Is Your Toddler Eating the Right Amount? #rethinktoddlerportionsizes

Feeding our children, and ourselves, has become an absolute minefield in recent years, with the increasing reliance on convenience foods meaning many of us from the youngest to the oldest are consuming far too much salt, sugar and fat.  Not to mention the over-consumption of processed carbohydrates, saturated fats and the now-labelled carcinogenic processed meats.  And then there's portion size, with seemingly conflicting advice from various quarters.  While many of us strive to feed our children a healthy diet, working out what to give them, or not, and how much, is equally as difficult.

We've teamed up with the Infant and Toddler Forum (ITF), an independent group of experts, who are at the forefront of tackling the obesity crisis by tackling the question of how much toddlers eat, as well as what.  But gosh it's hard!

In a recent survey of 1000 parents, he ITF has found that 79% of parents routinely offer portions larger than the recommended size range for pre-schoolers when serving popular meals, such as spaghetti bolognaise and chicken nuggets with chips, drinks and 'treats'.  More than 10% of parents found that they usually serve their child close to an adult-size portion of spaghetti bolognaise or cheese sandwiches; 65% offer too much squash or juice and 61% offer their child too many sweets.  However, 73% are more concerned that their child does not eat enough.  Only a quarter of parents said they were very confident about the amount of food they give their child, and a high proportion of younger parents lacked confidence.  A worrying 36% of parents admitted to giving their child certain foods and drinks between meals to calm them down or comfort them.

What's going on?  Pre-schoolers used to be on the go all the time, running around, playing outside, but with increasingly sedentary lifestyles in front of technology and screens, or constrained within nurseries and EYFS classrooms, many are not as active as they once would have been.  Yet the size of food portions they are offered has, if anything, got bigger.  We are beginning to tackle the over-use of processed and convenience foods with more people coking from scratch, but just what portion sizes should our toddlers be having, and how much is too much?  The ITF has launched a range of practical, user-friendly resources, including an image bank of portion size ranges, to help parents take the guesswork out of how much is enough.

We have been following the ITF guidance this week via their Tot It Up app and found that on the whole we're doing OK!  Although on certain days we did fall short, such as with recognised protein sources on the day pictured below.  But of course, food evens out over time and the day before she had had baked beans one meal and quinoa the other, then chickpeas the day after.  Swings and roundabouts!

However, some things did really surprise us, particularly for our potato-mad toddler!  Did you know that just 4-8 chips or 2-4 potato wedges would be considered a portion?  Oops, Tatia would quite happily work her way through a small bowlful of either.  Just as well we don't have them very often.

The key things to remember when feeding young children are:
  • Young children need a nutritious balanced diet to meet their nutritional needs for activity, growth and development.
  • A balanced combination of foods from all five food groups makes up a healthy diet for young children.
  • The amount of food that young children eat varies widely from day to day and meal to meal.  Young children do not eat set portion sizes. (But it will usually even out over a week, say.)
  • Young children should be encouraged to eat to their appetite from some of the five food groups but need to be limited in the amounts they consume of milk and milk products and of the foods high in fat and sugar.

With the habit of larger portion sizes leading to weight gain, and also informing adult eating habits, this is the time to nip excessive eating in the bud and encourage healthy habits for life in our children.  Check out the online food portions guide to see how much to offer.  Join in the chat on Facebook and Twitter with #rethinktoddlerportionsizes.

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