Toddler feeding – your FAQ’s answered

Our health visitor solves all your dilemmas about toddler feeding

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Q: My 3 year old has become fussy with foods and now will only eat a few things, none of them healthy.

A: This is a common phase tots go through as they learn that they have some control over their lives. Try and focus on what is eaten rather than what’s not. Even if he only eats one piece or fruit or veg, it’s a start. Try to introduce new foods by putting a small amount of what you want eaten on his plate.

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Take the emotion and power struggles out of mealtimes by saying little about what he eats. Eat together, and share food plates if it helps. Avoid lots of snacks or milky drinks and juices between meals, and give him vitamins. You could also try smaller, more frequent meals, as 3 meals a day won’t suit every child. Finally, don’t discuss his eating in front of him unless you have something positive to say, such as ‘We’ve had a lovely lunch’.

Q: Following a recent illness, my 18 month old wakes at night for a bottle again. When he was ill, I resorted to it as he wasn’t eating, but now it’s a problem.

Any break in routine, such as holidays and illness, can lead to new habits being created, good or bad. To get back on track, return to the feeding routine you had before. Go back to family mealtimes and food in the day, which is when he needs to consume all his calories.

Settle him to sleep after a quiet time, warm bath and drink, ensuring he falls asleep on his own. If he wakes, offer water or increasingly diluted milk, so that it’s water in a few days. He’ll soon give up the habit when it’s not worth the bother!

If you’re feeling brave, get rid of the bottle. From 1 year, drinks from cups and beakers are best for teeth. Be consistent and persistent, and you’ll create a better sleep pattern for him again.

Q: Every mealtime is a battle with our 2 year old, who refuses all vegetables except peas. What can I do?

A: I sympathise – 2 year olds can be very determined. But don’t despair. If there’s a fruit or vegetable she likes, give her that, variety can come later. Keep mealtimes about eating, and dine as a family if you can. Eat the foods you want her to have and keep offering small amounts of vegetables without cajoling or forcing. Try fruit juices, home-made soups and veg based pasta sauces. To take away some of the worry, you can always give her a vitamin supplement for a while.

Q: My 2 year old son prefers milk to food. He drinks 2 pints a day and wakes up at night because he’s hungry. It’s a vicious cycle. Any tips?

A: This kind of chicken and egg scenario is frustrating. Your best option is to tackle the night time milk first. Filling up on milk will dull his appetite and motivation for food. From 1 year, children only need 1 pint (around 600 mls) of full fat milk a day. By 2 years they can have semi-skimmed. If he’s still using a bottle, swap to a beaker. At night, offer water if he wakes or dilute the milk over a week or so, until it is water. Once his milk intake is reduced, he should be more interested in daytime food. Give him a daily vitamin supplement, too. It’ll ease the pressure until his diet improves.

Q: Our toddler has totally gone off his milk. Any suggestions for keeping up his calcium intake?

A: Milk is an excellent source of calcium but it’s by no means the only option. You can keep up a variety of calcium rich foods in your little one’s diet by including meals that feature oily fish with soft edible bones (sardines and pilchards), fortified breakfast cereals and bread, as well as other dairy products such as yoghurt, fromage frais and cheese.

After one year, children need about one pint of full fat milk a day, in milk or another dairy form. After two years, if you are happy with your child’s diet and growth, you can then switch to semi-skimmed milk.

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If you’re worried that your toddler isn’t getting enough milk, get creative with ways to disguise other dairy products in his food. Using cheese or white sauces with pasta and vegetables can work well, as can grating cheese over baked potatoes or in sandwiches (grating can make it more palatable). Yoghurts are usually well received by most toddlers and using natural yoghurt in meals is worth a try.

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