Once your child has reached 12 months of age they should be eating 3 meals a day. They can also have 2 to 3 solid snacks around 2 to 3 hours apart. If your child is still breastfeeding, allow them to feed first before presenting them with a solid meal - this will help them moderate their hunger.
It can be disconcerting if your child isn’t eating as much as you offer them, or less than the other children around them. Every child’s eating habits are different, so no approach will be the same. The most important thing is that you pay attention to what your child is eating to ensure they’re getting a healthy, balanced diet.
Getting the balance right
Your child’s appetite will vary depending on their age, how fast they’re growing, and how active they are. As a result, it’s important to provide appropriately sized and balanced meals. A good rule to follow: start with a small portion and if your child wants more, offer them more.
It can feel like there’s an endless supply of information available on what you should and shouldn’t be feeding your child. The most important thing to remember is that toddlers don’t need additional salt or sugar in their food or cooking water. Children shouldn't eat salty foods as it isn't good for their kidneys and sugar can cause tooth decay. As long as your child eats a balanced diet from the 4 main food groups (fruit and vegetables, carbohydrates, dairy or dairy alternatives, and proteins) you don’t need to worry.
The NHS suggests not focusing on how much they eat on a day-to-day basis, but rather your child's consumption over the period of a week. Ultimately, if your child is active and gaining weight, and they seem healthy, then they’re getting enough to eat.
What if they’re still not eating enough?
While it can certainly be frustrating to feed a fussy eater, it’s important to remember that your child has reached an age where they’re developing their own independence. This means you might be on the receiving end of them testing their boundaries and refusing to eat.
While you can’t force your child to eat, you can certainly instil healthy eating habits and provide varied meals to ensure that what they’re picking at holds some nutritional value. Healthy eating habits can be formed in a range of ways and can be as simple as:
Serving the right amount
Offering your child a small portion of various foods gives them the chance to try out different tastes and textures, as well as the chance for them to ask for more. This way, they can practise a bit of autonomy with a selection of foods.
You may have to offer your child something many times before they agree to eat it. The most important thing to remember is to be patient and to not pressure them, as this will make them more unwilling to try.
Getting them involved
Take your child shopping with you and let them choose some healthy foods to try out at home. When preparing their meals, you could give them a part in the preparation to get them excited about the food they’re about to eat.
Instead of serving a vegetable to your child, let them choose between two options before you start cooking. It could be as simple as asking if they’d like broccoli or cauliflower with their dinner. They can feel like they have autonomy while you ensure they're still getting essential nutrients.
Mixing new with old
Serving new foods alongside your child’s known favourites is a great way to get them to try something new as it makes the new food seem less daunting.
Making it fun
Providing healthy dips to go alongside the new fruits and vegetables you’re offering could be a fun way for your child to try something new, and make them taste more interesting. This could include hummus or yoghurt.
Setting an example
If your child sees you eating and enjoying a variety of healthy foods they’ll be more likely to try them too. Try to eat with them as much as possible so they can learn healthy eating habits from you.
Final thoughts from Kami
It can be a battle to ensure your child eats enough. It’s important to remember that your child is a person with likes and dislikes, just like you. Patience is key when trying new foods or making sure they get a well-balanced meal. Don’t worry too much about what other children are eating - the most important thing is that your child regularly gets the key nutrients they need through a healthy, balanced diet.