Healthy eating for babies and toddlers
The key to healthy eating for your babies and toddlers is variety! No one food can give them every nutrient they need, and a wide range of food tastes and textures experienced now will help ensure they have a healthier diet as they grow older. There are so many different foods readily available to us these days that, even if your baby has likes and dislikes, it should be possible to provide your baby with a varied, wholesome diet. Don’t worry if they go through phases of only wanting the same foods; this sometimes happens, but keep offering more different tastes along the way.
A healthy diet is one made up from a mixture of the 5 different food groups shown below:
Starchy foods - Every baby or toddler meal should be based on starchy foods such as rice, pasta, potatoes, bread, chapatti, cereals, yam or plantain (and offer starchy foods at some snack times).
Fruit and Veg - At every one of the mealtimes include some sort of fruit and/or vegetables. Aim for 5 portions per day and choose as many different colours of fruit and veg as possible.
Protein - Once weaning is established, aim to give two to three servings of ‘protein' foods such as meat, fish, eggs, beans or pulses, each day.
Dairy - Give them about three servings a day of dairy products such as milk, yogurt or cheese. From 6 months up to around the age of one year, your baby should be drinking about 500ml milk (breast or formula) per day, but this should decrease to around 360ml for toddlers from 1 year onwards.
Fats or sugar - Foods that are high in fat and/or sugar can be a valuable source of the extra energy that babies and toddlers need, but should only be given in limited quantities.
Of course, as weaning progresses and your baby reaches the end of their first year, the range of different foods they can eat should have increased. There is lots of helpful advice on feeding a balanced diet to your toddler, you might also like to visit the Little People Plates website.
Extreme food refusal
Food refusal and faddy eating is something that a lot of you will experience with your toddlers (see my last blog). By 18 months old most children will have entered a ‘neophobic phase’ during which they will be reluctant to try new foods, but the key to getting through this stage is to keep offering your child new foods. Even though these new tastes and textures may be rejected at first, provided you keep exposing your toddler to new foods, keep calm and make sure they see other people around them eating different foods, most toddlers will get through this neophobic phase unscathed.
But what about when food refusal is extreme? Some children find it very difficult to move through this phase and will only eat a small number of different foods and refuse anything new in their diet over a long period. This can be very worrying for parents, especially if your child’s growth is being affected. If you find yourself in this situation, the most important thing is to make sure your toddler is getting enough energy (calories) for adequate growth and weight gain. Don’t worry too much about making sure your child has a more varied diet; introducing new foods should never be carried out at the expense of growth.
Once your toddler is gaining weight well, then you can start thinking more about introducing new foods. Tips to keep in mind -
- Never force your toddler to eat disliked foods
- Don’t withhold accepted foods to encourage them to eat disliked foods as this may lead to weight loss
- Avoid putting ‘disliked’ foods on the same plate as ‘liked’ foods – they may refuse the whole lot
- Avoid long gaps between meals – being hungry won’t make your toddler eat disliked foods
If you think you need the help of an expert in childhood feeding difficulties (e.g. a paediatrician, clinical psychologist, dietitian or speech/language therapist) with managing your toddler’s extreme food refusal and to make sure they’re getting enough vitamins and minerals, ask your G.P. or health visitor for a referral.
Until next time,