It's easy to share bite-sized morsels from your meal with your child, but this uncontrolled snacking method at mealtime can leave your little one eating too few or too many calories. Before a meal, assemble planned portion sizes on the child's plate that directly align with your child's recommended daily caloric intake. If the child doesn't finish the meal, offer a snack later to make up the calories. If the child begs for more, give an additional low-calorie snack to keep his weight in check and appetite satiated.
Boys and girls ages 2 to 3 require 1,000 to 1,400 calories per day. Sedentary children should follow the low end of the scale, while active toddlers can consume the maximum 1,400 calories. Children ages 4 to 8 should have 1,200 to 2,000 calories per day, with active boys eating close to 2,000 calories, according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
If your child consumes more calories than he burns, his body weight will increase. Fresh-cut vegetables and fruits contain fewer calories than processed produce packed in heavy syrups or creamy sauces. Choose high-fiber raw broccoli or raw apples for snack time if you need to trim calories from the child's diet. Include a small cup of light ranch dressing for veggies to make the snack more child-friendly. Cubes of grilled chicken offer a burst of protein, while fried breaded chicken tenders hide the nutritious chicken under a layer of calorie-filled fat and carbohydrates. In addition to serving low-calorie foods, add exercise to the child's day to burn extra calories.
Healthy High-Calorie Foods
If your child needs to gain weight, serve healthy, high-calorie foods. A snack of almonds, peanuts or pecans offers healthy omega-3 fatty acids, fiber and unsaturated fats to your child's diet. Add a pat of real cream butter -- not oil-based margarine -- to cooked vegetables for a boost of healthy fat and calcium. And while fruit juices boast of high vitamin levels, they also contain naturally occurring sugars that are high in calories and can help your child put on weight.
Meal and Snack Planning
Because small kids may find it difficult to sit for a large meal, plan for small meals and snacks throughout the day to evenly distribute their caloric intake. In addition to breakfast, lunch and dinner, schedule a mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack that coordinates with naps. If your child sleeps best with a full tummy, offer the snack before he lays down. To keep your child fit, choose whole foods packed with vitamins rather than high-calorie candy and processed junk food that offers little nutritional value.