Young Children and Nutrition

by Tom Seman MD FAAP February 27th, 2013 | Pediatrician on Call
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kidMy two year-old son will only eat fruit and bread, but not vegetables. Should I worry about him getting the right nutrition?

It is very important for everyone to have well balanced daily nutrition to remain healthy. This should include mostly whole grains and a variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as lean proteins, good oils/fats, with limited amounts of solid fats such as butter and margarine, and only scant amounts of refined sugars and candies. Children are no exception. There are many important nutritional items in fruit, but not everything found in vegetables can be found in fruits, thus a well balanced meal would contain some vegetables. This,however, is not always very easy.

Two year-olds are very much members of the “my do it” stage. They are interested in eating foods that they like a lot and those that they can feed themselves. They are still visual eaters and only like food that appeals to them. Furthermore, they are very easily influenced by others and will pick up any body language shown them by the parent or caregiver giving them the food. Thus, if the parent does not like the food and their body says as much, the child will not like the food. Also, a two year-old typically does not like to sit still for very long, and thus a long drawn out meal is not in the cards. The foods should be cut in such a way that they only need to chew them 5-8 times before it is small enough to swallow, otherwise there is a good chance that the child will just spit it out.

Like everyone else, the  food we crave and like, our comfort food, is based on the foods to which were frequently exposed. it is said that a child has to be shown a food at least 19 times before he or she will be willing to taste it. Thus, frequent exposure is very important. The repetition increases the chance that the child will associate the food as something he likes and/or will get him to try it.

Like everything else in his life, a two year-old likes to interact with his world. Most often a parent will recognize certain flavors or food quality the child will enjoy. This may be chewy, crunchy , acidic, sweet, salty, mild, or strong flavored. By allowing the child to have some of these qualities in his food, as well as making it interactive, it is easier to get him to want to try the food.

As parents we can leave the vegetables raw, cut them up in smaller and easy to chew forms. We can provide a variety of dipping sauces for the child to try the new food. Strong encouragement when he tries the food is also important. This does not mean that everyone at the table has to give him a standing ovation, but a good hand clapping from the parent is usually expected. Once the child knows that he likes the food, then there is usually no more need to honor his eating the food.

Beware though that a child’s food preferences change frequently, and those foods that were loved and craved last week will be looked upon with disdain this week. Constantly introduce new foods to try and make sure that he will not be eating plain bread for every meal. Remember, a healthy diet contains 3-6 servings of grains daily with at least half being whole grains. Fruits (2-3 servings) with vegetables (4-6 servings), 1-2 servings of lean proteins and small amounts of healthy fats should be eaten every day as well.  Until this is achieved, it would be best to give your son a balanced, complete children’s vitamin.

For more information you can check out the food pyramid at http://www.choosemyplate.gov to find an easy way of seeing how this is done in real life when filling up the plate.

Good luck,



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All health and medical information is provided for educational purposes and is not meant to replace the medical advice or treatment of your healthcare professional.