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Do you ever find yourself in a battle of wills at the meal table with your toddler? Trying to reason or coax your toddler into trying something new to eat? Or taking over feeding because things have gotten a little too messy?

Welcome to the third installment of our Your Child’s Development Series—and it’s all about the toddler.

Toddlers can be picky and erratic with eating.

Toddlerhood can be a time of frustration, struggle and self-doubt for parents, and in a nutshell: a test of your parenting skills. The toddler can rock the world of even the most capable parent (dietitians included).

For the toddler, it is a time of budding independence (separation from you), environmental exploration, limit testing, and understanding self-control.

A toddler’s physical growth continues to be steady, but slows down compared to babyhood.  Because growth is slower, the toddler appetite shifts, becoming voracious one meal and light or maybe non-existent at another.

How well your toddler eats from one meal to the next can be as predictable as the roll of a dice.

And toddler eating can worry parents.

Understanding how the toddler develops, both physically and cognitively (fancy word for brain development), can help you get a grip on why your toddler behaves the way he does, especially around food and eating.

Erik Erikson describes toddlerhood as a time of struggle—a time to figure out who the toddler is as an individual (autonomy) and figure out how to control himself from the feedback he receives from his environment (shame and doubt). And the drive to understand the world is so strong, it can get in the way of eating.

Combine your toddler’s desire for independence, self-control, and exploration with an unpredictable appetite and it’s no wonder your toddler causes you confusion, frustration, and worry!

Some of the most worrisome eating behaviors during toddlerhood are:

  • Refusing or being afraid to try new foods (called neophobia).
  • Only wanting to eat certain foods or getting stuck on one food for a long period of time (food jags).
  • Skipping meals or snacks.

These behaviors are a natural and expected part of toddler development. If you’re not prepared for them, they can test your patience and be the root of negative dynamics at the meal table.

Did you know that how you respond to this normal behavior is more important than the behavior itself?

Here are some things to think about when feeding your toddler:

Don’t be over-invested in how well your child eats at a particular meal or snack, the cumulative intake over the course of a week is what matters most. Great meals are often counteracted with disappointing meals.

Watch your responses when your child eats. Overly praising or obvious disappointment with your child’s eating behavior may not give you the results you want, like eating enough or eating vegetables. It’s best to have a neutral attitude and response when it comes to your child’s eating behavior.

Provide structure to feeding your toddler by keeping meals and snacks on a predictable schedule (about 3 hours in between) and within a reasonable time frame (20-30 minutes per meal and 10-15 minutes per snack).

Don’t sweat the skipped meal. This is just a result of the variable appetite that goes with toddlerhood. Use the meal/snack structure to your advantage. Toddlers need 3 meals and 3 snacks each day—if little Johnny skips his morning snack, he will be able to eat again at lunch (or at the other opportune meals and snacks during the day).

Avoid the traps of feeding the same old food everyday just because your toddler will eat it.  Eventually, this tactic will become an obstacle to getting your toddler to eat a variety of foods in the long run. Continue to offer new foods and old foods, in different combinations, keeping your toddler comfortable (he recognizes the old standbys) but also challenge him (introducing unfamiliar foods) at the same time.

Don’t interfere with your toddler’s eating by taking over the spoon, wiping his face after each bite, or pushing him to drink more than he wants to. Remember, eating is one of the ways you can support the natural progression to independence that your toddler is trying to achieve…interfering is just…interfering.

Start using the Division of Responsibility in Feeding– it provides a clear definition of what your responsibilities are (the what, where and when of feeding) and those of your child (whether and how much to eat). You can read more about this here.

Allow choices, but not too many. Try to keep your choices to two options and keep them within the same food group (bananas or pears; broccoli or peas; pasta or rice). Having a choice is the control toddlers are looking for—and an appropriate place to let them have it. While we do want toddlers to be in control of whether and how much they eat, we don’t want toddlers to be in charge of nutrition and feeding—that’s your job.

Pay attention to tasty meals that provide exposure to most of the food groups. Everyone enjoys food that tastes good–even toddlers!

Check your feeding style –a positive and effective style will go a long way in calming the waters at the meal table.

