At 18 months of age, your child is dropping baby food for table food. She is more active and begins to exert her independence, sometimes at the dinner table. Providing healthy choices for meals and snacks fuels your toddler for all the play and exploration that fills her days. Just as important, you are establishing healthy eating habits now that will affect her for a lifetime.
By now your 18-month-old child should eat three meals a day and two or three snacks, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Strive to feed your child from the four basic food groups every day: meat, fish, poultry and eggs; milk, cheese and other dairy; fruits and vegetables; cereals, potatoes, rice, and whole grains. Don’t worry if your toddler doesn’t eat everything he is supposed to eat in a day. According to the AAP, children at this age become picky eaters. Just continue to provide a variety of healthy foods and he will eventually learn to eat nutritiously.
Since children are active all day long and have small tummies, snacks provide nutrition and curb hunger between meals. Some toddlers might skip a meal, making a nutritious snack all the more important. FamilyDoctor.org recommends offering foods like fresh fruit cut into small pieces; whole-grain crackers; thinly cut cheese slices; and low-sugar breakfast cereals. Remember to keep portions small. A half-cup of milk with a banana makes for a tasty mid-morning snack. Provide meals and snacks on schedule so that he learns to manage his hunger. If he doesn’t finish lunch he knows that a snack will soon be served.
By now your child should be drinking about two cups of whole milk a day. If he doesn’t like the taste, FamilyDoctor.org suggests mixing it with breast milk or formula and gradually adjusting the mixture until he is drinking only cow’s milk. Limit 100 percent fruit juice to 4 to 6 ounces a day, about one serving with breakfast. The rest of the day offer milk or water, which have fewer calories and more of the vitamins he needs.
An 18-month-old child will often push his plate away and refuse to eat. At this age children try to take control over their environment and the dinner table is no exception. FamilyDoctor.org suggests offering healthy food options and letting him choose what and how much he will eat. Introduce new foods along with favorite ones often and invite him to try it without nagging. Let him see you enjoying different foods yourself. Serve foods he can easily feed himself. He will enjoy having control of what goes in his little mouth.
What to Avoid
Candy and junk food have no place in your toddler’s diet. Avoid processed, pre-packaged foods that are high in fat and high in sugar. Sodas, fruit drinks and sports drinks should not touch her lips. Don’t ban the birthday cake but don’t make sweets and treats part of her daily menu. These foods have no nutritional value and only provide empty calories that can crowd out the good stuff that will help her grow healthy.