Common Toddler-Feeding Pitfalls

The little tricks we use to feed our kids may actually keep them from eating right. Here, eight common nutrition pitfalls to avoid.

Peanut Butter, Juice, and Snacks

Pitfall #1

"My children hate meat, so I make sure they get enough protein by giving them plenty of peanut butter."

Sure, it tastes great, but peanut butter shouldn't be your kids' sole source of protein. It's actually only about 25 percent protein--and a hefty 48 percent fat. And it's low in key minerals (like zinc and iron) contained in complete animal proteins. Better nonmeat protein foods include dairy products, eggs, tofu, soy milk, and beans. But as long as your kids regularly drink milk and occasionally eat cheese, eggs, or chicken, they're likely to be meeting their protein needs, says Susan Moores, R.D., an American Dietetic Association spokesperson.

Like every other food, peanut butter is best in moderation. Also, avoid giving it to your toddler, who can easily choke on a big glob of it. In addition, childhood allergies to peanuts are on the rise, points out Ronald E. Kleinman, M.D., chief of the division of pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition at Massachusetts General Hospital for Children, in Boston. If you have a history of allergies in your family, hold off on serving your child peanut butter until she's at least 3 years old, when the risk of a severe or potentially deadly reaction drops.

Pitfall #2

"My preschooler drinks plenty of juice, so I don't worry about serving fresh fruit."

One 4- to 6-ounce serving of 100 percent apple, grape, or orange juice per day is fine. But giving your child more than that could pack on calories, leading to weight gain and ruining her appetite for healthier foods, says Jennifer Orlet Fisher, Ph.D., an assistant professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine, in Houston. Juice also lacks the fiber and micronutrients of whole fruit--components that may help reduce the risk of heart disease and some types of cancer later in life. Be sure to give your child one or two daily servings of the real thing, such as a banana, an apple, a pear, or a bunch of blueberries. To scale back your child's juice intake painlessly, serve it diluted with water. Gradually increase the ratio of water to juice until you're adding only a splash of juice for flavor. (When your kids are thirsty, get in the habit of serving plain H2O rather than juice.)

Pitfall #3

"I avoid meltdowns by giving my toddler frequent snacks."

Doling out little cups of cereal, cheese cubes, or crackers is a surefire way to keep your tot busy and quiet while you're driving, shopping, or trying to make dinner. But this endless stream of snacks can overload your child with simple carbohydrates and fat. "This can lead to poor nutrition and a diet that's lacking in important vitamins and minerals," cautions pediatrician Christine Wood, M.D., author of How to Get Kids to Eat Great and Love It!

Around-the-clock noshing may also cause your child to lose touch with his natural instinct to recognize hunger cues (since he's never allowed to feel the tiniest bit hungry). As a result, he learns to snack out of boredom or to relieve frustration--a habit that can lead to overeating and unhealthy weight gain. And with less of an appetite at meals, your toddler may have little interest in sampling new, healthy foods--setting the stage for picky eating. Children as young as 1 year old should eat three meals and just two snacks daily. If your toddler resists this new feeding schedule, hang tough. Within three to four days, his appetite will level out and he'll adjust to not eating between meals and snacks. The next time he starts whining for crackers while he's in the car, try diverting his attention with a toy or book instead.

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