5 toddler food struggles and how to deal with them

Nutritional therapist Hannah Kaye offers some advice for common toddler food hang-ups.

What, when and how much their toddler is eating can consume the energy – and the imagination – of most parents. We provide some expert guidelines on how to deal with common toddler food struggles.

My child won’t eat any vegetables

The first thing to realise is that it may take many tries before your toddler will accept a new food. If he refuses broccoli, try not to get upset, plead with him or engage in lengthy discussions about the vegetable’s virtues, but do keep offering it. It may take 10 attempts before your toddler is willing to try it. Initially, just a lick of the food is a victory.
You should also lead by example. Sit down and eat as a family so that your toddler can see you eating vegetables. If you want your toddler to eat salad with lunch every day, then show him that you do.
Your child may not be keen on a stir-fry, but it is still important to try and incorporate some bland or sweet vegetables like cucumber, carrots and red peppers on a daily basis. Offering them alongside a hummus dip or sprinkled with grated cheese may entice him to eat them. You can then try green vegetables, such as spinach and broccoli.
Many children prefer raw vegetables to cooked ones – it may be the look and texture of vegetables in a cooked state that is problematic for your toddler.
While you incorporate some of the suggestions given, it remains important that vegetables are included in your child’s diet. Home-made tomato sauce can hide a range of vegetables, from mushrooms to spinach. If you blend it well, your toddler won’t know what it contains.

ALSO SEE: 5 fun fruit and vegetable snacks your toddler will love

My child puts tomato sauce on everything

Children love to squirt and dip. It makes meals more interesting for them. That, and the familiar sweet taste of tomatoes, makes tomato sauce a favourite for many kids. But is it necessarily bad for them?
If tomato sauce is helping to ensure that your toddler is eating all the vegetables on his plate, then it is playing an important role in ensuring a healthy diet. However, if all your toddler is doing is licking up the tomato sauce and still leaving the good stuff, then it’s time to reassess.
It’s important to check the sugar content of the tomato sauce. For some brands, one tablespoon of tomato sauce can contain at least one teaspoon of sugar. If your toddler is eating six tablespoons of tomato sauce in a day, that’s too much sugar and it may be the sugar your toddler is enjoying more than the actual tomatoes. Switching to a low-sugar or a sugar-free brand may be the first step in addressing this.
Ultimately, the best option is to make your own tomato sauce and mix it into the store-bought version. You can slowly increase the amount of home-made sauce you’re giving your child and wean him off the bought version in no time.

My child doesn’t like milk and insists on eating her cereal dry

This type of food behaviour isn’t really problematic if your predominant concern is around your child’s calcium intake. There should be plenty of other calcium sources in your toddler’s diet that can replace that of cow’s milk. Some of these include cheese, yoghurt and butter, as well as non-animal sources like nuts, green vegetables and seeds. Make a plan to include a range of these healthy options on a daily basis.
However, it may be time to consider introducing more nutritious foods for breakfast. This is important if your toddler is only eating high-sugar cereals with no nutritive value. Eggs or nut butters on wholegrain toast, or granola with yoghurt are all healthier options. Switching to these will provide your toddler with more variety and make it easier to steer her away from foods high in sugar and salt. They will also provide a breakfast that is higher in protein, wholegrains and good fats than any store-bought cereal.

ALSO SEE: 5 nutritional benefits of milk for kids

My child only drinks juice

Research shows that drinking too much juice is linked to obesity, dental cavities and gastrointestinal issues, so toddlers should not be drinking more than half a cup of fruit juice a day.
Start by measuring out this quantity and split that cup between all your toddler’s meals. You can top up each offering with some water. Over the next few weeks, continue to reduce the amount of juice in each cup until your child is having mostly water that’s flavoured with a small amount of fruit juice.
The ultimate goal is to not keep juice in the house – save it for special occasions.

ALSO SEE: 5 simple ways to reduce your child’s sugar intake

My child only eats white bread and wants the crusts cut off his sandwiches

The first thing we need to do is to identify who introduced your toddler to white bread in the first place. Guilty? We tend to forget that as parents, we have complete control over what our children eat at home. All we can do is offer nutritious meals and leave the rest up to them.
Throw the white bread out. Buy wholegrain bread, use it to make the sandwiches, and cut the crusts off. If your toddler is hungry enough, he will eat the bread. If not, then move away from sandwiches and offer a range of other foods.

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