• Meat, fish, eggs, nuts, beans or legumes can be offered at each main meal. Good sources of protein and iron, both are essential for healthy growth
• Starchy foods like bread, potatoes, rice and pasta should be part of each main meal. You can give some wholegrain bread but try to avoid brown rice and wholegrain pasta as they’re high in fiber. Too much fiber can stop nutrients like calcium and iron being absorbed
• Cereals fortified with iron are still important. Add full-fat cow’s milk and some mashed fruit, always checking the labels to avoid the ones with too much sugar or salt
• Vegetables can be fresh, frozen or canned. Give 3-5 toddler-sized servings every day, at least one with every meal. A serving is about 40 g or a toddler-sized handful
• Fruit can be fresh, frozen, dried or canned. Aim for 2-3 toddler-sized servings a day. Offer one fruit snack between meals and, if desired, one fruit and dairy-based dessert after a main meal
Copying others can help create good eating habits. So try to eat together, serving the foods you want your toddler to eat. Encourage them to help themselves with a spoon or fingers.
Offer a variety of finger foods with different textures and serve meals on a plate so your toddler can learn to recognize and taste each ingredient. Let them explore the different tastes, shapes and colours of their food, too.
Praise them when they eat well but don’t encourage them to carry on when they’re full. This encourages them to enjoy their food without overeating.
Never let your toddler eat unsupervised and avoid offering foods that could cause choking, such as whole cherry tomatoes, whole grapes, popcorn and whole olives.
The big wide world of textures
From about 12 months, your toddler will be able to eat most adult foods, so long as they’re cut into little, manageable pieces. You may also need to adapt some of your family recipes. As with flavour, keep on trying different textures to help them become a confident eater and less picky later in life.
Your baby can still only manage small meals, but will be trying lots of different things. By now they should be having three meals a day plus two healthy snacks.
Main meals should have a mix of food types similar to an adult’s. You can offer some as finger foods and the rest as proper meals.
• Starchy foods such as bread, rice, pasta or potatoes (at every meal)
• Vegetables like broccoli, zucchini and carrots
• Protein like beans and legumes, eggs, fish, meat
• Offer a fruit-based dessert after a meal
How much food do they need?
In terms of other food, aim for three small meals and two snacks a day – ideally one vegetable and one fruit. Encourage family foods where you can, offering water in a cup at mealtimes and whenever your toddler’s thirsty. Avoid giving tea as it can slow down their absorption of iron. Only offer fruit juice once a day with a meal – it’s high in sugar and energy, which can reduce their appetite for more nutritious foods.
Do they need it or not?
Fat – all that energy they use means children need a bit more fat in their diet than adults. Low-fat diets are not suitable at this age.
Fibre – toddlers get all they need from fruit, vegetables, breads and cereals. So they don’t need very high-fibre foods like high-bran cereals.
Foods high in fat and sugar including cakes, biscuits, ice cream, sweets and sweetened drinks. Too much increases the risk of tooth decay and obesity, so offer them sparingly once or twice a week.Whole nuts should not be given to children under the age of 4 years – ground nuts and nut butters can be used instead.
Certain white fish (e.g. swordfish, marlin) and raw shellfish should be avoided
Eggs or foods containing eggs must be well cooked all the way through. Both the yolk and white should be solid.
Salt shouldn’t be added to their food. Try to keep an eye on the salt content of the foods you offer.
Sugar and honey shouldn’t be added either. Keep an eye on the amount of sweet food and drinks they’re having. Sugar in dried fruit and juice can also cause tooth decay if they have too much between meals.
It might help to know that the Recommended Dietary Intake (RDI) of calcium for children 0-2 years is 500mg/day. Keep giving them at least 500 ml a day, offering 2-3 portions of dairy products like cheese and yogurt on top of this. Try to avoid giving too much dairy though (including yogurts) as your toddler may lose their appetite for other nutritious foods and not get the fiber they need to stay regular. Offer milk drinks at the end of a meal or with a snack.
More information about when to switch from breast milk to cow’s milk can be found in the nutrition section, under hydration.