Toddlers are one of the most enjoyable of the lot. If they are happy, healthy, well fed and well rested, they can be the best little buddies around. Well rested and well fed, is where the catch is! What do I feed my toddler is one question many of us have.
Towards the end of this post, I share a meal planning ideas plus a sample 12-18 month old menu plan that you can use to understand what your child can eat.
Is your baby eating less or just enough?
The most common complain that mums of two year olds have is that their ‘baby’ is eating less. What we forget however, is that they need fewer calories now because they’re growth, compared to as they were growing before (when they were babies), has slowed down. Even though they are eating less, it is possible to make sure they remain well nourished by making sure they have healthy foods available to them.
Healthy routines are very important for children. A fixed time to eat and sleep is a big factor in your child’s over all health. (Don’t have a routine? See our sample 3 year old routine chart for ideas.)
Encourage healthy snacks and establish a mealtime routine with healthy eating habits and they will be on their way to a healthy life style.
What can my toddler eat?
At two years, a toddler needs three meals a day with two to three snacks in between. They can eat most of everything the family eats and with their improved language and social skills, they will be active participants at the table and no doubt, will enjoy eating with their family.
Their eating habits will have become relatively civilized too as they can use their spoons and their forks while drinking with a cup at the same time. They will make lesser messes now and if your little one is like mine, they will clean up after themselves too!
Eating together with a family is a chance for them to learn some manners as well as make some habits. Eating as a family is a good habit too! So is helping with setting and cleaning up the table. Involving them at meal times is the best way to make them take interest in their food.
To make sure that your child is eating a well balanced diet, I would recommend making sure they are eating from each of the food groups.
1. Proteins: Meat, fish, poultry, eggs
2. Essential fats and additional proteins: Dairy products like milk, cheese or yoghurt
3. Vitamins and minerals: Fruits and vegetables
4. Carbohydrates: Cereals, potatoes, rice, flour or pasta
Yes, in that order.
Feed them proteins first!
Children have a very small attention span and I am not talking about just toddlers. It is always a safe bet to feed them proteins first because that is what they need to maintain their energy and build their little bodies.
Don’t cut down on fats!
Fats, are needed for their brain development. No, you should not cut down their cholesterol because that is what builds the coating on their nerves and brain cells.
Don’t forget the milk!
A toddler at that age still needs milk. Half cup of milk from a cup with their meals is sufficient to help their nutritional needs.
How to Prevent Picky Eating in Toddlers
One of the most important advice on how to feed a picky eater is to not push it. Their behavior in any situation is a mirror of ourselves. Our anxiety translates to tantrums and resistance on their part… here are a few things to consider:
1. Don’t fight them.
Let them choose what they want to eat. You cannot get a toddler to do anything against their will without turning them defiant. So I’d say, let them choose from the healthy options that you can make available for them.
Make sure there aren’t too many options as to confuse them too!
Here is an example on how we do it: I decide what we will have for breakfast for example, cereals/ egg/ toast/etc but they get to pick what type of cereals they’d like or how they will eat their eggs or what they want on their toast.
My toddlers love the word ‘NO’ so I make sure I ask the question in such a way that the answer will never be a yes or no. ‘We are having cereals… what would you like – Oats, Cheerios, Cornflakes or Weetabix?’ They make their own choice.
2. Eat as a family.
We eat as a family three times a day. I know, that for many families, this isn’t possible but as much as it can be, try to eat with them.
Start early, even when they are just babies ready to sit in their high chair. If they have already been fed too, sitting at the table with you will give you time to eat and they will learn by watching you. When it isn’t possible to eat with them, just be there at the table with them. Let them eat by themselves while you talk to them. Make sure you don’t help them unless they specifically ask. I love to just sit there and grab a snack for myself.
3. Let them see you enjoy your meal.
I could have written this as part of tip #2 but I wanted to stress the importance of this. A baby who grows up watching his family enjoy food will want to eat. He will develop interest.
I remember when our first born was 4-6 months old, we would place him in his high chair at our meal time. We live as a nuclear family and there was no one to watch the baby while we had our meals so this was what worked best for us. Neither of us liked to eat alone so we included our baby at the table.
We didn’t realize this at that time but now four kids later, we know how important it is to make a child sit with you at meals. My second daughter loves sweeter stuff and rejects stronger tastes. She is now three and has learnt to try these tastes too and all because she saw her siblings enjoying those dishes.
4. Let them feed themselves.
One of the main reason why kids reject food is because their mom or family is feeding them and they feel like they have no control over it.
These toddlers want attention, but they want to exercise their power too. How many times have you had your baby go, ‘me do it, me do it’?
Yes, let them eat by themselves. They will learn and they will feed themselves. Learn to trust them Momma! No, they are not going to fly out of your nest so soon. 🙂
I have had experience with babies as young as 8 months old who lost interest in food because they were not allowed to exercise their right to hold their own food. My nephew and two of my own kids started to reject food around their first birthday but when we let them have more finger foods, they were right back on track.
5. Make sure they are well rested before a meal and don’t hurry!
When you are that little, it takes concentration to eat. Holding that spoon, getting those peas into their mouths, making sure those peas don’t come spilling out… you know, it isn’t as easy as it looks.
They can only eat and like what is in front of them when they are feeling fresh enough to understand what it is that is there too.
I always feel my toddler eats her lunch better after her afternoon nap. I also make sure that if we are ever getting late, dinner is at least an hour before bedtime. Any later and we have a very troubling bedtime.
I also make sure I have made our breakfast before my kids gets up in the morning so that we can eat together. I wake her up 20 minutes before her baby sister so that when the little one gets up, big sister is not too fussy about mommy attending her sister.
What kind of foods can toddlers eat?
Toddlers can eat everything at two years of age. It is another matter as to how to feed a picky eater to enjoy everything though! As long as you are aware of their allergies and avoid the allergens, they can safely eat with the family. For more about allergies and feeding babies please read this article.
Here is a sample list of things that a toddler can eat. This is just a sample and it is based on what I feed my children. I hope it helps you with ideas to feed your little one.
Click the image below to download the Menu Plan Ideas.
How can I feed my family healthy, wholesome food everyday
In the very busy lives that we live today, we sometimes have no time to prepare our own food least of all take care about the little kids in the family.
I am a very busy mom too. I have seen that the best way to make sure that you are feeding your child healthy food is to choose real food over processed ones. As much as possible, if we try to include organic foods in our diet, look for alternatives to white sugar and white flour too, it does so much to our own well being.
Feeding our family healthy wholesome real food is not difficult. It only takes that we educate ourselves and increase our knowledge as to what our options are. Take out some time to make a list of all the things that you can eat and that are healthy. Knowing your options will help you in planning your menu.
Once you make the list, (you can get ideas from the one that I have given above), you will see that it isn’t very difficult. Some of the things that I do to keep meal planning stress free is to cut up the produce right away before storing them. We buy our groceries fortnightly and that means our meals usually are planned for a month.
You can also prepare quick meals in advance or make half-cooked meals that can be finished up in a few minutes. These can be made in bulk and stored in the freezer.
It isn’t difficult to give your baby fresh home made food three times a day. It only takes a little planning. Once you have a plan, you will be Get Set, Go! The purpose of this article was to give you an idea of what a toddler eats. I hope, I have accomplished that. If you have any questions, I will be very happy to help out. I hope you this article makes it easy for you to learn how to feed a picky eater.
If you need more ideas to feeding your baby, I have More Tips to Feeding Your Baby.
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