Ask parents of a toddler and they will tell you - their child is stubborn about eating healthy foods. One of the biggest worries that parents express about their little ones is whether or not they are getting a good balance of nutrients.
And since toddlers often specialize in testing their boundaries, convincing them to eat something that they would rather not can be a bit of a battle. With a little patience and creativity, however, parents often find that their previously picky eater can be transformed into a happy little eater.
Know the Facts
Talk to your child's pediatrician or a pediatric nutritionist about proper toddler portions. Many parents worry needlessly that their toddler doesn't eat enough when in fact, healthy portions can be quite small. For example, it is perfectly normal for a toddler to eat only 1/4 to 1/2 slice of bread, a small fistful of dry cereal, pasta, or rice, 1/4 to 1/2 piece of fresh fruit, a few spoonfuls of yogurt, or just a few bites of meat or other protein.
You will have a better success rate if you offer several small meals rather than expecting your toddler to eat a substantial amount at a sitting. Parents can sometimes look at the tiny portions and forget that they are filling only tiny tummies!
Make a Mess
Toddlers are hands-on learners, so take advantage of their natural desires to get involved and to get messy. Plant a garden -- even a small plot will do -- and let your child help out. When choosing what to grow, allow your toddler to make a few of the selections and then show them how to sow the seeds and tend to the growing plants. While you work in the garden, talk with your toddler about how delicious the veggies will be once they are ripe. If you are excited, they will be, too!
Once you have a batch of fresh produce, try to prepare them in a variety of ways and again, let your toddler be a part of the fun. Munch some of the veggies raw and scour recipe books for recipes that your child might like. There are a number of great cookbooks designed for children; ask your local librarian or book seller for suggestions. With proper supervision, your toddler can help with some aspects of food preparation including stirring and measuring. Remember to give him the most important task of all -- chief taste tester!
Every now and then, despite your best efforts, you will come across a toddler who flat out refuses to eat anything that looks remotely healthy. If this describes your little one, you may have to be a bit sneaky. You can shred vegetables such as carrots and zucchini into meatloaf or meatballs and they will never guess what they are eating. Purchase whole grain bread, pasta, waffles, and pancakes. Revamp some of your recipes by substituting natural, unsweetened applesauce for the oil in home baked goods. The resulting treats are moist and delicious, and your toddler will never miss what's missing (and neither will you!).
Try not to turn mealtime into a battle; your child will pick up on the tension that you feel and will become all the more determined to be uncooperative. Don't make a big deal out of their refusal to eat everything that you offer, simply clear the plates when the meal is over and try again next time. If your toddler requests a snack shortly after refusing to eat what was offered, calmly tell them that you'll be eating again soon. If you allow them to fill up on empty calories between meals, they will quickly learn to hold out for their preferred snacks.
Look in the Mirror
Children learn from what they see, so be sure that you eat a well balanced diet including vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes, and lean sources of protein. If you are living on a steady diet of snack foods, it will be all but impossible to instill good eating habits into your little ones.
Moving on to solid foods
Is your baby ready for solid foods? Here's how do it!
Currently, the UK Department of Health recommend that most babies are ready to have solid food - the term 'solid' means any food that's not milk - between four and six months of age.
By this age, your baby can tolerate other foods without too much work for his digestion. He can probably chew at least a little as well as suck, and he's getting curious enough to enjoy new flavours and textures. He also likes to do what you're doing, and being sociable.
Ask your health visitor about solids, too, and get some ideas and support from her.
'Baby rice' is available in a packet, and it's useful as you can mix it with other foods, and expressed milk, formula milk or water. But fruits and vegetables can be almost as easy, and as long as you mash or sieve them, you baby will cope fine. Don't add seasoning, salt or sugar. Try:
soft pear, peeled
dessert apple, peeled
Offer tiny amounts, and stick to one or two new foods every few days. He may even turn his head away and refuse after a small taste. Don't worry. He'll come round gradually - it's not worth forcing the issue.
When and how often should you try?
Do what's easiest for you. Try once a day, and then build up quantity and frequency over a few days or weeks. As you go along, you can aim to have your baby's meals coincide with your own, and you may find he needs fewer breast or bottle feeds.
Foods to introduce later
If you think your family has a tendency to allergy, it can be a good idea to wait until six months before introducing wheat (including bread), citrus fruits, cheeses and fried foods, eggs, meat. This is to ensure your baby's gut is mature enough to take these foods without setting up an allergy.
Bought baby foods
Most babies enjoy bought baby foods, and they're certainly convenient. But you do get what you pay for. Cheaper baby foods have a high water content, and this means they need starchy thickeners to bulk them out as a result. While these are safe, they are low in food value. Some foods are very high in sugars.
