Young children are like sponges, absorbing all the sights, sounds and tastes of the world around them, and they
are truly impressionable. These toddler years are a great time to help children form positive attitudes towards food
and to develop sound eating habits. It is well documented that implementing early healthy eating habits can reduce
the risk for obesity, heart disease, cancer and other chronic diseases later in life.
Although toddlers grow at a slower rate than an infant does, they still need enough energy and nutrients from food
to fuel their active play and growth. However, the most frustrating problem in this 1-3 year age group is the child
who refuses to eat, and this is a major source of concern for the parents as mealtimes can fast become a battlefield.
Remember that from day to day and even meal to meal, your child may have appetite fluctuations - this is perfectly
normal and in spite of a poor food intake most children in this age group tend to sustain their normal growth.
Never be tempted to force-feed your toddler - it will be fruitless and may result in a life-long aversion to certain foods.
Variety is the spice of life
If a child is always eating the same foods, or filling up on 'empty calorie' foods such as sweets and soft drinks, they
may not obtain the nutrients they need to be active and to grow. Children need to eat a good variety of healthful foods
and bread, cereals, fruit and vegetables should make up the major part of the diet. Small portions of protein-rich foods
(meat, fish, egg, milk, dry beans, peas, lentils and soya) should be included at each metal to provide the amino acids
essential for the child's growth. Milk remains an important source of protein and calcium and children under five should
drink at least 2 cups of milk a day.
Planning your toddler's meals
Mothers are often unsure of what, how much and how often food should be provided. Plan your toddler's meals around
your own - they will probably need three small meals and two snack a day due to their small stomach capacity. Hunger
cues are important to listen to - if your child says 'enough', respect it, and if he is hungry, he will eat.
Some people think that children, like adults, should not eat too much fat, but it is much more important to ensure they
get enough energy from a variety of food, than to worry about fat, especially when they are less than two years old.
A concentrated source of energy such as fat helps to provide energy for this fairly rapid growth period, and the extra
cholesterol in a food such as full cream milk is important for healthy brain development.
Try to keep to an eating schedule, as children seem to do best with a routine. Giving in to snacks at the supermarket or
just before a meal will interfere with your child's eating routine, so ensure that the snack is something healthy such as a
dried fruit bar, flavoured milk or a fruit juice.
Eating should be fun!
Eating should be one of life's pleasures. Encourage children to enjoy a family meal and to help with simple tasks in the
kitchen, such as measuring, stirring and arranging food on a plate. Relaxed mealtimes with good food and conversation,
rather than fraught occasions when children are nagged about how they eat, will encourage the building of social
relationships as well as aid good digestion.
Instead of keeping chips, chocolate and biscuits in the house, stock up on these wholesome snacks that hungry
younsters can nibble on throughout the day:
Bread, rolls and crackers with fillings such as peanut butter, fish paste, marmite, cheese, baked beans, tuna, sardines
or cold meat; fresh and dried pieces of fruit; yoghurt, custard or milk; plain popcorn, rice cakes or oat cakes; vitamin
enriched breakfast cereals; a pasta or potato salad and fruit juice.
Some helpful tips for toddler feeding:
*If you eat after your children have enjoyed favourite activities such as a television programme or playing, they will be less
likely to bolt their food to leave the table. Children will eat best when they are relaxed and not tired.
*Children learn by watching you so set a good example with your own eating habits. Share mealtimes and eat the same
healthy dishes - eating together as a family will also provide an opportunity to demonstrate opproprate table manners.
*If you can't eat together, be there - young children need supervision when they are eating, in case they choke.
Discourage them eating while standing, walking or lying down and avoid giving whole nuts to children under four years old.
*Reward children with affection and attention - not food. Using food as a reward or punishment only promotes unhealthy
attitudes about food.
*Offer foods with 'kid appeal' and use brightly coloured bowls and utensils to encourage your child to eat.
*Many younger children prefer plain, unmixed food and so casseroles and stews may not be well accepted.
*Food with funny names such as 'monster munch mashed patato' or 'bugs on a log'
*At all mealtimes, offer at least one food that you know your child will like and plan the same foods for him as the rest of
*Encourage your child to feed himself and offer finger foods - tasting and handling food is part of the whole learning experience.