While toddlerhood is always an exuberant life stage, it can't be denied that some kids are way more active than others. Only one of my three boys was a toddler who enjoyed sitting still to play; the other two more closely resembled wild hyenas than docile darlings flipping through board books. And like most parents, I spent a lot of time at this age begging them to eat anything of substance, as their independence and selective palates begin kicking in. I try not to worry, but I do wonder, should you feed a toddler more if they're active? It's not exactly a mathematical equation, but there are some things to keep in mind.
Licensed childcare provider Melanie Brown, who owns a thriving in-home day care in Iowa, tells Romper that when it comes to feeding toddlers, she has a rule of thumb that guides her. "A toddler and I each get our own decisions about their eating," she says. "I decide what, where, and when, meaning what food they are served, where they eat, and what time it's available. The toddler decides if and how much. Meaning, if they want to eat the meal and if so, how much they want to eat."
Brown doesn't believe in forcing active toddlers to eat more or restricting second helpings should they ask. She believes this philosophy is important in fostering healthy relationships with food in the future.
Health and wellness expert Caleb Backe of Maple Holistics agrees that the real question is less about quantity and more of quality. While most parents of toddlers worry that their child is eating too little, some might be concerned about the opposite. But the healthier the food presented, the less you'll worry about overeating. "If your toddler indicates they are still hungry, keep feeding them, taking breaks between helpings to allow the proper signals to reach the brain when the stomach is full," he tells Romper.
Snacking once or twice a day between meals can be a healthy routine for toddlers; just make sure you're packing the most nutritional punch. Skip the Doritos and offer things like whole grain cereal or veggie sticks and hummus instead. Think your tyke would never go for those kinds of things? Don't write it off too quickly.
Even in this traditionally picky stage, it's important to offer your toddler a variety of flavors, colors, and textures at every meal, emphasizes Backe. It's not uncommon for a toddler to refuse a new food half a dozen times before deciding he actually likes it on the seventh or eighth try. Be patient, encouraging, and persistent, and you just might be surprised by what she'll eat.
And for all our concern about caloric intake, parents of toddlers can easily make the mistake of forgetting to keep our kids hydrated. "Make sure your active toddler is getting enough liquids," Backe reminds us. "Keep a bottle or sippy cup nearby with fresh water, and offer it to your child regularly. Make an attempt to avoid juices and liquids high in sugar, like lemonade or sodas, saving them for special occasions."
High activity levels don't necessitate that your toddler take in more calories per day, and if they don't each much, they'll efficiently get most of the nutrients they need anyway. (Although a chewable multivitamin is never a bad idea.) If in doubt, your child's well visits with their pediatrician should indicate whether their growth and weight gain is sufficient. Parents who worry their child is about to starve to death are usually surprised to find growth charts almost always prove there is nothing to fear.
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