How Much Should My Child Be Eating?
Worried Your Fussy or Picky Eater Isn’t Eating Enough?
One of the most common concerns of parents of toddlers and preschoolers relates to fussy or picky eating and nutrition. This fact sheet is designed to help allay some of those fears and point parents in the right direction.
Health, Growth and Eating
Generally, if your child is growing at a normal rate, is active, healthy and alert then they are likely to be eating well. Growth and development are great guides.
How Useful are Servings as a Guide
We have all been bombarded with guides on eating the minimum number of servings from each food group. However, did you know that one serve isn’t necessarily equivalent to one piece of fruit or vegie? If you’ve ever looked into how many servings you or your child needs, you will appreciate that it isn’t as easy as 1, 2, 3. Each food represents a different serving amount depending on its contents. You either need a very good memory or a fridge large enough to display lots of lists!
Still, there is no denying that servings are a handy guide, which is why we have put together a quick checklist so you can assess your child’s diet without too much fuss. Keep in mind that this is not meant to replace the advice of a qualified professional; it is just a guide.
Quick Tips on How to Assess Your Child’s Eating
The first step is to record everything your little one eats AND drinks and when it is eaten. Be descriptive e.g. wholemeal bread, full-fat cow’s milk and include the quantities they eat. Try to select a reasonably average day. One day is easiest but the more days you do the more accurate the result.
We have designed two handy blank diet diary sheets for you to use. One is for toddlers 12 months to 2 years, the other for children 3 to 8 years.
Now that you have your raw data, review the servings charts attached. We recommend you add another food group (especially for children) called ‘extra foods’. These are the less desirable foods, the ones that can taste better than Mum’s cooking at times, such as sausages, pies, chips, takeaways, donuts, sweets etc. The desired serving should be 0–1 per day. Now, refer to your list of foods and tick the food group it belongs to. Some may fit into two or more groups; for example, cheese is dairy, calcium and protein.
Once you have filled in all the information for the foods consumed in a day, simply add up the ticks in the columns. Write down the number of servings your child should have consumed (refer to the servings charts) and subtract one from the other to see whether there is a shortfall or excess. Quite easy, really. In some cases, shortfalls may not be a bad thing – for example in the case of ‘extra foods’; likewise excesses may be both good and bad.
Once you’ve identified a problem area, review the relevant foods or the food groups that are deficient. Then you can take action by including more of the foods suggested on the charts in your child’s diet.
Generally, when food is presented on a plate, each of the food groups should be represented in roughly the following proportions: ½ carbohydrates, 1/3 protein-containing foods (the protein-rich foods will ideally contain the requisite amount of fats, ideally the healthy type), and unlimited vegies.
The number of serves per day and examples for children
|Age (years)||Grains (cereal), mostly wholegrain i.e. bread, rice, pasta, cereal, noodles, polenta, quinoa & barley||Vegetables & legumes/beans||Fruit||Milk, yoghurt, cheese &/or alternatives (mostly reduced fat)||Lean meat & poultry, fish, eggs, nuts & seeds, legumes/beans|
|Examples||* 1 slice of bread or ½ medium bread roll, or flat bread (about 40g)
* ½ cup of cooked porridge or polenta, 2/3 cup breakfast cereal flakes (30g) or ¼ cup muesli (30g)
* 1 medium bread roll
* 1 cup of breakfast cereal flakes
* ½ cup of cooked rice, pasta, noodles
* 3 crispbreads
* 1 crumpet (60g) or 1 small English muffin or scone (35g)
* ½ cup cooked barley, buckwheat, semolina, cornmeal, quinoa
* ¼ cup flour
|* 75g (½ cup) cooked green or Brassica or cruciferous vegetables e.g. broccoli, beans, cauliflower, peas, zucchini, cabbage
* 75g (½ cup) cooked orange vegetables e.g. sweet potato or carrot
* 75g (½ cup) cooked dried or canned beans, chickpeas or lentils (no added salt)
* 75 g (1 cup) raw green leafy vegetables e.g. lettuce, spinach, kale
* 75g starchy vegetables e.g. 1 small or ½ medium potato, or equivalent of sweet potato, taro, sweet corn or cassava
* 75g other vegetables e.g. I small-medium tomato
|* 150g (1 piece) medium sized fruit e.g. apple, banana, orange, pear
* 150g (2 pieces) of small fruit e.g. apricots, kiwifruit, plums
* 150g (1 cup) of diced, cooked or canned fruit
* 125ml (½ cup) 100% fruit juice
* 30g dried fruit e.g. 4 apricot halves, 1½ tablespoons sultanas
|* 250 ml (1 cup) milk – fresh, UHT long life or reconstituted dried
* 125ml (½ cup) evaporated unsweetened milk
* 200 g (3/4 cup or 1 small carton) of yoghurt
* 40g (2 slices or 4×3×2cm piece) hard cheese e.g. cheddar
* 120g ricotta cheese
* or, as an alternative try:
* A cup of calcium-fortified soy or rice milk
* 1 cup of almonds
* ½ cup pink salmon with bones
|* 65g cooked lean red meats (e.g. beef, lamb, pork, venison or kangaroo) or 1/2 cup of lean mince, 2 small chops, 2 slices of roast meat (about 90 – 100g raw weight)
* 80g cooked poultry (about 100g raw weight) e.g. chicken, turkey
* 100g cooked fish fillet (about 115g raw weight) or 1 small can of fish, no added salt, not in brine
* 2 large eggs (120g)
* 1 cup (170g) cooked dried beans, lentils, chickpeas, split peas, or canned beans
* 170g tofu
* 30g nuts or seeds or nut/seed paste, no added salt
Blank meal assessment chart (toddler) – 1 day variety check
|Meals||Protein||Calcium||Iron||Vitamin C||Healthy fat foods||Green and yellow veg||Other veg|
|Difference (over or under)|
Blank meal assessment form (child) – 1 day
|Meals||Cereals/grains||Vegetables, legumes/beans||Fruit||Milk, yoghurt, cheese C||Lean meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts and seeds|
|Difference (over or under)|
This information has been provided by Leanne Cooper from Sneakys baby and child nutrition. Leanne is a qualified nutritionist and mother of two very active boys.
For more information see Baby Care
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