Toddlerhood doesn’t have to be terrible, especially if you know what to expect with development, and how it will impact eating. Is it possible to relax and enjoy toddlerhood? I think so.

Stay tuned for Your School-Age Child’s Development in our next installment.


Recently, I received a request to review the fruit and veggie puree pouches geared towards babies and toddlers.   Once introduced, it didn’t take long for these products to show up in grocery stores and superstores everywhere.  You can even find them at some Starbucks!  These pouches provide a good source of fruits and/or veggies, with many brands boasting no added sugars, juices, salt or artificial colors and all organic ingredients.  Some companies claim their products are cooked at lower temperatures than jarred baby food, increasing their nutrient content.

Fruit and veggie pouches are the new convenience food.

The possibilities are endless with these convenient creations.  Pouches are easily portable and re-sealable for handy feeding at home or on the go.  They don’t get crushed like some whole fruits and vegetables or break like glass jars can.  Storage is a snap; you can refrigerate or freeze any partially used containers.  They can be eaten cold, at room temperature, or heated up in warm water.  These products make fruits and vegetables more accessible to toddlers when fresh options are not available or when time is limited.  It’s easy to complement your own cooked meals or restaurant fare with these blends to boost fruit and vegetable content.  Check out Ella’s Kitchen’s website for recipe ideas.

Learning to eat with a spoon is an important developmental task in infancy.


Even though I think they are a wonderful option overall, I do have a few concerns about how these products are used.  Like all baby food, the single-ingredient fruits or fruit and vegetable blends should be introduced  between 4 to 6 months, when your baby shows developmental signs of readiness.  For infants, it is imperative to develop spoon feeding, which utilizes mouth muscles necessary for proper speech.  Additionally, toddlers need to learn how to use a spoon to build fine motor skills.

I recommend using a spoon when feeding these purees.  Boon has created a one-handed baby food dispensing spoon that can be used with Plum Organics’ pouches, no bowl necessary!

It is ok for toddlers to “suck” on these pouches occasionally.  However, make sure your tot has started spoon feeding themselves, eating finger foods, and drinking from a cup with minimal spilling before giving them a pouch to “suck on.”  Don’t depend on pouches as a sole source of your child’s fruits and veggies, you want him or her to recognize and accept whole fruits and vegetables, too!

With the fast-paced world we live in, it’s easy to put feeding on the backburner and give your youngster foods they can eat without your help.  Remember, feeding is a chance to connect and enhance attachment.  When your child eats in the back seat while you drive, you miss out on an opportunity to connect.   A positive feeding relationship in infancy sets the stage for future healthy eating in toddlerhood, childhood and the teen years.  As a parent, your job is to provide quality nutrition and establish a good eating environment with developmentally appropriate feeding utensils and food textures, fostering beneficial lifelong eating habits.

Take home message:   I think these products are a safe, convenient source of fruits and veggies for babies and toddlers, just be mindful of how you are using them to feed your child.

Contributing Author:  Katherine Fowler, MS, RD, LDN


Children mimic your behaviors!

Contrary to popular belief, children hear what you say and see what you do.  Your behaviors and comments can leave a lasting impression.  Even your body image or weight concerns can be passed on to your kids.  Evidence shows that stressing thinness and weight control promotes eating disorders, low self-esteem, decreased body image, and weight bias in children.  Furthermore, eating behaviors linked to a higher risk for obesity are known to develop very early in life.  A 2001 study showed family food environments and attitudes around food and eating affect even preschool-aged kids’ eating behaviors.  You may think youngsters don’t pick up on your drastic dieting or negative comments you make about your body like older children, but they do!

Several studies show that restrictive feeding can impair a child’s ability to regulate their intake, resulting in overeating and weight gain.  Worrying about your own weight can influence your feeding style.  For example, forbidding high calorie foods or sweets in your home can result in your child sneaking food or feeling deprived and overeating when given the opportunity.  Overly controlling or eliminating fun foods simply doesn’t work with kids – balance is key.

Have you ever found yourself saying out loud:

“I have got to lose weight, I am getting so fat”

“I am going to be good and skip lunch today”

“No more desserts for me, I don’t deserve it”

If so, you may want to censor your comments and think before you speak.   Remember, your words could promote your child’s weight gain!

