Who knew that feeding a toddler would prove to be such a battleground. Before having kids, no one ever told me how difficult it would be to feed a little person, who is apparently starving all the time, without losing your mind and asking yourself if your child has eaten enough or he/she is actually starving on purpose, just to punish you. Not to mentioned the added pressure to follow a healthy and balance diet, low on sugar, high on veggies and fruit and make sure you serve the correct portion size whatever that means.
So as the one thing I get asked more when I teach a cooking class, to adults and children, is what to do with a fussy child, I thought I'll get something down and put it out there for everyone to read. I am by no means a nutritionist but this is what I have learned through my time as a self taught chef and a mum obsessed with a healthy diet. I hope you find it useful too.
So here are a few tips to help you turn your fussy child into a decent eater:
1 Set a routine! Kids thrive on routines and knowing what's going on helps them being less stressed and calmer. Try and eat meals and snacks at similar time.
2 Start from scratch. If they fancy something a little naughty, like a burger or fish fingers, try and make them yourself. You will know exactly what's in there and you know it will be a better quality than a shop bought one.
3 Helt them to understand where food comes from. Maybe grow a few herbs or plants in a pot.
4 Hidden veggies are always an option. So many sauces to make, they won't even know they are there.
5 Only offer healthy snacks. Keep them available for the little one to serve themselves, maybe put them on a low shelf or try and keep a bowl full of ready to eat fruit and veggies on a low table.
6 Easier said than done, but try and remain calm. Keeping meals stress free and sometimes ignoring bad behaviours can help with mealtimes.
7 Eat together. This is the most important for me! Share a family meal and lead by example.
8 Start them young. Try and introduce as many foods as possible from a young age. Remember that it takes up to 20 tries for them to actually get a taste for something.
9 Get them involved in cooking. Playing and be able to handle food will make your little one more adventurous to try new things.
Regarding nutritional levels and portion size, here are a few guides to check and keep in mind when making a meal for your little one.
When people talk about a toddler' nutrition, we often hear the words portion size. Sure we know that a 5532 approach is recommended (5 portions of starch, 5 of fruit and veggies, 3 of dairy and 2 of proteins. But what the hell is a portion???
Here is an example of a daily food intake for a toddler:
2-4 tbsp pasta
1/2 - 1 slice bread
2-4 potato wedges
1-2 oat cakes
1/2 - 1 chapati
1/2 - 1 banana
1-2 tbsp broccoli
1-3 cherry tomatoes
1-2 tbsp peas
1 piece cheese
2-3 tbsp beans/pulses
2-4 tbsp cooked mince beef
Vitamin C is one of those things that we all know is good for us, but what does exactly help our body with? Well it's actually a pretty powerful thing, not only it helps with boosting immunity, it's also an antioxidant and helps with iron absorption. Where do we find this pretty incredible vitamin you ask?
Toddlers need around 700mg of calcium a day, which means 2-3 servings. In case you didn't know and you are following a vegan or low dairy diet here are some calcium food alternatives:
Let's talk about iron. Did you know that toddlers age 1-3 need 7mg of iron a day? That is a pretty big level, so here are some iron rich foods to help you.
Lean red meat
Whole gran cereals
Dark leafy greens
Also to increase absorption, try and serve these foods with some vitamin c rich food, they will help the body keep all the goodness in.
Somehow fat always seems a bad word. Actually, toddlers need fats to support nervous system development, a healthy growth and also to help their body absorb some key vitamins like A, D, E and K. The trick is to choose healthy fats like the below:
Just a word of warning, most kids will just keep on try our patience, refusing anything remotely resembling healthy food and possibly surviving on a diet made up of carbs, sugar and bad fats but I am pretty sure that by the time they are 18, they will all eat, sleep and more often than not behave like a functioning human being!