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
Breaky as a Crystal Ball: More than any other meal, what we eat for breakfast is the clearest indicator of our overall eating habits in adulthood.
The first step is to record everything your little one eats AND drinks. 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 4 to 8 years. What about the 3 year olds, I hear you ask? Good question. We recommend you place them in the toddler section up to 3½, and beyond this in the children’s section. Next, write down what they ate (be descriptive i.e. wholemeal bread), list the quantity consumed and when it was eaten.
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.
Example Servings for Toddlers
|Protein (four servings – 1 serving is roughly 25g)
* ¾ cup of milk
* ¼ non-fat dry milk
* ½ cup of yoghurt
* 3 tablespoons of cottage cheese
* 20g hard cheese
* 1 whole egg or 2 egg whites
* ¾ of 30g fish, poultry, meat
* 60g tofu
|Wholegrains (6 or more servings)
* ½ slice of wholegrain bread
* ½ small wholewheat pita
* ¼ wholegrain bagel
* 2-3 wholewheat crackers
* ½ cup of brown or wild rice
* ¼ cup of lentils, beans, peas etc.
|Calcium foods (4 servings)
* 2/3 cup of milk
* ½ cup of calcium-added milk
* ½ cup of yoghurt
* 30-40g of hard cheese
* 40g canned salmon mashed with bones (is half a serve)
* 30g sardines mashed with bones (half serve)
* 2/3rd of a cup of broccoli (half serve)
|Iron- rich foods (some everyday)
* Iron-fortified cereals
* Beef and lamb
* Baked beans
* Wholemeal pasta
* Blackstrap molasses
* Carob and soy
* Whole grains
|Vitamin C (2 or more servings)
* ¼ cup of fresh strawberries
* 1/8 small cantaloupe/rockmelon
* ¼ large guava
* 1/3 large mango
* ¼ cup of broccoli
* ½ cup of green pepper
* 1/6 cup of red pepper
* 1 small skinned tomato
|Healthy fat foods (five to eight servings – 20-30% of daily calories)
* ½ teaspoon of healthy oil, butter or mayonnaise
* 1 ½ tablespoons of cream cheese
* ¼ small avocado
* 1 egg
* ¾ cup of milk
* ¾ cup of yoghurt
* ½ cup of ice-cream
* 2/3 ounce of hard cheese
* 1 ½ ounces of lean beef, lamb or pork
* 2 ½ ounces of poultry (no skin)
* 90 grams salmon or other fatty fish
|Green and yellow vegetables and yellow fruit (2 or more servings)
* 1 medium apricot
* 2 small dried apricot halves
* ½ cup of diced cantaloupe/rockmelon
* 1/8 of a large mango
* 1 medium nectarine peeled
* ½ large yellow peach peeled
* ½ cup of broccoli
* ¾ cup of peas
* ¼ small carrot
* ½ tablespoon of unsweetened pumpkin puree
* ½ tablespoon of cooked sweet potato
* ¼ large red pepper
|Other fruit and vegetables (one to two or more servings)
* ½ apple, pear, white peach, large banana
* 1/3 cup of cherries, berries or grapes
* 1 large fig
* 2 dates
* 3 dried peach halves
* 1 dried pear half
* 2 tablespoons of raisins, currants or dried apple rings
* ¼ medium avocado
* 3/8 cup of green beans
* ½ cup of beets, eggplant or diced turnip
* ¼ cup of mushrooms, yellow squash or zucchini
* 5 okra pods
* 1/3 cup of peas
* ½ small ear of corn
Source: Adapted from Eisenberg, 1999
Blank meal assessment chart (toddler) – 1 day
To help you keep track of your toddlers’ nutrition, here is a blank chart for you to print out and keep on your fridge. Fill it out each day and assess how nutritional their meals are.
Number of Serves Per Day and Examples for Children
|Age||Cereals (including breads, rice, pasta, noodles)||Vegetables, (including legumes)||Fruit||Milk, yoghurt, cheese||Lean meat, fish, poultry, nuts and seeds|
|Examples||* 2 slices of bread
* 1 cup of porridge
* 1 medium bread roll
* 1 cup of breakfast cereal flakes
* 1 cup of cooked rice, pasta, noodles
* or ½ cup of muesli
|* 1 medium potato or yam
* ½ medium sweet potato
* 1 medium parsnip
* ½ cup of cabbage, spinach, silverbeet, broccoli, cauliflower or brussels sprouts
* 1 cup of lettuce or salad
* ½ cup of broad beans, lentils, peas, green beans, zucchini, mushrooms, tomatoes, capsicum, cucumber, sweetcorn, turnips, swede, sprouts, celery eggplant etc.
|* 1 piece medium sized fruit e.g. apple, orange, mango, mandarin, banana, pear, peach etc
* 2 pieces of smaller fruit e.g. apricots, kiwifruit, plums figs
* About 8 strawberries
* 1 cup of diced pieces or canned fruit
* ½ cup fruit juice
* ¼ medium melon (rockmelon, honeydew)
* Dried fruit e.g. 4 apricots
* 1 ½ tblsp sultanas
* About 20 grapes or cherries
|* 250 ml glass or one cup of milk (can be fresh, longlife or reconstituted milk)
* ½ cup evaporated milk
* 40 g (2 slices of cheese
* 250 ml (1 cup) custard
* 200 g (1 small carton) of yoghurt, plain or fruit
* or, as an alternative try:
* A cup of calcium-fortified soy milk
* 1 cup of almonds
* ½ cup pink salmon with bones
|* 65-100 gm cooked meat or chicken (e.g. ½ cup mince, 2 small chops or 2 slices roast meat)
* 80-100 g cooked fish fillet
* or as an alternative try:
* 2 small eggs
* 1/3rd of a cup cooked (dried) beans, lentils, chick peas, split peas or canned beans
* 1/3rd of a cup peanuts or almonds
Source: NHMRC, 2005
Blank meal assessment chart (child) – 1 day
To help you keep track of your childrens’ nutrition, here is a blank chart for you to print out and keep on your fridge. Fill it out each day and assess how nutritional their meals are.
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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