I may not be a mom, but there’s nothing I love more than spending time with my friends toddler children and my adorable cousins in that age range. Is there anything cuter than hearing a child try to pronounce your name for the first time? I love their inquisitiveness and their desire to do things on their own, it can be such a fun age. Unfortunately for many parents and caregivers, feeding toddlers isn’t that easy. In fact it can be a difficult struggle to get their child to eat what’s on their plate. It can also lead to stress and anxiety for parents who worry about their child’s health and development.
According to renowned pediatrician and “Eat, Sleep, Poop” author Dr. Scott Cohen, parents worries are completely normal. He joined me for an interview recently to dish on the five things every toddler needs in his or her diet, how your picky eater can obtain the DHA and the nutrients he or she needs, and more helpful tips so parents can rest easy.
Candace Rose: What are the five things that every toddler needs in his or her diet?
Dr. Scott Cohen: “Well, having 2 four and six year olds, myself, going through the toddler years- you know that toddlers are very picky eaters and it’s hard to get them to eat anything. If we can find a couple of things that they will eat with a balance of nutrition, great.
I think number one, DHA is really important. DHA is an Omega-3 fatty acid that’s really important in brain growth and development. 85% of brain growth happens in the first three years of life and DHA is an important building block of the growing brain. Unfortunately toddlers are only getting about 25% of the DHA they need because the main source is fish, and a lot of kids obviously aren’t eating fish. We’re finding ways to bridge the gap and get them DHA in their diet.
Number two, I think calcium is really important….obviously for strong bones and muscles and teeth.
Protein is an important portion of the diet, whether that’s egg, fish, meat source. It can be a soy source like tofu or beans or a dairy product is also a good source of protein.
As a parent, I think the two most important things to realize with toddler nutrition is number one, it’s more important to develop healthy eating habits than worry about volume. If you’re the parent who chases your child around with a spoon, plops in front of the TV, you’re creating lifelong poor eating habits and they’re going to keep those forever. You want to create healthy eating habits; if you’re the parent who your child can say ‘no’ 10 times and you make 11 different things and then they eat the 11th thing- why would they ever want the first thing that you offer them?
Offering a healthy variety is really important, and I think that’s the fifth thing- variety, and letting your child decide what they’re going to eat. And if they’re busy and want to run around, great. And when they’re hungry again, put them in the chair and try again. The bottom line is is toddlers are going to be fine.”
Candace Rose: What are some simple solutions for filling nutrition gaps in a toddler’s diet?
Dr. Scott Cohen: “Well, since DHA and these vitamins and minerals are so important, and kids are picky eaters, well obviously if we can get them to eat the solid foods with them, great. Fish is obviously a major source of DHA. To give you an example, the recommended daily amount of DHA that a toddler should have is about 70 to 100 milligrams, and one three ounce piece of salmon has 500 to 700 milligrams, so it doesn’t take much. I’m very fortunate, my six year old daughter is a very expensive date, she loves sushi, so she gets her DHA that way.
If they don’t get DHA from their diet, then we want to look at supplemental things whether it’s a supplemental DHA vitamin or they even make toddler formulas. Mead Johnson makes something called Enfagrow. It doesn’t just have DHA, but it has other things that a lot of kids don’t get in their regular meal. Multivitamins like A, B, C, D, E, zinc, iron – which milk isn’t a good source of and the DHA. Again, it’s not all or nothing, it’s finding complimentary foods so that if they do eat one or two things, they’re getting the nutrition that they need.”
Candace Rose: Are there any other foods besides foods that have DHA?
Dr. Scott Cohen: “Fish has DHA; eggs to a lesser degree. They are adding DHA into a lot of other foods. If you walk down the grocery store aisle, you’ll see certain pastas and bread – they’ve added DHA. Some of the multivitamins have DHA, but the problem with a lot of those things is the amount of DHA in them is very little, so you want to look at the amount. Remember, toddlers are only getting a quarter of what they should, so find higher levels of DHA and try to keep it in their diet as much as possible.”
Candace Rose: What are some misconceptions about toddlers by first time parents?
Dr. Scott Cohen: “Well, I think the biggest misconception is that they’re going to starve themselves. You go through the whole first year of life just staring at growth curves, betting family members how much your child is going to weigh and really watching excellent weight gain in the first year. But after the first year, kids typically get really picky with their eating and their growth velocity- how much they gain really slows down, but they grow normally. I don’t know how, sometimes I feel like it’s after sunlight and air, but they do.
Knowing that your child is not going to starve themselves, I’ve never seen it, and you want to teach them healthy eating habits that are going to be lifelong because that’s what’s going to stick with them. The other important thing as a parent is modeling. Your children eat and see what you eat, and if they see that you’re eating healthy as best as possible, they’re going to follow those cues offering those foods. If you go to your pantry and you don’t have anything in there that’s healthy for you, they’re most likely not eating healthy either.”
Candace Rose: Is juicing good for toddlers, for instance adding certain vegetables and fruits to get them to like certain things?
Dr. Scott Cohen: “I think giving juice whether it’s vegetables or fruits, pureed is okay. My problem with all these things is I don’t want children to learn that they can just have that all in one milkshake and get everything they need because why would they try other things? Again, I think it’s a good compliment of bridging the gap and doing it all the time, also parents say all the time ‘Everyday we go to this place and get a fruit smoothie…isn’t it great they’re getting all these things?’ They also have a lot of sugar in them. Again, it’s all about moderation. I’m not saying no sugar, but you have to watch it. If you can get them to eat the main source, great. If you can get them to eat the main source, great. I think in moderation these other things are good, but not all or nothing.”
Candace Rose: You wrote “Eat, Sleep, Poop: A Commonsense Guide To Your Baby’s First Year.” What are some key takeaways?
Dr. Scott Cohen: “I think the biggest takeaway is what I call commonsense parenting. I think as a first time parent, we are on information overload and it creates a lot of over anxiety. What I wanted to do with this book is to tell parents this is what you worry about and this is what not to worry about, so they spend those years with their child having fun and not worrying about things.
I also wanted to bridge the gap between being a parent and a doctor. There are a lot of books that give parenting advice, there are a lot of books that give doctor advice, but nobody does both. What I found as I wrote this book in my daughter’s first year was that my medical advice didn’t change but the perspective I had while giving it really did. When I tell parents, ‘great, we can sleep train and get your child sleeping 1o hours through the night’; I can say it’s actually really difficult and this is what happened to me. What parents really want to know from me is – did I follow my own advice, did my wife follow it and did my child follow it? Just to show that we’re all in the same boat, we’re all parents and we all make the same mistakes and the kids end up okay.”
Candace Rose: Do you have any additional tips or information you’d like to share with us?
Dr. Scott Cohen: “If people want more information about nutrition or DHA or toddler formula, they can go to Enfagrow.com or if they want to learn more about the book ‘Eat, Sleep, Poop’, you can go to Amazon.com or my website, CommonSensePediatrics.com or BeverlyHillsPediatrics.com.”