Feeding the child 1-3 years

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Hippocrates said: let food be your medicine and medicine be your food. Eating well is indeed important for our health, at any age. And it is precisely in the first years of life that healthy eating habits must be learned, when the little one of the house stops feeding only on milk and gradually discovers and tastes what mom and dad eat.

Because the first steps he takes at the table are not only essential for his growth, but can help prevent the onset of food-related diseases in adulthood.

On the contrary, in fact, bad eating habits learned as a child risk being a burden to health "Because they can predispose to various diseases, such as hypertension, arteriosclerosis, obesity, diabetes and some cancers, from which a healthy diet protects us", specifies Giuseppe Morino, head of the food education unit of the Bambino Gesù Hospital in the city. Here, then, is how the feeding of the child between 1 and 3 years old should be.

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The child begins sharing meals with the family

Hence, the arrival of a baby can be an opportunity to improve one's diet, because as explained by John Prescott, professor of psychology at the University of Australia and New Zealand and author of "Question of taste" (Sironi editori, 2022 ), each of us ends up loving the very foods we eat every day. And the food preferences of children are inevitably influenced by the maternal diet first (during pregnancy and breastfeeding) and by the choices of the parents then. Read also What eater is your child?

Assuming that mothers have to decide how long they want to breastfeed, the World Health Organization suggests continuing until the age of two. But after the first candle, breast milk (or cow's milk or growth) is no longer the main food of the infant diet and the child can share meals with the rest of the family, provided that the family diet is healthy and balanced. Just follow small precautions such as, for example, cutting meat and food into small pieces that are easy to chew, to take with a spoon or to grab with your fingers.

Feeding the child 1-3 years

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Parents need to lead by example

The first recommendation from pediatricians and nutritionists for first-time parents is: to lead by example. “Children learn from their parents. They observe them from the first days of life and try to imitate their behaviors. And it is from this premise that we must start to help mothers and fathers approach the phase of complementary nutrition, that is, when, starting from the sixth month of life, children can be offered complementary foods to milk ", explains Sergio Conti Nibali, head of the nutrition group of the Paediatricians Cultural Association. "In fact, if parents have an adequate eating style, it is certain that their children will have it too".


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Hence the importance of never missing fruit and vegetables from your table and having a diet as varied as possible. If children are exposed from early childhood to a wide variety of foods and flavors, the more likely they are to enjoy them. “But don't despair if they refuse to try what's on their plate. You have to arm yourself with patience. And try and try again, thus gradually proposing, several times, a dish of spinach or broccoli to entice the boy or girl to taste them and overcome the fear that they have a bad taste ", suggests Laura Censi, nutritionist at the National Research Institute for Food and Nutrition.

Of the rest "the food neophobia, that is, the aversion to new foods is so common that it is considered a phase of childhood development »writes Prescott. Just think of the «I don't like it pronounced in front of foods that have never touched the child's lips: a great classic of family meals». "Well then, try to intrigue him with different recipes and proposing dishes that are also beautiful to look at, for example by playing with the color and arrangement of the food", adds Morino.

The menu must be healthy and varied

But what to put on your plate? To promote growth and healthy development, go ahead, from an early age, to the Mediterranean diet. Food model that includes lots of fruit and vegetables, accompanied by cereals and legumes, milk and derivatives alternating with fish, meat and eggs, and extra virgin olive oil as a condiment.

Don't force them to eat. Children regulate themselves

Another recommendation: do not force. As highlighted by the project Good practices for nutrition and physical activity in preschool, funded by the Center for Disease Control of the Ministry of Health under the European Program Gaining Health, if during the first year of life the speed of growth is such as to triple the weight in just 12 months, then things change.

In the second year, growth proceeds at a slower pace and caloric requirements per kilo of weight are reduced (about 90 calories per kilo of body weight). However, a reduction in appetite can be perceived as a nutritional risk situation. And "help, my baby doesn't eat" ends up becoming one of the main concerns of parents (if only Del Paeseni).

Some more or less, obsessed by the idea that their child does not eat enough, then devises unlikely trains or airplanes that end their race in the child's mouth or end up in a grueling arm wrestling to convince him to brush everything there. is on the plate.

