Okay amazing mamas and papas! Let’s get a nutrition session for toddlers underway!
My disclaimer first and foremost. I am a foster mama, an aunty and god-parent, and I have had plenty of fussy kids stay with me. I’m speaking from both the view point of a professional who has been trained and educated in feeding kiddies, and from a mama of all kinds who has had to feed babes with trauma, with allergies and with plain old fussy requests/tantrums.
I am not telling you how to parent, I’m telling you what works and why for most children when it comes to raising healthy kids with good attitudes to food. Please, if you have children with legitimate food fears, you need to see a specialist in the area. Registered is a must, and I can refer you to the right people if needed.
So, the guidelines around healthy habits for your toddler. Here are the major points about how to feed your little one, using foods that will match their growth needs and help fuel their brain, and habits that will ensure they have a healthy attitude to food, making your life easier in the long run, and their lives with lower risks of problems with food. This is for after you have successfully introduced solids.
1. Introduce your children to real food and a wide variety of it as best you can and as often as possible. My top picks for 9 months and over are pate/liver, green veg, avocado, eggs, red meat and fatty fish, fresh fruit, chia pudding, banana bread, vegetable curries, and anything from your plate.
2. Never force your children to eat or to finish their meals. Their fullness hormones and cues are well equipped to tell them when to stop eating and just because you made a bowl of vegetables and meatballs doesn’t mean they need to eat the whole bowl.
3. If your children don’t want dinner, or don’t like what you have made them, then that’s fine, but you don’t go make them something else. The second you do, and you’ll be making different meals for every person in your house in no time. Never make rules on the food itself, but the behaviour around the food. For instance, you don’t have to eat it, but we don’t throw it across the table. Teach manners early, and expected behaviour at the table as this will make your life easier as they grow.
4. As soon as children are able to, they need to eat smaller versions of adult meals so everyone is eating the same thing and who ever is in charge of cooking isn’t exhausted from cooking seperate meals daily.
5. Food should always be before milk or a bottle, never after. Children will be more likely to try new foods and eat their meals if they are hungry, rather than full with milk. If you don’t think they ate enough, don’t automatically fill them with a bottle. Remember we want them to understand and know their satiety cues and we don’t want to over feed them because they didn’t eat what we hoped for.
6. Encourage but don’t force your children to try one new food each meal or day and always present new foods with familiar foods without pressure. It can take 11-20 times to be exposed to new foods before a child will try or like them so be patient and positive.
7. Your children need to learn how to chew and use their mouths so handing them a suckie pouch is not helpful. Let children learn how to eat by giving them food to feed themselves. Omelette pieces, soft fruit, steamed vegetables, and small meatballs are all great finger food options. Chia pudding, oats, mashed vegetables and mince are great spoon options for them to develop hand to mouth coordination.
8. Dessert should never be offered simply because you ate your dinner and it should never be used as a bribe. By offering dessert because a child ate their vegetables or their main meal, you are teaching your children that dessert is somehow superior, and their main meals are somehow hard work or punishment to get to the prize. This encourages kids to favour that ‘treat” and makes meal times harder for parents with stubborn kids.
9. Always offer water and milk first for drinks, healthy green or berry protein smoothies second. Avoid sugar filled drinks that will cause tooth decay and energy issues for as long as possible, they’ll have plenty of them when they’re sneaking to their friend’s places in their teens.
10. Around 18 months old, most children will go through a phase where new things will scare them or make them feel uncomfortable. This happens with food as well, so the more you expose your child to prior to this will help, but the more gentle yet persistent you are if they are going through this phase, the easier you may get through it.
11. Eat together at the dinner table as often as possible. This teaches manners, social skills, and ensures appropriate exposure and focus on food. Eating in front of the TV shuts down your natural satiety cue and can lead to overeating.
12. Get children into the garden or the kitchen or both as often as you can. They’re more likely to try foods they’ve made themselves and it will help them gain skills their future self and family will thank you for.
13. An ideal brekkie is actually not from a box. If you have the time, scrambled eggs, porridge, salmon on toast, avocado toast, chia pudding made in a jar the night before are all great options. Don’t be afraid to say no to the health stars on boxes who paid for them.
Thanks to Lachlan, my blueberry model for the feature image, and Meihana, my little cousin for the love of peas below.