6 Rules for Feeding Your Toddler

Mealtime can be quite a frustrating experience. The best advice I can give you, as a mother and a pediatrician, is that children rarely starve themselves, and it’s more stressful on you than on your little one. So relax and try to incorporate these simple rules:

1. Location

Have your child sit in the same place in his high chair or booster at the table. Don’t feed your kid while he’s running around the house, in his stroller or in front of the TV.

2. Set-Up

Prepare your child for mealtime with a routine: hand washing, picking out her plate, finding her favorite sippy cup, etc. Try to time the meal so you can sit and eat something at the same time, participating in the meal.

3. Communicate

Talk to your child about what you are preparing, what he is going to taste, how it’s time for the meal, etc., then sit down and stay seated while he eats.

4. Offer limited but fixed choices

Try to put one thing you know she will eat, one thing she has had before, and one new thing. Then let her eat what she wants. Offer more of what she picks as long as it is one of the three options you originally presented.

5. Don’t be scared

If he eats nothing, then don’t rush to give him something else. Don’t give him a bottle, or allow him to have a snack 20 minutes later. He won’t starve.

6. Let her participate in the feeding, even if it’s messy

Allow your tot to try to get some into her mouth herself and don’t punish her for missing or making a mess. Use a drop cloth if needed. And be sure she has a utensil that she can manage herself (like a large short spoon).

Nutrition guidelines

Caloric needs: Most toddlers need between 900 and 1100 calories per day. Most children do best with several snacks in between their three meals.

Calcium: Don’t overestimate their requirements for milk. Calcium can be acquired through yogurt and tofu as well, and cheese. Toddlers need about 3 servings a day.

Carbohydrates: You never need to worry here – most toddlers eat more than the 3 servings needed.

Protein: Most toddlers do not eat the 2-3 servings they should. Remember that nut butters are a great source of protein if your child is not allergic.

Vitamins: From vegetables and fruit – 3 or more servings per day. Avoid juice.

Zinc: Most kids do not eat enough zinc, crucial for cell division and mucus membrane integrity. Zinc is found in things like chickpeas and hummus – surprisingly, many toddlers love hummus if it is creamy not grainy.

Iron: Very important for your child’s energy level and for brain development. Most children, unless they are on a restricted diet for religious or other reasons, get plenty of iron from meat, leafy vegetables and cereal.

Fat: Despite all the fear about fat in this country, toddlers under the age of 3 require high-quality fat in every meal for optimum brain and visual development.

Fiber: The American Academy of Pediatrics adopted a rule: your child’s age plus five is the number of grams of fiber recommended.


Dr. Natalie W. Geary, a top New York City pediatrician, has accumulated a wealth of parenting knowledge from her years both as a doctor and a mother. Trained in both western (M.D.) and alternative (Ayurvedic) medicine, Dr. Geary believes in integrating wellness and preventive care. She is committed to providing mothers with advice and information that encompasses health, nutrition, fitness and wellbeing.

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