I want my toddler to eat different types of foods but every time I try she simply won’t have it. What should I do?

For your peace of mind it’s reassuring to know that your toddler refusing food is absolutely normal and that it’s well known that children refuse foods in their second year of life. This refusal seems to peak at about 18 months of age. You may have to try your toddler with a new food more than 10 times before they accept it. Drinking too much milk or squash can reduce appetite so check that they are drinking the right amount. The important thing to remember is that most faddy eating and refusal of food stops with time.

Can I give my toddler semi-skimmed milk and low fat foods?

Cow’s milk whether it’s whole, semi-skimmed or skimmed contains the same amounts of protein and calcium. There is less fat, calories and vitamin A in semi-skimmed and skimmed milk and so these should not be given to children under 2 years old. Toddlers that are eating well can be given semi-skimmed milk after the age of 2. Skimmed milk is not advisable for children under 5 years old.

Low fat foods are not advisable for toddlers as this is a time when they are in rapid growth and are moving around a lot. This means they need lots energy from the food they eat.

How much should my toddler be drinking?

Your little one should be given 6-8 drinks in a day. You should give drinks at each of the main meals, and also between meals and along with snacks. 100-120mls or any drink (this includes milk) or soup counts as a portion.

As toddlers need less milk than babies, you shouldn’t give them bottles of milk after 12 months. If they do continue to drink too much milk they can fill themselves up on milk which may mean they miss out on iron rich foods.

How do I make sure my toddler gets enough iron?

Iron is important to make the red blood cells which carry oxygen round the body. If your toddler doesn’t get enough iron they can develop anaemia which can make them tired and sluggish and not able to concentrate.

There are 2 types of iron that you can get from the food your child eats

  • iron from meat and oily fish which is well absorbed
  • iron found in leafy green vegetables, grains, pulses and beans which is less well absorbed by the body

Vitamin C helps with the absorption of iron and if your toddler is vegetarian eating their meal with a glass of orange juice or followed by a vitamin C rich fruit like strawberries is a great way to help them increase iron intake. Fibre, calcium and the tannins in tea actually prevent iron absorption.

Try and give your toddler 1-2 servings of meat or fish a day, or 2-3 servings of egg, pulses and beans with a high vitamin C food if your child is vegetarian. Fortified breakfast cereals also contain iron but watch the amounts of added salt and sugar.

How can I deal with my fussy eater?

Nothing can be as frustrating for parents who want their kids to eat healthily as picky eaters. To stop mealtimes driving you to tears, here are a few tips we’ve picked up.

  • Firstly and most importantly; don’t panic. It’s perfectly normal for little ones to be fussy. When a new food is rejected, don’t get worked up about it. Simply offer it again a few days later until it’s accepted.
  • When they do decide to eat it, or anything healthy they’ve previously turned their nose up at, they don’t have to be rewarded with pudding. How about using a star or sticker chart, and giving an outing or a toy as a reward. This tones down the negative connotations of healthy food, and is better for them too.
  • Try to give your little one a wide range of food from the beginning. Then there’ll be fewer foods they can reject as ‘new’. To stop kids getting fixed on pizza and chips when they go through the I-only-eat-two-items phase, keep only healthy food in the house. Then whatever fad food they choose, it’ll be good for them.
  • If they do try unhealthy foods and decide they love them, then that’s fine. Rather than banning them outright, give your child the chance to eat all foods in small quantities or perhaps only on special occasions. This will teach them the value of healthy eating, prevent snacking and make them hungry for mealtimes.

So bear with them in their food quirks, they’re normal and needn’t cause mealtime battles. Good luck.