We were recently asked to take part in a challenge at mealtimes, and since most mealtimes in our house are challenges in themselves, I thought why not? What’s another battle at the table in the grand scheme of things? With fussy eaters, allergies, intolerances, attitudes and vegetable aversions, we’ll literally take any help we can get when it comes to sorting out the kids’ eating habits. So what is the #ReThinkToddlerPortionSizes campaign all about?
This video explains it all really well, actually:
Being a mum really can be a guessing game. I like to think that with child number four under my belt I know a thing or two, but in reality I’m muddling my way through it all with the best of them. Elsie and I were discharged from the postnatal ward with a cheery, “Ah, it’s baby number four, you know what you’re doing!” to which my internal monologue piped up, “But I’ve never met her before!” and it turns out that I was right. She may be baby number four, but most days are a complete surprise with her. She’s an individual. She has her own mind, her own needs and her own habits. And no book is ever going to predict all of that! So it is reassuring to know there are some things that you can get advice about.
I have previous experience of a refluxy baby with allergies. Luka was weaned at 4 months on doctor’s orders, and quickly developed a food aversion that was so bad he would scream as soon as his bowl appeared from the cupboard. To him, food meant pain and to this day he is likely to melt down in tears if I make a meal he doesn’t like to eat. Hot on his heels, Elsie also suffers with reflux and a cow’s milk protein allergy, which means that we regularly attend dietitian appointments with her too. These are mainly just to check that she is getting enough calcium in her diet, but because the dietitian knows the family so well she often helps with all of the kids eating habits too. We’ve learned a lot, but we’re still learning.
One thing that has always bothered me is portion sizes. I know that I am guilty of giving the kids more than they can manage, and I know that all of them can be massively put off by too big a portion on their plate. I really want to get it right with Elsie though, so I was interested to read about the Tot it Up toddler food tracker and keen to get started with it too. What an eye opener! Once you’re registered you can enter the foods and snacks that your toddler consumes each day, plus you can also enter the amount of activity she does too. At the end of each day you can check the summary to find out how you’re doing. We’ve been checking all of Elsie’s meals against the guide for a week, and this is what we’ve learned.
She eats a lot of bread! I’m guilty of assuming that round after round after round of toast isn’t going to hurt her, but actually she could be filling up on this rather than consuming other vital nutrients in other meals. She often has breakfast when she wakes (usually cereal, sometimes fruit) and then toast after the school run. I usually make a plateful for her and Bella and never take a lot of notice of how much she actually eats herself. This week, however, I took note and have found she eats a little more than is recommended, although I’m not overly concerned about it. You can check how much bread your toddler should eat here.
She eats a LOT of fruit! Because Elsie can’t eat chocolate, cheese or yogurt (apart from coconut milk yogurts) her treats tend to be in the form of fruit. She loves a really wide range too- blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, pineapple, melon, mango, grapes, apples, bananaes, kiwi, pomegranate… you name it, she loves it. And because she loves it, I tend to think that it doesn’t really matter how much she has, since it’s all good for her. But actually fruit can be really high in sugar- and I know first hand that her nappies aren’t great when she’s had a lot. I gave Elsie the recommended portion of one half an apple and she demanded more more MORE! In fact, while my back was turned she took FOUR nectarines, bit into them all and polished off a whole one before I even realised what she’d done. This needs work.
Her protein portion sizes are spot on. Yay! I found that the recommended portion sizes for things like chicken, tuna and ham etc were spot on and just what Elsie would naturally want to eat too. I’m guilty of giving more than she wants (something I’ve become really aware of this week, and something I’ve stopped doing as a result of the challenge) but she will leave it if she’s had enough. Which really only results in wasting food.
Biscuit portion sizes are smaller than you think! There are a few dairy free biscuits that Elsie can eat, and like any child she is rather fond of them. We’re going through a delightful stage at the moment, where Elsie will cram as much of a biscuit into her mouth as she can, and then demand MORE before she’s even finished that mouthful. It’s a tradition with all the kids to take two biscuits from the tin when they’re offered, and Elise is no different. So to discover that the recommended portion size for a Digestive biscuit is just half… there were tears. I found that breaking the biscuit into pieces fooled her for a short while, but she was soon asking for more. Oops!
It’s been a challenge, that’s for sure. I always felt I had a handle on how much food Elsie needed, but it seems that in some cases she has been eating a,little too much. That said, if she over eats at one meal, she tends to only graze at the next so in terms of the volume of food she is probably about right for her age. BUT if terms of food groups, I think we need to work on it a little to make sure she gets a good balance. One thing I will say is that she moves a lot, she does eat a varied diet most days, and she is certainly not overweight. I don’t want to make food and portion sizes a huge issue, but there are things that cow;d be improved when it comes to meal times for the whole family. These are the steps we’re taking to try and get it right:
Meal planning. I’m not a naturally organised person but I have found that planning our meals (and snacks) in advance has helped, so this is something I intend on sticking with.
Portion up snacks the night before. I have little pots, and I intend to use them! If I measure out Elsie’s snacks the night before, they’re there for me to give to her at the right times, and there’s no guessing as to whether or not the portions are right.
Let the older kids help choose meals. This is a tip the dietitian gave us to try and encourage the older ones to set a good example for Elsie. Each night a different child gets to choose the meal for the whole family. Everyone has a turn, and everyone is expected to eat the meal that’s been chosen for them. This really works well for us.
We all eat together. We’re busy and we know it, but when we can we eat together so that Elsie can learn good table manners and enjoy the social aspect of mealtimes.
No more over estimating! I now measure and weigh things like rice and pasta, whereas before I would just throw a load into the pan. And I always ended up with too much, which is just silly. Now that I know what a toddler portion actually is, it’s easier to modify it for the other children too.
The Tot it Up toddler food tracker has actually really opened my eyes to the way that I approach meal times as a parent. I expect the kids, the youngest of whom is only 20 months old, to sit down and eat without complaint every single day. Not only that but I expect them to want to eat what I’ve made, and while I never tell them they have to clear their plate I do often expect them to eat more than they want to. And now, knowing how big a recommended portion size is, I think I’ve been very unreasonable. I want Elsie to have good memories of mealtimes, and to enjoy being part of our family as we sit down to eat. I don’t want tears or tantrums, or wasted food either. And that’s down to me. Knowing how much she is capable of eating and how much is reasonable for me to expect her to eat is going to be huge in moving forward for us all. Onwards and upwards!
I am a member of the Mumsnet Bloggers Panel, a group of parent bloggers who have volunteered to review products, services, events and brands for Mumsnet. I have editorial control and retain full editorial integrity. I have received payment in return for writing this post.