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The Right Stuff

Meat and Fish

To meet his protein requirements, a toddler's daily servings from this food group should add up to three and a half ounces of meat, fish, or the equivalent in meat alternatives such as cooked dried beans and eggs. One serving of meat or fish consists of one and two thirds ounces, and one serving of meat alternatives consists of one third cup cooked beans, one small egg, or one and one third tablespoons of peanut butter used in a sandwich. (These amounts are the equivalent of roughly an ounce of meat.)

When serving meat to your toddler, make sure it's been cooked thoroughly. Cut the meat into pieces that are small enough for him to manage, yet not large enough to choke on. When you serve fish, be especially careful to pick through the entire portion and remove any bones.

Because there are so many interesting ways to serve meats - in a vegetable stew, perhaps, or broiled or sautéed - parents should be able to avoid giving children fried meat, says Yvonne Bronner, R.D., a nutritionist at the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health in Baltimore. To make meat dishes as healthy as possible, remove excess fat and skin before preparing. Steering your kids clear of high-fat tastes early on gives them a head start on a lifetime of healthy eating habits. Bronner says a great way to get your toddler to eat meat (and some vegetables, too) is to include him in the preparation of a Chinese stir-fry (under close supervision, of course). Cut up an assortment of colorful vegetables - red, green, and yellow peppers, broccoli, carrots - and slice up some chicken or beef. Let your child pick out the bits he wants for his dinner, drop them into the pan, and you can both watch them cook.