Good nutrition and healthy eating habits are the building blocks to lifelong wellness. As a loving mum, you offer your little one quality produce and fresh milk, but she may be drawn to unhealthy processed foods and sweets. As your little one begins to assert her independence through her interactions with others, you may notice her taking a stand at the dinner table as well. Dr Pankaj Vohra, MD, insists that good nutritional habits start early. "Teaching your child good eating habits is easiest if you start right from the beginning, as soon as you introduce your baby to solid foods." Dr. Vohra believes that it's never too late for young children to learn better habits, particularly if mealtimes are a struggle.
Teaching your child good eating habits is easiest if you start right from the beginning, as soon as you introduce your baby to solid foods.
Dr Pankaj Vohra MBBS, MD - Pediatrics, All India Institute of Medical Sciences
Your little sprout is growing quickly, and her body needs a wide range of foods that will provide all the nutrients she'll need! Start with just the basics: prepare lean protein such as beef, fish or poultry, dairy foods, fresh vegetables and fruit, and whole-grain breads, pastas and cereals. As long as your sprout is given a balanced variety, she'll get the healthiest start you can provide!
Variety is the spice of life, and it's also the key to preventing boredom at meal times. Toddlers love finger foods, so sweet favourites like berries or sliced bananas are a perfect go-to snack. If you're worried about your kid's fruit and vegetable consumption, try adding nutritious fresh foods to your little one's favourite recipes. For instance, you can puree vegetables and add them to tomato sauce for pasta, or mix grated carrots or courgette into macaroni and cheese for a healthy twist on a toddler favourite.
Food is fun
Between the ages of 9 and 18 months, your little one wants to feed herself, starting with her fingers and then graduating to her spoon and fork. When the food in front of her is colourful, bright and arranged in an appealing design, she'll be more likely to enjoy her meal. Don't be afraid to get creative: food isn't just delicious, it's fun!
Toddlers love to play with their food, so why shouldn't you? Practice your skills as a culinary artisan and your wee one will look forward to her meal every time. Try an adorable Welsh rabbit "rarebit," dressed with sugar-snap pea ears and eyes, fruit skewers with your sprout's favourite fresh fruits and yoghurt for dipping, or miniature pizzas made from tortillas, pizza sauce and your child's favourite cheese as a topping.
Set the example
Children learn positive habits from their parents, and your wee one is no exception! If she watches you eating the same healthy foods she is served, she'll be more interested in choosing nutritious items on her own. A family meal at the table gives you the opportunity to set a healthy example for your child.
Eating a meal at the table is a learned skill! Before sitting down, you can set your sprout up for success by turning off the telly and minimising other potential distractions. Your little one may not want to sit still for too long, but that's normal for her age: if she sits long enough to fill her tummy, your mission is accomplished! Praise her for a job well done, and occasionally offer a small portion of a healthy treat, such as frozen yoghurt or fruit.
If your little one turns her nose up at the healthy food on her plate, don't be discouraged! Most toddlers are picky, so she may prefer to eat only those foods familiar to her. It's okay to let her have her favourites occasionally, as long as you're providing a balanced variety of foods. If you introduce a new food and she won't eat it, don't give up: it may take between 10 and 20 tries before your little sprout accepts the new food. Try pairing the new food with an old favourite for optimal success.
Tips and warnings
- Your little one's appetite may fluctuate, particularly if she's in a growth phase or if she's not feeling well. Toddlers often have days when their appetites are lean, but will usually make up the difference over the week. If you're concerned about your child's height or weight, or if you think she's not eating enough, be certain to contact her doctor.
- What To Expect: Toddler eating habits: A few golden rules
- Cleveland Clinic: 5 Do’s and don’ts for teaching kids good eating habits
- Baby Center: How can I teach my child good eating habits?
- Kids Health: Toddlers at the table: Avoiding power struggles
- What To Expect: Healthy meals for toddlers: Sneak in the nutrients
- Parenting: 10 Healthy, kid-friendly finger foods