Overeating in toddlers

Q: I feel like my toddler’s overeating. And she constantly asks for food (not just sweets, either). Should I limit her food intake? 

A: Toddler energy requirements — despite their impressive energy expenditures — aren’t abnormally large. In fact, children age 1 to 3 years old need about 40 calories for each inch of height. For example, a toddler measuring 32 inches tall would need approximately 1,300 calories a day. This will vary slightly for variations of body-build and activity level. An average toddler-sized meal would contain:

• 2 ounces of meat or 2 to 3 tablespoons of beans or 1 egg

• 2 tablespoons of vegetable

• 2 tablespoons of fruit

• ½ slice of bread or 1/3 cup cooked pasta

If it seems your toddler is eating much more, even if it’s all healthful foods, it’s best to talk to your pediatrician, who can review her height and weight to see if she’s at risk for over-eating or future weight problems.  

Try not to make mealtimes a battle. It’s very common for toddlers to go through phases where they insist on eating only one or two favorite foods, or they resist eating certain foods all together. Offer a variety of healthful foods, then let your toddler feed herself and allow her to choose what she eats at each meal. Over time, she’ll likely consume a balanced diet, though it might not seem like it at each meal. 

Toddler eating habits can vary dramatically. That’s true for our young son, too. For instance, he might eat a very large breakfast, but then seem to not be as interested in snacks or meals for the rest of that day — or he will eat robustly for a few days, but then have a spurt where he seems to only pick at his foods. 

Because our son can also be a very eager eater, we mentioned our concern that he was eating too much at his last doctor visit. At our pediatrician’s recommendations, we switched from whole milk to 2 percent milk, and are being more mindful about age-appropriate portion sizes. 

We make sure to offer three meals and one to two snacks per day. We offer a drink (either milk or water) at each meal or snack, so he’s staying well hydrated — and not confusing thirst for hunger.