Happy Birthday (12 to 15 Months)
You've helped her blow out her candle, watched her shove cake in her face, and reminisced that the past year has gone by so quickly. Once babies reach a year, I tell parents to think of their child's eating the same way they would think of their own. Aim for a basic structure of breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with a midmorning snack and a midafternoon snack. By now, they should be eating, not drinking, their way through the day. Solid foods should be the bulk of what they're consuming, and drinks should be viewed the same way adults view them -- as a thirst-quencher with a meal, not as a meal itself.
At the 12-month mark, we recommend that parents switch babies from formula to whole milk. If you're still breastfeeding, that's great, too, but we still recommend introducing whole milk into their diets at this age. Your new toddler needs between 16 and 20 ounces of milk a day. In this instance, more isn't necessarily better. I've had many moms bring their kids in for their 18-month checkup, ready to pull their hair out because they can't get them to eat anything anymore. The first question I ask: how much whole milk is the child drinking per day? If she's getting more than the recommended daily amount, it's likely that she's filling up on milk and therefore isn't hungry for food. If she's thirsty but already had enough milk for the day, offer water. There's no need for juice in a toddler's diet; however, if you choose to give it to your child, make sure that you offer 100 percent juice that is watered down by half. Total daily juice intake shouldn't exceed 4 to 6 ounces per day.
Overall, offer balanced meals and healthy snacks and shoot for the following from the food groups: 2 to 3 servings of a 1/4 cup of fruit, 2 to 3 servings of a 1/4 cup of vegetables, 2 servings of 1 ounce or a 1/4 cup of cooked meat or other protein, and 4 to 6 servings of grains per day (1 serving equals 1/4 cup of cereal, 1/4 slice of bread, 1/4 cup of pasta, 2 to 3 crackers). Children younger than 2 years shouldn't be on a low-fat diet because they need the extra fat -- from healthy sources such as milk, cheese, and eggs -- for brain development.
Feeding Schedules? Nah.
Do you feel better equipped to forge ahead with your baby's eating adventures? You now know how much to feed your young child, but remember that those numbers are loose guidelines. And don't concern yourself with feeding schedules; babies will ultimately decide on their own when they're done eating, and it's going to vary from feeding to feeding. On the flip side, if they're still hungry, they'll open their mouth wide. So don't get caught up in exact serving sizes and minimum and maximum recommendations. Your baby will give you clear signals for what to do.
As your baby matures into a toddler, it's important to set good examples for healthy eating. If you commonly snack on doughnuts and cookies, what do you think your child will want? Teaching the importance of a balanced diet is as important as showing children how to read or ride a bike. These lessons will stay with them forever, shaping their taste preferences and creating a lifelong appreciation for food.