"But in reality, children are able to regulate themselves, taking the amount of food they need, so you shouldn't force them or scold them if they don't want to eat," suggests Riccardo Davanzo, pediatrician at the Children's Hospital of Trieste.

"At the base there is also an erroneous perception of the portions suitable for them" recalls Ilaria Giulini Neri, pediatrician and nutrition expert at the Melegnano Hospital. «Obviously, children cannot be offered the same amount of pasta or meat or fruit as adults. And given that energy needs vary from child to child, based on the pace of growth, weight and activity they do, it is better not to get anxious but to talk to the pediatrician ". Without underestimating, then, that there is nothing strange if "periods of greater alternation with periods of less appetite" adds Conti Nibali.

Parents, therefore, have the task of correctly interpreting the signals of hunger and satiety of their children, avoiding feeding them more than necessary and respecting the sense of self-regulation of appetite, which is present from birth.

Also see the video on feeding the baby after the year

5 meals a day

Just as from an early age it is good to divide the day into five meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner, and two snacks, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Trying to distribute the daily energy requirement approximately in this way: breakfast 15%, mid-morning snack 5%, lunch 40%, snack 10%, dinner 30%. On the other hand, snacks should be avoided in order not to interfere with the natural hunger-appetite-satiety cycle.

Breakfast and snack

«Starting the day, possibly all together, with a good breakfast is a fundamental habit: it helps to better distribute calories throughout the day and is useful for keeping weight under control even during adolescence» recommends Giulini Neri. At breakfast it is better to offer healthy and nutritious foods, such as milk or yogurt, fruit, homemade desserts, or some biscuits, which together provide proteins, carbohydrates, fiber and vitamins. For the snack, something light is welcome: for example a fruit, a juice, a smoothie. In the afternoon, to stop hunger, a yogurt, ice cream, crackers, bread sticks, rusks or bread and oil or jam are fine.

Lunch and dinner

At lunch and dinner it is better to avoid preparing "the classic pimp": it makes it impossible to distinguish and appreciate the individual flavors. Furthermore, after weaning, it is advisable to ensure that the baby's nutrition gradually becomes similar to that of the rest of the family. Therefore, the general advice is to vary as much as possible, during the week, the sources of carbohydrates (not only pasta, but also rice, wheat, barley, oats, spelled, barley) and protein sources (fish, meat, better if lean, cheese, legumes, eggs), but avoiding two protein foods in the same meal. In other words, you don't need to add a splash of cheese on pasta with meat sauce, or give the egg after a plate of pasta and lentils.

«For children of this age group, a daily protein intake of 1 gram per kilo of body weight is recommended. But without going crazy in laborious calculations, it is good to remember to avoid an excess of proteins, in particular of animal origin, because it is the main suspect for the development of obesity »underlines Giulini Neri.

Always fruit and vegetables

Fruit (pureed, squeezed, chopped) and vegetables (cooked, raw, pureed, chopped), on the other hand, should never be lacking, preferably in season, because they are rich in minerals, vitamins and fiber: they increase the sense of satiety, improve functionality intestinal and reduce the risk of colorectal cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. They are also a good source of water, which is essential for ensuring adequate hydration and which, of course, should be the only drink to be consumed at the table.

Steaming is the best. No to fried food

Finally, some attention to the cooking method. Better to prefer steam cooking, excellent for vegetables and fish, because it reduces nutritional losses, or in the oven, which allows you to cook without adding fat. Even pressure cooking, speeding up preparation times, reduces the dispersion of nutrients. And if the vegetables are boiled, bear in mind that salts and vitamins pass into the cooking water, which can be reused to prepare soups or cook pasta. On the other hand, there is no hurry to introduce frying, rather it is better to postpone it: because fried foods have a lot of calories and the oil, when heated, produces toxic substances.


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Questions and answers

What should children 1 to 3 eat? 

To promote the growth and healthy development of children, go ahead, from an early age, to the Mediterranean diet. Food model that includes lots of fruit and vegetables, accompanied by cereals and legumes, milk and derivatives alternating with fish, meat and eggs, and extra virgin olive oil as a condiment.

How many meals do children between 1 and 3 have to eat a day? 

From an early age it is good to divide the day into five meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner, and two snacks, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Avoid meals between meals.

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