As a parent, you can model  “good for you” behaviors without fixating on weight.  There’s nothing wrong with guiding your child towards adopting healthy habits that will benefit him or her – that’s part of your role!

Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to promote a healthy weight for yourself while empowering your child.

DO:

  • Be physically active and limit your own sedentary activities
  • Aim to eat when feeling physically hungry
  • Have a neutral view about all foods
  • Stock a range of nutritious foods in your home and choose these options more often
  • Offer balanced family meals as much as you can
  • Choose to talk about yourself and others with respect and appreciation

DON’T:

  • Get caught up in the latest fad diet or encourage your child to diet
  • Skip meals
  • Eliminate all sweets or high calorie foods from your home
  • Use food for rewards or punishments for yourself or for others
  • Eat while standing up or distracted (may lead to eating mindlessly)
  • Emphasize effects of unhealthy eating
  • Focus on anyone’s weight, especially yours or your child’s

Bottom line:  You are your child’s biggest role model – do you want your child viewing and treating their body the way you do?

Contributing Author:  Katherine Fowler, MS, RD, LDN


Families often ask pediatricians for nutrition information and resources

This post is inspired by a recent conversation I had with a mom whose young child was diagnosed as obese. Understandably, she was frustrated that this situation wasn’t brought to her attention by her pediatrician earlier, so that she could get the help she needed. It got me thinking about the role we all play in helping kids be as healthy as they can be–parents, pediatricians, and registered dietitians.

You know how I feel about kids and nutrition and the present state of health concerns for our nation’s children. If not, read What Will it Take to Get America’s Kids to Eat Right?

This post is a call to action, and is targeted at the pediatrician (and indirectly, the parent). For more on the role of the parent and nutrition, check out Why Weight? It’s Up to You.

Also, I am going to channel David Letterman (a fellow Hoosier) and do a Top Ten List…just for fun.

Pediatricians are an important gatekeeper for nutrition guidance and intervention. And there’s no getting around that. They are influential and have to the power to intervene and help families get on track with nutrition.

Pediatricians need to step up for nutrition BECAUSE:

10. Nutrition concerns are top of mind for many parents. From simple questions to complex issues, nutrition concerns and kids go hand-in-hand.

9. Many parents know a little bit about nutrition and want more information—credible information. And some parents are simply confused and on the wrong track.

8. Knowing what to expect with nutrition is key to preventing childhood nutrition challenges, such as obesity, poor weight gain and picky eating.

7. Parents are saturated with nutrition information from many sources and this can be confusing and misleading.

6. Parents are making nutrition mistakes that can be prevented with proper information and guidance.

5. One in three of America’s kids are overweight or obese. Preventing this situation involves making an early effort to educate families on nutrition and healthy lifestyle behaviors and to intervene with tailored treatment modes, if necessary.

4. Pediatricians can’t do it alone! Parents need credible resources and pediatricians can direct them to these resources. Registered dietitians can partner with pediatricians to make this happen.

3.  Time is short. With limited time to spend with families, nutrition information is on a first-asked, first-answered basis (and usually there is another pressing issue at hand). Pediatrician offices can circumvent this by providing credible print information, resources and website education for families.

2. Pediatricians are a family’s first resource for nutrition information. This presents a great opportunity and responsibility for the pediatrician.

1. Pediatricians have the power to influence the nutrition problems of American children. Providing early guidance, referring out to nutrition experts and making nutrition information accessible to their patients are all efforts that can elevate the role of nutrition in childhood and influence child health.

Kudos to all the pediatricians out there who DO step up for nutrition! How do you make nutrition a priority with your patients?

And parents, don’t be afraid to let your pediatrician in on your nutrition worries–and your challenges with your kids. Feeding kids and childhood nutrition in today’s America is harder than ever–of course you have concerns!

What are you looking for when it comes to getting advice from your pediatrician about nutrition?


In an ongoing quest to communicate with the American public about nutrition, the USDA has released a new symbol of healthy eating—MyPlate.

The New MyPlate for Americans

I’m happy about this new icon because it falls right in line with the way I teach families how to plan healthy meals already. When you look at MyPlate, you can see that the plate is divided into 4 sections (quarters) and each section represents a food group. Add a glass of low-fat milk or a cup of yogurt and you’ve got a balanced meal. How easy is that?

