Finger foods for a finicky eater

My one-year-old son is a very picky eater. He is very active and I'm afraid he isn't getting what he needs nutritionally. He prefers to feed himself, but then he won't eat very much. He has more fun just playing with his food. What finger foods would give him the most nutritional value without being terribly messy?

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Sue Gilbert

Sue Gilbert works as a consulting nutritionist. For many years she worked with Earth's Best Organic Baby Food, integrating nutrition and... Read more

Toddlers eat little relative to parental expectations. You need to remember, a serving size for them is only one-fourth to one-third of an adult serving. That means one-fourth of a piece of toast -- not the whole slice! It may be that your worrying about his intake may be somewhat unnecessary, due to unrealistic expectations. Try making a visual adjustment in your mind as to what is reasonable for a one year old to eat, and then add a splash of new found independence and finickiness! It makes for an interesting picture. You have identified your challenge correctly --finding the appropriate foods to offer him based on the knowledge that every thing he eats should count towards his daily nutritional requirement. Then, after you have provided the food, leave it to him to be sure he is getting the calories he needs. Left to their own devices with healthy food, kids will eat what they need.

To help you help him get the proper nourishment start by becoming familiar with the daily food needs of a toddler. Then, choose foods that fulfill those requirements as much as possible, and foods that can be served in a form that he will eat.

On average, a one-year-old child needs the following to meet his daily nutrient requirements:

  • 6 servings of grains (one serving = 1/4 slice bread, 1/4 muffin, 2 crackers, 1/4 cup dry cereal, 1/4 cup hot cereal)
  • 1 serving of a vitamin C rich fruit or veggie. (one serving = 1/3 cup juice, 1/4 cup chopped fruit or veggie)
  • 1 serving green or orange fruit or veggie for vitamin A (one serving = 1/4 to 1/3 cup juice, 1/4 cup chopped fruit/veggie)
  • 3 or more servings of other fruits or vegetables including potatoes (1 serving = 1/4 of a whole fruit/veg, 1/4 C chopped raw or cooked)
  • 3 servings of milk, yogurt or cheese (one serving = 1/2 cup milk/yogurt, 1/2 ounce cheese
  • 2 servings of protein (one serving = 1+ tablespoon chopped meat, fish or poultry, 1 egg)

As you can see, the serving sizes are small. Try providing him with these foods in manageable finger food portions. For example

Breakfast:
1/4 chopped banana
1/4 cup baby cereal or 1/4 cup iron fortified Cheerios
1/2 cup milk
Snack:
2 crackers
1/3 cup juice
Lunch:
1 Tbsp chopped cooked ground beef, maybe in "meat loaf sticks" for easy handling
1 to 2 tablespoon cooked chopped carrots
1/4 home made whole grain pumpkin muffin
1/2 cup yogurt mixed with applesauce or soft grated cheese (for finger food)
Snack:
cheese (1/2 oz.), and soft ripe fruit such as papaya
Dinner:
small pasta shapes, cooked al dente
chopped hard cooked egg
soft cooked vegetable such as green beans or broccoli florettes
whole milk
fresh ripe fruit or canned chopped
Snack:
small piece of bagel, whole milk

Almost all of the above foods can be served as finger foods. Offer him at the same time, some child-sized utensils and dishes that he can get his hands around so that when the mood strikes, he can practice eating like a big boy. Eat your meals with him so that he has someone to model.

Finally, try not to worry too much about the mess. I think that's what newspapers are for. Certainly we don't have time to read them, but they make great catch alls underneath the high chair!

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