As a parent it’s such a relief to get past that tricky weaning stage, there’s so much chopping, peeling and pureeing of endless fruit and veg. Most of which ends up on the floor/ walls and even the ceiling. Feeding a toddler can be a messy business and your little cherub will undoubtedly end up covered in mush as he makes a valiant attempt to feed himself (speaking of which, check out baby bibs here)!

As your little one grows he will be keen to try out more grown up foods and have a go at munching on finger foods such as mini sandwiches and rice cakes. He will watch mummy and daddy intently, curious to see what you are shovelling into your mouths. Sit with your toddler at the table and share mealtimes – just keep a supply of baby bibs and kitchen roll to hand for those inevitable spills, drips and splatters!

What Should I Feed My Toddler?

The earlier you introduce good eating habits the better. Your toddler needs a varied and nutritious diet if you want to ensure he remains healthy and develops well. Toddlers grow at a rapid rate and require a diet that’s rich in nutrients – aim for good quality, wholesome food. A balanced diet is best, to ensure your little darling is getting an adequate amount of protein, fat, carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins, omega 3 and omega 6 fats. Try to include some of the following:

  • Bread, pasta, rice, cereals and potatoes are a good source of starch – providing energy and crucial vitamins and minerals. Adults are encouraged to eat wholegrain    versions of these foods such as brown rice, as they are laden with nutrients. However, wholegrains can be a bit heavy for little tums so take your time when           introducing wholegrain into your child’s diet.
  • Fruit and vegetables are an obvious choice in the healthy eating stakes, five portions a day tends to be the recommended amount of servings. Portion wise you should go   for a hand-sized amount.
  • Fresh fruit and veg is great but it can be pricy, don’t be afraid to use canned, frozen and dried varieties too. Brighten up your child’s plate with a colourful array of juicy fruit and tasty veg.
  • Dairy rich food such as yoghurt, milk and cheese offer lots of nutrients so you should try and make sure your child gets around three portions every day. Toddlers are best drinking full-fat milk until they reach two (you can then change to semi-skimmed if    preferred) but steer clear of skimmed milk until your little one reaches the age of       five.
  • Protein is also an essential requirement – providing your toddler with iron and zinc. This can be sourced from a couple of portions each day of nuts, eggs, fish or meat.      Pulses such as lentils and beans are also great and you can get protein from soy, dhal and tofu too.

What Shouldn’t I feed My Toddler?

There are certain foods that you shouldn’t give to your toddler, including:

  • Cakes, puddings and biscuits (and other sugar laden goodies), these can cause weight gain, medical ailments such as diabetes and tooth decay.
  • Salty snacks such as crisps – too much salt can lead to health problems down the line.
  • Shellfish and undercooked eggs – can cause food poisoning.
  • Marlin, shark and swordfish – all contain high levels of mercury.

On another note please don’t give your kids whole nuts – these can be a choking hazard, go for chopped or ground instead. Similarly, always cut up cherry tomatoes and grapes.

How Much Should My Toddler Eat?

Just like adults, toddlers will have days when they are feeling hungry and will eat everything on offer, and days where they just don’t have much of an appetite. As a general rule you should provide three meals per day plus an additional two or three snacks to stave off those hunger pangs. Don’t forget your toddler has a very small tummy, which can’t hold as much food as our big adult bellies. Better to offer less on a plate than too much, then your child can request more if they are still hungry. Do not try and push your child into eating if they don’t want to and do not make them stay at the table until they clear their plate – this old- fashioned outlook doesn’t sit well with encouraging your child to develop a good relationship with food.

Drinks Are Important Too

Your toddler needs plenty of fluids too (around 6-8 drinks each day) to keep him hydrated and brimming with energy. Steer clear of fizzy drinks, coffee and tea – these are not toddler friendly options! Smoothies and fruit juice may sound like a healthy choice but they are often jam packed with sugar. Best to stick with water (or offer milk between meals and snacks). Finally, it’s time to ditch those bottles – toddlers should drink from a cup or beaker instead. You can find some really cute designs the market, complete with handles to help little hands to grasp and pick up their cup more easily.

Stick to a Routine

Routine is important, try and stick to similar times for your toddler’s main meals – breakfast, lunch and dinner. There are things you will need to work around, such as playgroup and nap times, but this shouldn’t be too much of a problem once you’ve got into the swing of things.

Mealtimes Should Be Fun

Got a child that’s reluctant to swallow that spoonful of cabbage? Getting uppity about it will not help. Try and make mealtimes stress free by allowing enough time to sit down and enjoy what you have prepared.

We know it’s hard when you’re pressed for time but illustrating that mealtimes can be a laid-back affair will prevent our child from feeling rushed and is a good way to demonstrate that food can be savoured and enjoyed.

Colourful food arranged in patterns or pictures can be more attractive to children than a plate piled high with food they are not sure about. A big bunch of green salad leaves or unfamiliar fruits heaped in a bowl can put youngsters off even trying something new. Picture a plate of fruit arranged as a face – chopped up banana for hair, apple slices for eyes, a strawberry nose and ears and tangerine segments to make the mouth – a child would be much more likely to be interested in tucking into this! Turn it into a game, introduce Freddie Fruit Face – can you eat Freddie’s strawberry nose? Oh no don’t eat Freddie’s banana hair! You can make a similar picture/story with vegetables or any other foods you would like your child to try.

Don’t Make Mealtimes a Battle Zone

Toddlers can be notoriously fussy eaters, picky about the food they choose to pop in their mouths (and just as likely to spit it back out if they don’t like it)! Stay calm, even when little Johnnie decides to throw his plate on the floor or refuses to try the little green tree that’s sitting forlornly in his bowl! Yes, we know it’s broccoli but don’t tell him – we’re trying make mealtimes fun!

Turning breakfast or dinner into a battle of wills isn’t helpful for you or your kid. It’s all about patience and encouragement, shouting at your child will not help him to form positive associations with food and eating. You could be making the problem worse.

Lead by Example

When you’re busy it’s tempting to plonk your kid a chair and talk on the phone or fold up the washing while simultaneously chopping up fish and veg and helping your child to load his spoon. Multi-tasking might save you time but it’s not the best way to show your child how important mealtimes are.

Telling your little ones how important it is to eat well is not the same as showing them how it’s done. Think about your own eating habits – do you frequently snack on crisps, cookies and anything else that happens to be lying around the kitchen?

Do you regularly race around the house with a piece of burnt toast and cup of coffee in your hand at breakfast time? Skip lunch because you are too busy / can’t be bothered (it’s fine you will grab something quick and quite possibly calorific later!)

The best way to encourage your toddler is to sit with them at mealtimes, offer plenty of praise when they try things and make a fuss about trying new things yourself too.

Healthy eating should never be a chore, not for you or your child. Where possible incorporate it into everyday life and enjoy all the delicious flavours and tastes on offer.