Help! I don’t think my child is eating enough!

Help! I don’t think my child is eating enough!

Meal time can often be the most stressful part of a parent’s day.  It seems more often than not your child is not interested in what you’ve prepared or takes a few nibbles and announces that they are full. When meal time consistently goes this way it is easy to jump to the conclusion that your child is not getting enough to eat.   The last thing any parent wants is their little one running around on an empty stomach.  Often as overcompensation for the unpredictability of their little ones eating habits parents offer larger portion sizes during meals and more frequent snacks in-between meals.  This overcompensation can often lead to even more stress as the child becomes more adamant about their refusal to eat what the parent wants.

I am guilty of “super-sizingâ€? even with my older school age and high school children.  My children recently called me out on overstuffing their lunch boxes.  I was so anxious that they would be hungry during the day that I was packing them enough food to feed three children and way more food than they could possibly eat during their lunch time.  I am now trying to exercise a little more restraint in the amount of food I pile into their lunch boxes, but it’s not easy!

Yes, children can be picky eaters and toddlers especially seem to have a special affinity for only liking a handful of choice foods at a given moment, but the one thing toddlers are easily able to do is stop eating when they feel full.  Most toddlers will naturally eat until their stomach feels full and then move on, something that teenagers and adults often struggle with.  A toddler’s natural tendency to stop eating when they feel full is often in direct conflict with the large serving sizes and abundance of food that parents serve and encourage them to eat during the day. Adults often serve toddlers and preschoolers servings that are way more than what is recommended for a child of that age and way more than the child is comfortable eating.   Parents worry because a child is quick to make it known that he/she is “all doneâ€?  at meal time while the adult is staring at what appears to be a still full plate of food.

In an era of supersizing everything, we are often serving our 1-4 year old children portions that are more in line with the recommended amounts for an adult than for a child 1/5 or 1/4 of an adult’s size.

So what are the recommending serving sizes for children ages 1-4?

Two guidelines as recommended by the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics):

A child should eat approximately 40 calories for every inch of height.  With that math a 34 inch toddler would need approximately 1360 calories a day.  Of course there will be some variation with individual children according to their build and activity level, but it is a good general guideline.

A great guideline when eyeballing serving sizes at meal times is that for a child ages 1-4 each serving should be approximately a ¼ of the size of an adult serving.  A few examples of what a toddler should eat at a typical meal.

  • One ounce of meat, or 2 to 3 tablespoons of beans
  • One to 2 tablespoons of vegetable
  • One to 2 tablespoons of fruit
  • One-quarter slice of bread


The most important thing is to find foods from a variety of food groups that your child will eat.  And to remember that a child will naturally eat a serving size that is more in line with their age and size than the super-size meals adults often serve them.   As long as the pediatrician deems your child healthy and growing at a normal pace serving your child meals and snacks the sizes as recommended by the AAP should be just enough!

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