Increasingly active, your child is busy exploring and learning about her world. Food plays an important part in her life as she discovers new tastes and textures, and learns to feed herself. With simple routines in place, eating should be fun, not a battle.
First birthday onwards
Your toddler is now sharing in your healthy (and salt-free) family meals, and coping with a wide range of textures. Most children love feeding themselves, but don’t give her whole grapes or small citrus segments just yet. Cut everything up small at first or slice into short, thin sticks so there is no risk of her choking, and never leave her alone while she is eating.
You can now switch from breast milk and formula to cow’s milk for drinking – whole, not semiskimmed, as your child needs the extra fat for energy and growth. When she’s two, you can go over to semi-skimmed, but don’t offer skimmed milk until she’s five (and then only if you wish). You can also start to use goat’s, sheep’s, rice or soya milk (see pp26-27), but their fat content and other nutrients are different from whole cow’s milk, so you need to ensure that you give your toddler a good varied diet (see pp12-13).
Good eating habits
Try to get into a routine of three meals a day and a couple of nutritious, tasty snacks, all at regular times. There’s a huge difference between a toddler who is in the habit of sitting down and having, say, a rice cake and a banana or a little bowl of halved grapes as a snack, and one who toddles around with a packet of something permanently in her hand. Your child needs to know that food comes at certain times of the day, that she sits and eats it, and then it’s over. Try not to fall into the trap of giving her a random snack to pacify her. She probably isn’t hungry – it’s more likely she is thirsty, so offer water first. If that doesn’t work, give her a cuddle, then something different to play with to distract her. If you have your main meal in the evenings, cook for the whole family at once if you can and eat together so that your toddler sees the enjoyment of food as part of her family life. If this isn’t possible, always make sure you sit down with her when she eats – even if you’re only having a cup of tea. Don’t leave her eating in front of the TV on her own.
Hands on – it’s fun
A toddler who is always fed from a jar will almost inevitably think that’s where all food comes from. But if she sees you, for instance, peeling a banana and mashing it before you give it to her on a spoon, she’ll understand that food is much more interesting than that. Involve her as much as you can in its preparation. If you encourage her to select and put pieces of prepared fruit in a little bowl, wash a new potato before it’s cooked, or cut a cooked carrot (with a plastic or toddler knife), she’ll engage with the food and enjoy it much more. Let her help with baking, too, away from the oven – rolling out pastry, putting topping on pizza dough or cutting out cookie shapes.
Some children are picky about new textures at first and refuse to eat. If need be, keep purÃ©eing, mashing, or mincing for a while, then try again. Finger foods such as bite-sized sandwiches may help as your child can pop them in her mouth herself. Some children refuse to eat all but one or two things. This isn’t anything to worry about: toddlers will eat when they’re hungry and nearly always grow out of food fads. Don’t be alarmed if yours is too busy to eat very much some days, finding everything else more exciting – it’s normal. However, if she seems unwell or you are worried, seek medical advice.
Apart from whole nuts, nothing’s off the menu – you just need to watch out for fruit stones and too much salt or sugar. Every meal, even a snack lunch or supper, should contain foods from all the food groups (see pp12-13 and serving sizes above). Main meals can be the same as yours (but take out her portion before adding salt to the rest). Just chop or mash as necessary.
Starting the day right
Breakfast is important – the last meal was a long time ago and energy levels need restoring. Porridge is ideal. Sweeten with a little honey or, preferably, sliced banana, chopped dried fruits, or compÃ´te. Toast and other bread options are great, too. Spread with a little butter (or butter-type, full-fat spread) and a pure fruit spread, or a smooth nut butter on its own or with banana on top. Or, now that your child is more than a year old, give her a runny boiled egg with soldiers to dip into it. Give salty foods such as sausages or smoked fish only occasionally, and avoid sugary cereals.
End of the day
Allow an hour or two after your child’s evening meal so she can digest it before bedtime. Avoid sugary foods, which can make children too active. They love a wind-down bedtime ritual: bath, pyjamas, story, and a cup of warm milk before being tucked in.
At least 4 servings a day of starchy carbohydrates A serving is ¼-½ slice bread or 2-3 tbsp cooked rice or pasta.
2 servings a day of protein A serving is about 30g (1oz) cooked meat, chicken, fish, or pulses, or 1 tbsp smooth nut butter.
2-3 servings a day of vegetables A serving is 2 tbsp peas, carrots, or beans, 3 cherry tomatoes, or 2 cauliflower or broccoli florets. • 2-3 servings of fruit A serving is ½ apple, pear or banana, a satsuma (cut in pieces, not whole segments), or a handful of grapes.
2 servings a day of dairy foods or at least 350ml (12fl oz) whole milk A serving is a small pot of yogurt or 40g (1½oz) cheese.
Sometimes unhealthy is OK
There are times when we all have to resort to not-so-healthy options. If you’re generally giving your toddler a balanced diet, she’ll be fine.
Don’t offer alternatives
If your toddler won’t eat what you give, don’t rush around getting something else. She’ll probably enjoy her next meal.
Don’t get stressed
If you look and appear anxious, it will rub off. Try to keep mealtimes calm. Eating together can help, as everyone is interacting.
Complete Family Nutrition, by Jane Clarke, published by DK, £16.99, dk.com