While it appears easy, the truth is, for many families, it’s not. Barriers to actually getting a meal on the table and having everyone sit down together aside, this new food guide for Americans keeps the idea of what a meal should look like simple.

And we like simple.

The new MyPlate guide emphasizes many messages for Americans, but one important (and implied) idea is to include as many food groups at each meal as you can. This is not an encouragement to overeat–it’s a way to do better with balance and variety at meals–you will still need to keep those portions in check.

And you’ll be happy to know the food groups remain essentially the same:

The Food Groups

Although I don’t encourage parents to plate food for their children (I’m in favor of family-style meals–more on that later), having a visual reference such as MyPlate is no doubt a practical tool for families and children. With MyPlate, families may have a better sense of how to balance a meal, how much to serve and where to make up the gaps in nutrition. Even kids can make sense of this new plate!

I can already see art projects on paper plates in the classroom or at home…

MyPlate is based on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and is designed to help people make healthier and better food choices. It features these messages to help Americans focus and improve upon key behaviors:

Balance Calories

  •  Enjoy your food, but eat less.
  • Avoid oversized portions.
Foods to Increase
  • Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
  • Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.
  • Make at least half your grains whole grains.

Foods to Reduce

  • Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals—and choose foods with lower numbers.
  • Drink water instead of sugary drinks.

MyPlate has an interactive website also:

Snapshot of the Interactive Tools for MyPlate

I invite you to check out MyPlate and the new interactive tools and let me know what you think. Go ahead, it’s free and you have unlimited access.

While no single message, food or icon will solely change human eating behavior, or produce a healthy human, every step towards positive change is a help.  MyPlate isn’t perfect (what is?), but it’s better.

I’ll still be teaching portion awareness, the 90:10 Rule, balance, variety, good fats vs. not-so-good fats, and of course the new MyPlate principles.

I am curious to know what you think about MyPlate?


At a young age, health habits develop and can affect your child throughout their lives, especially when it comes to eating and physical activity.  You are the fundamental decision-maker when it comes to the well-being of your child and can help him or her make healthy decisions from early on.  Take advantage of your role and foster your child’s 7 healthy habits…they can make a lifetime of difference.

Healthy kids get physical activity every day!

Healthy kids: 

  1. Get at least one hour of physical activity daily.  Shorter bouts of exercise that tally up to 60 minutes count! Strive for vigorous activity at least three days per week.  Try to make physical activity a part of your family’s fun routine and schedule activities together.
  2. Limit “screen time” to less than two hours per day.  Researchers show a strong correlation with the number of hours spent watching TV to increased rates of obesity in children.  Regulating the amount of time your child spends in front of a screen like television, video games and computers, promotes less sit-down time which can result in more activity and less overeating.
  3. Avoid sugar-sweetened beverages.  Urge your child to drink water, 100% fruit juice or low fat milk instead of soda, sugar-sweetened fruit drinks, sports drinks, and sweetened iced teas.  These sugary drinks offer little nutritional value and excess calories that can contribute to weight gain.  Limiting sugary drinks in your home can support your child in choosing healthier options.
  4. Eat five or more cups of fruits and veggies daily.  Fruits and vegetables are nutrient-dense, low calorie foods that provide fiber, promoting fullness after meals.  Reaching 5 cups per day can be accomplished by serving fruit at every meal, and a vegetable at 2 meals and/or snacks.  If you want more fruits and veggies to be eaten, make sure you have ample choices in your kitchen.
  5. Eat 5 family meals weekly.  Eating meals together gives you a chance to help your child develop a healthy attitude toward food. It also allows you to serve as a healthy eating role model, make sure your kids are eating nutritious foods, and introduce new foods.  Set aside your meals as family time and eat together as often as possible.
  6. Eat nutritious snacks.  Plan meals and snacks to occur every 3-4 hours.  Skipping meals or snacks can be a trap for overeating later on.  Help your kids by having wholesome power snacks on hand that defy hunger.  Opting for whole foods will give your child a rich source of nutrients and will help them be physically satisfied.
  7. Eat “fun foods” in moderation. There are endless opportunities for fun foods like sweets, soda, and fried foods. Balancing “fun foods” with a variety of whole, natural foods from the new food guide (more on this soon) is the key to healthy eating.  Aim for 1 to 2 “fun foods” daily—it’s a good rule of thumb.  Help your child make decisions about what is most special!