Read the labels on baby foods. Remember the main ingredient is listed first . If you see a long list of foods you wouldn't normally find in your own cupboards, then you're looking at highly-processed food that's a long way from its natural state.
These are foods your baby can pick up and eat himself, without any help for you. Some babies always prefer managing themselves instead of being spoon-fed.
Lots of foods can be offered as finger foods. Simply cut or slice the foods up into a shape your baby can hold easily. Always stay with your baby when he's feeding himself.
Just what do you do if your baby seems a good deal less interested in food than you think he should be? Here's how to make things easier.
Help your baby enjoy his first tastes of food, and overcome any resistance to solids by making mealtimes sociable and happy.
always have something to eat yourself, even just a snack, so your baby can feel you're doing something together. He may want to share what you have, which is good.
encourage finger foods he can feed himself - lots of babies only really start enjoying new foods when they can pick them up, test the texture and look at the shape, and decide for themselves when to actually eat it. Most children can't use a spoon by themselves until about 15 to 18 months, though they should be given the chance to practice long before this.
don't ever get angry or anxious if your baby appears not to be hungry, or if he rejects something because he dislikes the taste. Making a fuss could actually make him reject it more - some babies and toddlers love to get a reaction to the things they do, even when its a negative one!
don't make impossible bribes - you know the sort of thing - 'you'll only get your chocolate pud if you finish this plate of meat and veg'. That might be okay as an occasional tactic with an older toddler you just know is being awkward. A baby can't fully understand the deal you're trying to make - you could both end up cross with each other.
What's the right amount to have?
The current Department of Health guidelines recommend that a nine month old baby has three to four servings each day of starchy foods (such as cereals, bread, pasta, potato) plus three to four servings each day of fruit/vegetables (that might include a drink of fruit juice) plus one serving a day of protein (such as fish, meat, egg, cheese). Vegetarian babies get their protein from vegetable sources, and they should have two servings a day of pulses, grains or beans.
Your baby will probably have three, four or more milk feeds as well as this. The size of a 'serving' will depend on your baby's appetite.
'But my child hates solids!'
If your child is really fussy and refuses to eat very much, don't make a fuss. You can tempt him with a plate of different foods, cut into bite size pieces. Include:
dried apricot/peach, in small slices
crisps and hula-hoops
cold meats (the wafer thin sort)
tiny slivers of vegetables
cubes of bread, chunks of breadstick
segments of Satsuma or sweet orange
cubes of apple and pear, and sliced banana
If you think your child can't be eating enough to stay healthy, it can sometimes help to make a list, over two or three days, of what he really does eat. Show your findings to your health visitor and ask her to discuss whether or not there are any shortcomings. In some cases, you may be advised to give your child vitamin and/or mineral supplements.
Your baby can eat most of what you eat after the age of about six months - here's some ideas. Your baby loves being sociable and joining in meals with you can be enjoyable for you both. You only need to make a few changes for his benefit.
Babies are often quite different in their likes and dislikes, and how much they want to eat. It's usual for babies to eat or drink several times a day - not many of us go very long between drinks, snacks and meals, either. Think about timing, too - your baby may need his main meal at lunch time, and another meal about 4 or 5 - earlier than you might want to eat. But try to join in with a snack, so it feels like a family meal for you. At weekends, you may be more able to all sit down together to a 'proper' meal.
Can he really eat what we eat?
Mostly. But stick to full-fat dairy foods for your baby, instead of the low-fat or fat-reduced kinds. These aren't harmful to your baby, but they don't 'pack in' as much suitable nutrition. Babies benefit from the fat-soluble vitamins present in whole yoghurt, full-fat cheeses and other products.
Adults are the ones who should go for a low-fat diet, not babies and toddlers. Choose unsweetened foods for your baby. Never season your baby's food with salt or spices.
What your baby should drink
For drinks, use water, milk (formula or breast), or very dilute fruit juice (not squash). Babies of five months and up can start learning to use a spouted cup.
Follow-on formula is higher in iron than ordinary pasteurised milk, but it is no better than ordinary formula. Breast milk is better than both. If your baby is happy on the milk he has now, there is no need to change.
After a year, your baby can have full-fat, whole pasteurised milk as a drink. Stick to this until the age of two and a half, and then switch to semi-skimmed if he is having a good range and quantity of other foods. At five skimmed milk is fine.
By six months (if not before) most babies can have lumps, and it's a good idea to offer non-smooth foods. Sometimes, babies who've only ever had purees get fussy about lumps.
Anything to avoid?
At a year, your baby should still avoid whole nuts (babies can easily choke on them). True food allergy is unusual, but it does exist. You should get a proper diagnosis if you suspect your child reacts to the same food each time. Serious reactions need medical treatment straight away.