Your toddler is growing and developing quickly at this age, including learning to feed themselves (with spoon and finger foods) and trying a variety of new foods with different tastes and textures.
This is the age when a child learns how, when and what to eat and likes and dislikes are formed. Interestingly, a high percentage of children’s food preferences are formed as early as two to three years and new foods introduced after four years are more likely to be disliked.
It may take anything from five to 15 exposures for a food to be accepted by a child, but it’s worth persevering with warmth and humour to ensure your child builds healthy food preferences which will last a lifetime.
Model healthy eating habits
We parents play a critical role in guiding our children to develop good eating habits and healthy attitudes to food right the way through to adulthood. Research has shown that toddlers watch and mimic the eating habits of those around them. It’s not enough for parents to sit next to toddlers urging them to eat while we eat erratically and make poor food choices; toddlers need to see us tasting and relishing the same food they have on their plates as an important part of the learning process. So make sure you’re eating a varied, balanced diet including your five-a-day of fruit and vegetables.
Often toddlers may watch you eat a food, then try putting it in their own mouths and then removing it. Don’t immediately think they’re rejecting the food, it’s actually part of the process of trying new food and after several exposures they may then accept it. A fascinating study found children ate more of a novel food when watching a role model. Children were presented with food dyed different colours. Those that ate the same coloured food along with a teacher ate more than those who ate a different coloured food or those that ate with a teacher simply present.
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The doctrine of children being encouraged to eat everything on their plate has now been debunked; in fact rewarding toddlers for clearing their plate can encourage them to override their natural ability to recognise when they have had enough.
It’s worth noting that toddlers need to eat little and often; three meals a day plus two or three healthy snacks are recommended.
Parents should avoid pressuring, restricting or using food as a reward. Put simply, we the parents are responsible for what and when our children eat and children are responsible for how much they eat.
We’re in charge of choosing a healthy, balanced diet, but when it comes to how much our children eat it’s best to appear neutral. Offer food in a relaxed way and let your child decide how much they want to eat. When your child tries a new food or eats something they previously turned their nose up at, give praise so your children have positive associations with food which means they’ll be more likely to eat them in the future.
Steer clear of putting pressure on your child through bribery ("eat your broccoli and then you can have pudding"); coercing ("you will eat your broccoli"); blackmail ("I’ll be cross if you don’t eat your broccoli") punishment ("no TV if you don’t eat your broccoli") and force-feeding (trying to put food into your child’s mouth).
Research has shown that responsive parenting is key to a child developing a healthy attitude towards food. We need to respond to our child's cues and signals for food, for example, pointing for food and becoming cranky when they need to eat and eating more slowly, becoming distracted, playing with their food or trying to wriggle out of their high chair when they have had enough.
Part of responsive parenting is balancing when our toddlers need help feeding, (for example, if they're still learning to hold a spoon and may become frustrated at how little goes in) with encouragement of self-feeding (however, messy and slow this may seem at first!).
Young children respond well to food that looks visually appealing on the plate, including interesting arrangements, shapes and bright colours. Even giving food fun names can make foods seem more appealing. Broccoli ‘fairy trees’ or ‘dinosaur food’, anybody?
Toddlers eat a more balanced diet when they are fed at regular mealtimes, rather than on-the-hoof grazing. Take every opportunity to establish family meal routines, giving your toddler daily opportunities to watch parents and older siblings and copy what and how they eat. The more relaxed, convivial atmosphere of talking and eating together is much more helpful to establishing healthy eating than making your toddler’s eating a focus point.
Growing up milk may continue to be part of your toddler’s diet. Aptamil Growing Up milks contain specific nutrients including iron for normal cognitive development and iodine which contributes to the normal growth of children, as part of a varied, balanced diet.
Aptamil Growing Up milks are tailored to your toddler’s stage of development. As your toddler begins to discover new foods, Aptamil Growing Up milks contain specific nutrients tailored to support their growth and development, as part of a varied, balanced diet.
Aptamil Growing Up milks contain:
- Iron to support normal cognitive development
- Vitamin D and calcium for normal bone development
- Iodine which contributes to the normal growth of children
Learn more about Aptamil Growing Up milks at Aptaclub.co.uk.
Advertorial brought to you by Aptamil Growing Up milks.