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Adapting your toddlers’ food

The first few years of life is a journey full of discovery and development for children, and sometimes also for the bigger people around them. As adults we instinctively encourage and support the obvious changes like walking, talking and independently eating similar foods to the rest of the family.

By the time your child begins their third year of life, they’re able to enjoy most of the same foods that the rest of the family eat. In our grandparents’ day, often one meal was prepared for the family, and baby or toddler food was likely to be taken from the same pots then sieved or mashed to the right consistency. Introducing solids was a relatively brief phase where mashed veges, moulied meats, custards and stewed fruits were standard fare.

Today, there are lots of ready-made food options available for young children, and adults are tending to eat their evening meals much later. We need to be more conscious of helping them transition to eating almost the same food as the rest of the family. This is important for a range of reasons, convenience and cost for one, but also because it means your child is enjoying a range of foods in varied tastes, textures and nutrients.

There are two key milestones to be aware of that will help you achieve this. Firstly, taking advantage of the period when they are most receptive to new tastes and secondly ensuring you offer new textures when they are ready for them.

We usually introduce the first solids from around six to eight months of age. Once your child has mastered those simple first foods, keep offering new tastes, particularly those the family commonly enjoy. It is at this stage that your baby is most receptive to a wide range of tastes and smells. It will sometimes take repeated tastings of the new food before it is readily accepted by your little one. However, persevering will mean you are more likely to have a toddler who accepts a wider range of foods.

This is particularly important because in the second year of life children are far more likely to strongly resist trying new foods. This is due to two distinct factors: development of independence, and the innate instinct of rejecting unfamiliar foods becomes stronger – something known as food neophobia (European Food Information Council, 2011).

Changes in the texture in food are also important. Moving from smooth purees to lumpy food is something you need to consciously do otherwise you will have a toddler who struggles to eat foods with lumps and hasn’t learnt how to manage the gag reflex.
The natural gagging reflex that young children have can be alarming, but it is an important step in them learning about how to clear their throat and how to move food around their mouths. It can sometimes appear ‘easier’ to feed them yourself with pureed foods that go down easily, however it is important for the development of teeth and jaws to provide foods they can chew.

As well as the usual finger foods, you can begin by introducing finely minced foods, then move to mashed, soft lumps and finally more challenging meals with mixed textures like a macaroni cheese or risotto with soft pieces of meat in it. Make sure you follow the age and stage guidelines when getting started on solids to ensure your child is ready for the relevant textures.

Finally, all children need around two cups of milk each day. Toddlers can benefit from a fortified toddler milk which has been specifically designed for children of this age, with added vitamins and minerals, be mindful that having too much milk, particularly before meals will reduce appetite and make it harder to encourage your child to eat the food put in front of them. Milk is as much a food as a drink so it may be best to offer it as a snack or before bed.

Life can be made easier by encouraging and supporting your child to develop a healthy appetite for all sorts of foods. Before you know it you will be making one meal for everyone and enjoying some quality family meals together.

After graduating from the University of Surrey (UK) in 1999 with a Bachelor of Science with honours in Nutrition, I have benefitted from working across a range of organisations and sectors. As a result I am able to translate science and regulation into strategy and reality. Spanning food industry, health, Local government and NGOs in both the UK and New Zealand I thrive in working collaboratively to ensure that health is prioritised across a range of settings

Author : Cherry Barker

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