Your toddler feeding questions solved

Our health visitor answers all your questions about feeding your toddler, from mealtime trouble to moving onto cups...

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You can still get calcium into your child’s diet even if she refuses to drink milk

1) Moving from bottles to cups

Q. I want to move on from bottles to cups, but my 2 year old will only drink from a bottle. Any tips?

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A. You’re right to move to cups. Dentists advise that you stop using bottles at around 12 months, as milk and juices can harm teeth more when drunk through teats than from a cup.

Bottle-feeding and comforting go hand in hand, so toddlers and parents are often reluctant to give it up. Stopping gradually needs to be done in conjunction with plenty of cuddles and reassurance for your tot.

Give him a day or so warning to prepare him. Take a positive approach, by telling him he’s growing up and involve him in choosing a few nice cups. Be consistent when you set new routines around his drinking cup. He’ll protest at first, but if you’re consistent he’ll make an easier transition away from bottles.

2) My child won’t eat at mealtimes

Q. I know it’s a phase but my 2 year old won’t eat at mealtimes and then he constantly wants treats between meals. Sometimes I give in, as I don’t want him to be hungry and grumpy. What can I do?

A. The hunger and grumpiness he’s displaying is probably due to the fact he’s now got into a vicious circle of not eating the right foods at mealtimes, and maybe doesn’t understand ‘mealtime rules’ either.

You need to take a step back and review the approach you’re taking to eating. Try to sit down with him at mealtimes, even if you only have a cup of tea, as children like company when they’re eating. Offer small, frequent meals of food you know he’ll eat, up to five times a day at first if necessary. Encourage him when he does eat, but don’t go over the top and don’t make a fuss over what is or isn’t eaten.

Avoid snacks and drinks of squash or milk between meals. Introduce lots of praise and encouragement for activities not related to food or mealtimes. It’ll take time to build new habits, but if you’re patient, persistent, confident and consistent it’ll make things easier for both of you.

3) Is he starving himself?

Q. My 2 year old has become very fussy and survives on very little food – but drinks more milk than before. I’m worried he’s doing it on purpose. Help!

A. Most toddlers go through a phase where their food choices narrow and become repetitive for no apparent reason. It’s tempting to fill these ‘gaps’ with extra milk, but actually this just further dampens their appetite for other food.

Keep his milk intake to about 500ml a day – including yogurt, cheese and milk sauces. If you haven’t already done so, stop bottles and use a beaker. Drops with A, B, D and C vitamins are also recommended for children aged between 1 and 5.

Children don’t starve themselves – making a note of what he eats in a day may reassure you. If he still has plenty of energy, he’s getting enough calories to keep him going.

Continue including him in family meals, offering small portions of what you know he will eat combined with some of what you want him to eat. It may take some months, but his tastes will widen again.

4) Midnight feasts

Q. At 21 months, my daughter takes little food in during the day so I end up giving in to breastfeeding her at night. How can I break the cycle?

A. It can be frustrating as her enjoyment of other foods is diminished by her appetite being met with milk. And she needs a varied diet for healthy growth.

Cut out milk feeds at night and focus on settling her to sleep when she’s awake, rather than feeding her to sleep. Offer her water at night if she wakes, and in the morning, give only a little milk feed. A little while later offer breakfast. Have small frequent meals throughout the day, and try to make sure the family eats together.

Give her plenty of reassurance and cuddles throughout these changes. It can be tough, but sticking to your new routine for at least three weeks should see a turnaround

5) Unadventurous eater

Q. My toddler will only eat the same foods, almost every day. Anything else offered ends in a huge tantrum. Is this normal?

A. Somewhere between 1 and 3 years old, most children hit a phase of being picky with their foods. This may be a way of controlling an area of life that is easy for them or just comforting to have predictable foods in a less predictable world. Whatever the reason, like many toddler issues, thankfully it is a phase that will pass.

In the meantime, make sure she’s getting a daily children’s vitamin supplement including A, C and D, and keep mealtimes social where possible, eating together as a family if you can. Offer her the foods that you know she’ll eat, but do put something on the plate that you would like her to eat as well – just a small amount, so you don’t feel cross if it ends up on the floor or in the bin! The theory is the more a child is exposed to a food, they more likely she will be to eventually try it, so don’t give up introducing new flavours.

6) Calcium concern

Q. My 2 year old refuses to drink milk since stopping his bottles. What can we do?

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A. From this age, toddlers need three servings of milk or dairy products a day (he needs the calcium to keep his bones and teeth strong). So offer cheese, yoghurts and fromage frais in his daily diet and try other milk/calcium-based recipes (breakfast cereals with milk, porridge, rice puddings and smoothies). You can introduce semi-skimmed milk from the age of 2 as long as he’s eating a varied and balanced diet and growing well.

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