The toddler years of your child’s life (typically defined as 1-3 years of age) are both exciting and difficult for the little one and their caregivers alike. This is the time when children are starting to consciously learn eating behaviours, form and express food preferences, and pick up food-related practices from adults. All these things form a solid foundation of the child’s future dietary behaviours, and therefore it is extremely important to teach your little one health promoting habits to ensure they live a long, happy life.
It doesn’t make it any easier that this is exactly the time when your child starts to perceive their own self separately from adults, and this is usually explored via a wide range of resistance behaviours which may be difficult and frustrating to overcome. When it comes to food, it may be fussy eating or refusal to eat altogether. If not properly addressed, these issues may lead to inadequate nutrition, which may in turn cause various health issues, from constipation to microelement deficiencies and slow development. Developing healthy nutrition habits early on helps avoid these problems, as well as reduce the risk of chronic health issues later in life.
To help you through this difficult yet exciting period, today we’d like to talk about a few aspects of toddler nutrition.
- When does toddlerhood start in terms of nutrition?
It pretty much starts when the solids are first introduced, typically around 6 months of age (that’s right – before your little one “officially” becomes a toddler). From 6 to 12 months of age, your baby’s nutrition changes dramatically, with reliance on breast milk or formula slowly decreasing, and a wide variety of solid foods being introduced. You can read more about incorporating solid foods in your baby’s diet in our previous material.
By approximately 12 months of age, your toddler’s diet should typically be dominated by solids, although there is nothing wrong with complimentary breastfeeding if you wish to continue it. Please do not hesitate to contact your preferred paediatrician or a paediatric dietitian if you have any questions or concerns regarding transitioning to solid foods.
- What should toddlers eat?
According to the most recent edition of the Australian toddler nutrition guidelines, there are very few foods toddlers cannot have (provided they don’t have any allergies or intolerances, in which case there will be more dietary restrictions).
In general, the more variety – the better, and children of this age should be offered different textures and flavours, trying as many wholesome nutritious foods as possible. This Is because trying out new foods encourages adventurous eating habits and promotes autonomy and confidence in food choices of your child.
A few foods that should not be offered to toddlers include:
- Reduced fat milk, which may be only included after 2 years of age. Reduced fat milk lacks important nutrients that promote healthy growth and development, which can be replenished from other foods from adults, but not toddlers. Only offer full cream milk at this stage.
- Peanuts, if there is any history of peanut allergies in the family. Your child may or may not be allergic to peanuts, but if such family history exists, it is the safest approach to only trial peanut-based foods from 3 years of age. If this is something you will have to be mindful of, make sure to thoroughly check ingredient lists of pre-packaged foods if you offer those to your toddler. The presence of common allergens including peanuts will be explicitly displayed on the package in bigger font, according to Australian law.
- How to pick the right produce for toddlers?
A good rule of a thumb for buying the right foods for your toddler is to choose organic. Buying certified organic foods guarantees minimum exposure to potentially harmful substances such as conventional pesticides, fertilisers, hormones and medications such as antibiotics, all of which may have negative effects on your baby’s growth and development.
It’s important to look for certified organic products to make sure you’re buying the best produce available – fortunately, the labelling is very clear these days.
- How to deal with fussy toddlers?
First of all, let us reassure you – if your toddler is a fussy eater, you are not alone. It is perfectly normal for the little ones to throw tantrums over food, as well as suddenly decline foods they seemed to like before. Although this can surely be stressful, try not to get too anxious and try a few helpful tips instead:
- Eat as a family whenever you can – watching adults eat often causes toddlers play “monkey see, monkey do” and try out a few foods from the plate in front of them.
- Don’t stretch mealtimes just to give your toddler a chance to finish everything. Keep them at set length – 30 minutes is ideal, as most toddlers won’t touch any more food after that anyway. Don’t worry, they won’t starve. Instead, they will slowly start learning the concept of meal times!
- Don’t offer too many options at once – especially when introducing completely new foods. Variety is important, but too much variety can be very overwhelming for toddlers. Just one new food at a time, and a couple of familiar foods to accompany it.
- Be patient! Remember, you may need to offer a new food item up to 10-15 times before your toddler even touches it.
If these fixes don’t work, consider consulting a paediatric dietitian for more helpful tips for ultra fussy toddlers.
- A cheat sheet of easy toddler snacks
The following list contains just a few ideas of toddler appropriate foods – feel free to get creative with shapes, textures and new foods!
And remember – toddler nutrition doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive, and you certainly don’t need to invest in overpriced boxed foods marketed for little ones. Remember – they can eat what you eat (with only a couple of exceptions – see above)!
- Soft sandwiches (e.g. egg and lettuce) cut into long fingers
- Whole strawberries
- Grilled chicken strips or little pieces
- Fruit and vegetable sticks
- Vegetable pikelets
…and pretty much anything healthy, wholesome and organic you cook for yourself – just make sure it’s mild and manageable.
And of course, supervise toddlers at all times when they eat to avoid problems like choking and sudden allergic reactions.
When it comes to toddler nutrition, going back to basics is your best bet. Offer a wide variety of whole foods, encourage experimentation and be patient – and your efforts will soon be rewarded!