What to expect during toddler weaning
Now your baby is a toddler they may be ready for more than the small finger foods of Weaning Stage 3.
Between 12 and 18 months, your toddler’s growth has slowed markedly from their first year. What this means is that their appetite may also reduce in size, which for many parents can be a frustrating and even worrying experience.
Food will be a major part of their life now and you’ll find you’re spending a significant part of each day preparing, cooking and serving food to your little toddler. It’s common for parents to feel that all they seem to be doing is cleaning up food mess.
You may want to place some plastic sheeting, newspaper or an old sheet under the highchair to make clean ups easier. In the warmer summer months, feeding children outside is a practical alternative to always being inside.
If your toddler is picky, you are not alone – and it’s common to become frustrated by this reluctance to eat. Many parents have cooked an appetising meal, only to be met with tightly-clamped lips or to see food smeared all over the high chair or hurled across the room! The trick is to stay calm, remain flexible, be guided by your toddler and above all, try not to worry too much!
For more information on Fussy Eating read our article here.
If you are still offering your toddler a bottle, there are real advantages to ceasing it now. Drinking from a spout, straw or plain cup is preferable to sucking on a bottle at this age. Tooth decay can be reduced by eliminating all bottles from around the age of 1 year.
Getting more food in than out!
Avoid thinking that the more elaborate the food the more likely they are to devour it. Often the opposite is true. Toddlers can have simple tastes and there’s no point cooking up something special in the hope they’ll love it. Offer them the same food as you are eating – as long as it is nutritious.
So if it is curry and rice or chops and vegetables in your house, offer your toddler a smaller portion the same meal.
Each family eats different foods and toddlers will adapt to the foods that your family likes to eat. You might have sandwiches for lunch whereas your neighbours might have noodle soup.
Ideal foods for Stage 4 weaning:
- Cereals, preferably wholegrain, without added sugar. Cereal drenched in milk, toast and fresh fruit are an ideal way to start the day
- Bread, rice, pasta and lentils such as baked beans, kidney beans and chickpeas
- Macaroni cheese, pasta bakes and milky desserts are all ideal for boosting calcium intake
- Fruit and vegetables. Aim for a wide variety of these each day
- Meat including red and white. Fish is ideal, including fresh and tinned varieties (bones always removed)
- Family foods are ideal; avoid making special meals for your toddler. Strong, spicy and flavoured foods may not be too popular with your little one, but don’t be afraid to offer them anyway. They’ll soon let you know if it’s not to their liking
- Eggs – scrambled, boiled, poached and in omelettes or quiches are all ideal ways to include this excellent food source in a toddler’s diet.
For more information on Toddler Food Groups click here.
Daily feeding routine:
- Toddlers need structure so offer food 5-6 times a day – at breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner time. You might want to offer an evening snack later on, depending on your family’s routine. If you child asks for additional food between these meals and snacks, all you need to do is to reassure them that the next meal is coming up soon. Don’t offer them more as this may fill them up and they won’t be hungry when the next meal is presented
- Many toddlers like to have their dinner at around 5pm. Although this may be too early for your whole family to eat, making a hungry toddler wait to eat can be very challenging. It can work to offer them their evening meal early, with their late snack when the rest of the family eats
- Offer milk after their meals to ensure that a good amount of solid food is consumed.
Weaning foods to avoid:
- Reduced fat varieties of milk should not be offered until after the age of two years
- Small, hard foods which could potentially cause choking still need to be avoided. Popcorn, nuts, hard lollies, raw fruits and vegetables, whole grapes and whole cherry tomatoes are too risky for young toddlers to eat
- Avoid giving sweet or salty “snack” type foods. Those wrapped in a layer of plastic should sound a warning bell as they tend to be high in added sugars, salts and saturated fats, which contribute to the risk of childhood obesity. Filling up on unhealthy snacks can mean that their appetite is affected and your child is then not as hungry for energy dense, nutritionally appropriate foods.
Weaning tips to remember:
- Milk is still an important part of a toddler’s diet. If you are breastfeeding your toddler, don’t feel you need to wean. There are significant health benefits in continuing to breastfeed for both mothers and toddlers. If you feel your toddler’s demands for breast milk are compromising their solid food intake, speak with your child health nurse
- In offering cow’s milk, make sure it is full cream and not fat reduced. Toddlers up to 2 years of age (per dietary guidelines) need the fat in milk to meet their body’s needs for growth. Your toddler has an inbuilt desire for independence. Let them feed themselves and make their own choices about how much they eat.
- If your toddler is protesting about sitting in a high chair, a small table and chair may suit them better
- Be a role model for healthy eating behaviour yourself. If your child see you eating sweets and treats, they’re likely to want some too
- Expect some protest and tantrums at meal times, especially if your toddler is tired. Toddlers can be very clever at maximising the family’s attention during meals, so stay calm. Focus on something else and avoid giving your toddler the impression that they are the main event
- Lots of toddlers prefer to eat small amounts and often, rather than eat three main meals. Their stomachs are small and fill up quickly which is why snacks such as morning and afternoon tea are so important. But be aware that constant eating can contribute to tooth decay because of the frequent “topping up” of the acid and bacteria cycle in the mouth
- Foods rich in protein help to satisfy hunger and take longer to digest. So aim for a serve of protein at each main meal
- Involve your toddler in very basic meal preparation. Washing some vegetables, tearing up lettuce leaves, mashing banana or avocado will all help them to link effort with rewards and foods with their origin
- Don’t be alarmed if your toddler’s appetite slows down. Overall growth at this stage will not be as rapid as it was in their first year of life
- Read the labels of the foods you are offering and aim to minimise additives and flavouring.
Always see your healthcare professional if you are concerned about your child’s growth. For more information on toddler development, see our Toddler Growth Chart
Handy hints to get your toddler to eat:
- Make it DIY. Put out a plate of food and let them choose! What about a plate of toddler tapas? Steamed vegies, sultanas, cheese, fruit chunks, sandwiches, dips and yoghurt all make a great smorgasbord
- Keep them company and make eating a social occasion. Get a few toddlers round for a tea party or a picnic. Toddlers are great imitators. They will often eat in the company of other children and be less picky
- Supplementary toddler milk drinks are suitable to include as part of a toddler’s daily food intake as a nutritious supplement, when intakes of energy and nutrients may not be adequate.