This is the first post from a three-topic interview series focused on nutrition for toddlers that was originally published on Eczema Blues website. This part is called “How much kid need to eat”. I was interviewed by Mei Marcie aka MarcieMom, an amazing mom who is running a hugely popular blog on eczema in kids. As a mom, she asked me all kinds of great questions that you may be also wondering about. So I thought it would be a good idea to republish the series on my blog, to make sure you also get a chance to read it.

Starting Solids

MarcieMom: Hi Natalia, thanks so much for collaborating on this series. Given the small tummies of young children and that solids have a different place in their nutrition at various stages, would you summarize for busy moms and dads what portion sizes their children should be eating?

Natalia: This is a great question and I get it a lot at my workshops and online classes. Generally speaking, babies start with a very small amount of solids and gradually progress to more solid foods in their diet by the time they turn 12 months. At around 9-10 months many babies go through the “big switch”, as I call it. At this point, more calories and nutrition start coming from solid foods than from formula or breastmilk and many babies want bigger portions of solids and also start snacking on solid food rather than drinking milk or formula for snacks. It is important to remember that any guidance on portion sizes for babies can be interpreted only as an estimation, as babies’ appetites vary greatly.

Toddler Nutrition portion

What I provide in this chart is more of a “starter” for portions. Some babies need more and some babies need less food. With this in mind, babies should never be pressured to finish a portion of food or be restricted in the amount they are hungry for. Here is a link to the article I wrote on why it is important to trust babies’ appetites.

MarcieMom: With regard to picky eaters, I’ve attended a talk by Dr Sears who suggested‘grazing’, eating small-size food portions throughout the day. Since then, I’ve seen increasing number of articles that recommended it. Would you recommend the same, and if yes, why and for which groups of children would ‘grazing’ work best?

Natalia: Toddlers need to eat more frequently than older kids – every 2 to 3 hours. And serving them snacks in a muffin tray is a great idea! I did it for my own kids and always recommend it in my classes. But I think that the word “grazing” is a little confusing here. Grazing suggests eating small portions throughout the day without any mealtime structure. Dr Sears suggests serving the tray mid-morning and mid-afternoon and I think these are great times for a scheduled snack.

Some parents may leave the tray out all day in a hope to get a few extra bites into their toddler. This will most likely result in eating out of boredom and/or no appetite for dinner.Structure in meals and snacks help kids of any ages to eat better at meals and stay attuned to their hunger and fullness signals.

MarcieMom: Obesity is a rising problem among kids, actually not just in US but in Singapore as well. I’m thinking that the main meals or snacks which are planned and prepared ahead by parents and caregivers are likely to be ‘correct’. However, some parents (me included!) may slip and offer ice-cream, ice milo, juice (even diluted) and grandparents may offer chocolate-coated snacks (who can resist?!). What is the practical way to look at and control these ‘extras’? 

Natalia: Those delicious extras can be a legitimate part of your child’s diet. In fact, research shows that it is important to serve your child’s favorites from time to time because kids tend to value restricted foods even more. It is up to parents, of course, to decide how many treats their child will get per day or per week. A good rule of thumb I use with my kids and clients is that anything marketed to children or with added sugar is a treat. To help kids feel in control around “forbidden foods”, we recommend serving them in unlimited amount from time to time (an example will be a glass of milk and a plate of cookies for snack once a month). If served for dessert, the treats should be smaller (think of a size of an oreo cookie) but they should never be served as a reward for eating dinner. Instead, try to serve a small dessert alongside the meal, to “neutralize” it as much as possible. And do not forget that a bowl of fruit with plain yogurt also makes a great dessert!

MarcieMom: A final question on how much to eat – is the BMI-chart for kids accurate or should looking at a kid and assessing whether he/she is all chubby/flabby or look firm and fit be a better gauge? !

Natalia: The most important information we can derive from growth chart is if the child is growing consistently. Some health professionals call it “following the curve”. We aim for comparing the child to himself, not to other children. Some children are consistently on the 90th percentile and completely healthy while others thrive on the 5th percentile. If the child suddenly starts “dropping” or “climbing” percentiles on a growth chart, on the other hand, it may indicate a medical or feeding problem. For the most accurate results, it is also important to pick the right chart. BMI chart is available for kids only 2 years and older and breastfed babies are best assessed on the World Health Organization charts, not the CDC ones. You can read more on growth charts in this post.

Stay tuned for the other two parts of the interview with Marcie Mei! We will talk about What to Eat and What Not to Eat.