quick internet search provides lots of tips and advice. I decided to go straight to the source, The USDA Food Pyramid and see what the actual guidelines are.
According to their website, mypyramid.gov, a 3 year old child who gets 30-60 minutes of physical activity a day (Beansprouts get more, of course) should eat the following:
Grains - 5 ounces
Vegetables - 1.5 cups
Fruit - 1.5 cups
Milk - 2 cups
Meat/Beans - 4 ounces
Total caloric intake about 1400 daily.
It's not easy to convert these serving sizes into what you actually put on a plate. Most adults struggle to do this for themselves and putting together meals for picky preschoolers, who eat several times a day, can be even more difficult. A quick scour of the internet turns up the following tips for serving sizes and feeding your toddler appropriate portions:
- If you were to take all of the food your toddler needs in a day, it could easily fit on one plate.
- At each meal, half of their plate should be fruit and/or veggies.
- Juice and milk are very filling and can really pack in the calories.
- Serving suggestions
It can also help to avoid common mistakes, such as:
- drinking more than 16-24 ounces of milk each day.
- drinking more than 4-6 ounces of juice each day.
- letting your child fill up on sweets and snacks.
- forcing your child to eat when he isn't hungry.
- giving servings that are too big. The average toddler serving is going to be about 1/4 of an adult serving size. Don't go by the serving size listed on nutrition labels, as these are mainly for older children and adults.
When it's all said and done, children are able to regulate their caloric intake naturally. Our job is to make sure we are offering a variety of healthy choices and maybe learn to relax a little when it comes to just how much they eat.