The best time to start instilling these behaviors in children is when they’re young, before unhealthy choices become bad habits.  Research shows children are more willing to eat healthy foods and be active if they see their parents doing it first.   Just telling your kids what to do won’t work (that’s the Authoritarian way)—they need to see you choosing healthy behaviors!

The American Dietetic Association offers a free healthy habits for healthy kids guide and healthy habits quiz you can take here to find out if your family is on track.

Summer is a great time to work on the 7 Habits!

Contributing Author:  Katherine Fowler, MS, RD, LDN


It is hard to beat good homemade macaroni and cheese, but store bought mac n’ cheese can be a real family-pleaser and time saver.

Macaroni and Cheese--A Kid Favorite!

These days, there are countless macaroni and cheese products.   Frozen, refrigerated, or boxed varieties can be microwaved, baked, or prepared on a stovetop.  There is a lot to choose from!  This Consumer Corner post features information about my favorite mac and cheese brands.  Clearly, I have not tried every macaroni and cheese product available, so I am keeping it simple by narrowing down my top picks into two categories of boxed macaroni and cheese:  best traditional and best whole wheat.  I investigated several popular brands like Kraft’s traditional macaroni and cheese and Velveeta shells and cheese.  Taste, texture, calorie, fat and sodium content, and artificial additives and preservatives were all considered when choosing my top picks.

Best Traditional:  Trader Joe’s Macaroni and Cheese-Wisconsin Cheddar

This brand does not require adding butter or margarine, so the fat and calorie content is half of most traditional brands.  Don’t worry, you don’t have to sacrifice taste!  This pasta has a delicious, tangy, cheddar cheesy flavor.  Kids will appreciate the fun, classic tube shaped pasta.  Parents can feel good about serving this product as it contains no preservatives and the orange-yellow color comes from annatto seed, not artificial food coloring.  Unfortunately, this mac is only available in Trader Joe’s stores.  Click here to find a location near you.

Nutrition Facts: (2.5 oz/1 cup prepared with 2% milk) about 3 servings per box

  • Calories- 270
  • Total Fat- 4g
  • Saturated Fat- 2g
  • Trans Fat- 0g
  • Sodium- 500 mg
  • Carb- 47 g
  • Fiber- 2 g
  • Sugars- 3 g
  • Protein- 10 g

Best Whole Wheat:  Annie’s Homegrown Organic Whole Wheat Shells and White Cheddar

Similar to my traditional favorite, this brand does not require adding butter or margarine.   This white cheddar variety has a sharp taste, and the shells have a firmer bite than most shells and cheese varieties.  This Annie’s product is made with certified organic whole wheat pasta and certified organic white cheddar cheese.  It is an excellent source of fiber, and is made with 100% whole grain, containing 48 grams per serving!  See Whole Wheat, White Wheat, What?  for more information about whole grains.   You can find Annie’s Whole Wheat Shells and White Cheddar at grocery and natural food stores nationwide.

Nutrition Facts: (2.5 oz/1 cup prepared with 2% milk) about 2.5 servings per box

  • Calories- 260
  • Total Fat- 5g
  • Saturated Fat- 2g
  • Trans Fat- 0g
  • Sodium- 580mg
  • Carb- 44 g
  • Fiber- 5 g
  • Sugars- 7 g
  • Protein- 10 g

Adding vegetables like tomatoes, peas, and broccoli to mac and cheese is an easy way to boost the nutritional value of any meal.   Incorporating vegetables is an effective approach for introducing new or unaccepted foods to younger children that already love mac and cheese.  Get creative!  For inspiration, check out these recipes from Annie’s that feature adding vegetables to many of their pasta products.

What are your preferred macaroni and cheeses?

Disclaimer: Just The Right Byte provided an objective and independent review of these products; no affiliations or support was obtained from any grocer or food marketer.

Contributing Author:  Katherine Fowler, MS, RD, LDN

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