Written by Registered Nutritionist and mum-of-two Rhiannon Lambert
It’ll probably be hard to believe, but your baby is now 12 months old and will be around 6 months into their weaning journey. According to the NHS, at this stage they should be having three meals each day - so breakfast, lunch, and dinner - as well as potentially needing two additional healthy weaning snacks in between to help keep them going.
From the ages of one to three years old a toddler will be getting to grips with how to eat with their hands, as well as developing their skills with using cutlery too. They will also be becoming more aware of their surroundings and understand that there are a variety of settings that food can be eaten in, such as at home, another family members house, and nursery or schooling settings. Toddlers will also be learning how how to manage their energy intake for the amount of growing, exploring, and playing that will happen during this time.
Some children will eat more than others and will be more adventurous with their flavours and textures too, but try to let them go at their own pace and remember to be patient!
A quick guide to a toddler’s nutritional needs
Each day, toddlers should eat 3 balanced meals a day and have regular snacks, such as fruit or veg with nut butters or wholegrain oat cakes. This ensures that they are meeting the nutritional requirements for each of the food groups. Like adults, balanced meals and snacks throughout the day should include starchy carbs, fruit and veg, dairy products or dairy alternatives, protein, and a small amount of healthy fats. For more in-depth information about exactly what to include on your child’s plate check out my guide to building a balanced plate blog found in '12M+' blog section.
At this stage of weaning, your toddler should also now be more confident with exploring the flavour and textures of different foods. They will also have started to have their first few teeth too which will help to develop the skills of biting, chewing and swallowing different types of foods. Continue to offer softer, mashed but slightly textured foods, as well as finger foods too.
Some things to consider…
Added sugars and salts
- Avoid adding any additional salt or sugar into your little ones' foods or to the water used to cook their foods, as salty foods are not good for small kidneys and too much sugar can cause dental problems, such as tooth decay.
- Whilst there are no guidelines for how much sugar babies should eat in a day, the NHS recommends that sugar-sweetened drinks and any foods with added sugars in them should be avoided up until the age of 4 years old.
- For salt intakes, children aged between 1 and 3 years should not be having anymore than 2g of salt per day.
- When looking at dairy options such as yoghurts, cheeses, fromage frais, and milks, it’s important to choose the pasteurised, full-fat, and unsweetened options. The higher fat content will give them the energy they need to support their rapid growth and physical activity at this age.
- The NHS states that from the age of 12 months your toddler can also now drink whole cows' milk and have full-fat dairy products. From 2 years onwards, they can have semi-skimmed milk as long as they're eating and growing well and from 5 years, 1% or skimmed milk is fine.
- As with younger babies, if your child has a dairy allergy or you are raising them as plant-based, then the NHS suggests that from 12 months you can give them unsweetened calcium-fortified alternatives, such as soya, almond, and oats drinks as part of a balanced and healthy diet. Make sure these milk alternative drinks are fortified with other vitamins and minerals too alongside calcium, such as vitamin D, iodine, and vitamin B12, to help bring up the levels so that they are similar to that of cow’s milk.
- Rice milks should not be offered to babies and children under the ages of 5 years old, due to the arsenic content that it may contain.
Supplements for toddlers
- The UK government suggests all children aged 6 months to 5 years should be given daily vitamin supplements containing vitamins A, C and D. There are plenty of high quality options available and always check with you GP about which supplements are suitable for your child.
Maintaining good habits that have been established early on
A positive eating environment at home is key to encouraging good eating behaviours. Get your children involved with cooking so they can see the process from start to finish; sing songs and get creative to make it all the more fun.
As with younger babies, it’s important to provide your child with exposure to lots of different foods with a variety of textures and flavours too. Remember it can take between 5 and 15 times before your little one will accept a new food so try to remain patient and positive when your baby is exploring with their tastebuds. The more you pressurise your child, the less likely they are to want to try new foods or eat their meal.
Try to stay as relaxed as possible before and during mealtimes, and be a role model for eating a variety of different foods and having a healthy relationship towards food intake.
It might also be a good idea to ensure your kitchen has a range of healthy meal and snack options that you can have to hand ready to whip up balanced and varied dishes for your baby (and the family) to enjoy! Keep your cupboards and baby bag stocked with a range of snacks or ready to eat pouches that can be used when out and about or if you’re short on time.
How do I stop my child becoming a fussy eater?
Toddlers are notorious for being up and down with their food and this is completely normal. However, if good habits are not established early on in the weaning journey this can increase the likelihood of your child becoming fussy and developing a poor relationship with certain foods.
Here are some things to keep in mind
- The best way for them to learn to eat and enjoy new foods is to copy you. Give your child the same food as the rest of the family (minus the salt). This also saves time in the kitchen for busy parents too!
- It’s also encouraged to give your child small portions and lots of praise for eating, even if it’s only a little. If they reject a food, don’t force them to eat it. Just take it away without saying anything and try it again another time. Changing how you serve a food may make it more appealing. For instance, a child might refuse cooked carrots but enjoy raw grated carrot.
- Your child may be a slow eater, so be patient. Make mealtimes enjoyable and not just about eating. Sit down and chat about other things to give them a chance to finish eating at their own pace.
- Don’t give your child too many snacks – two healthy snacks a day is plenty. And don’t leave meals until your child is too hungry or tired to eat.
- Try to also avoid
- Showing your child a reaction if they exhibit fussy behaviour.
- Try to stay calm, even if it’s very frustrating. Reserve all your attention for verbally praising your child whenever they eat well.
- Offering your child overwhelmingly huge portions.
- Stick with small portions, adding seconds if required.
- Leaving your child to eat alone.
- If you can’t eat together, stay with them while they eat their own meal.
- Using food as a reward.
- Your child may start to think of sweets as nice and vegetables as nasty, which can spiral into an unhealthy relationship with food. Instead, reward them with a trip to the park or promise to play a game with them.
- It’s also a good idea to limit bribery, so try to avoid saying,“If you eat your greens, you can have dessert,” or making a child feel guilty for not eating a food because others elsewhere have less.
- Showing your child a reaction if they exhibit fussy behaviour.
Although it’s tempting to give kids foods you know they will eat for ease, these may not always be the best options for them from a nutritional perspective. As always be patient with them when introducing new foods!
As your little one grows and develops they will use their voice and facial expression to share their preferences and will start to become more curious with the tastes and feel of different foods. Every child and families experiences with introducing solid foods will be different so keep going with what is working for you and your little one and try not to focus on what others are doing and their progress. If you’re worried about your child’s nutrition or if you think they’re not eating enough it’s always a good idea to have a chat with your GP and a specialist paediatric dietitian as they will be able to help with any specific nutritional needs and can offer more bespoke advice.