Tag: Feeding Toddlers

Stories I loved this week.

I’ve had a little hiatus from the blog. Things were getting on top of me and I needed to stop, have a breather and take stock. It’s important to do that once in a while, don’t you think?

We’ve also been on holiday to Mallorca (one of my favourite places on earth!) and although I came back with a cold, I feel mentally rested and ready to start my final year of my Nutrition degree (this weekend!).

Could you be a fruitarian? I personally couldn’t, but it’s interesting to get a peek into how they rationalise their choice. (Broadly)

How much do celebrities spend on fitness? (Well + Good)

How the sugar industry shifted the blame to fat. (NY Times)

Ketchup chips – any good Canuck will love these. (AV Club)

Great exercise rule – try not to skip two days in a row. (Summer Tomato)

I’ve just bought this cookbook and I’m really enjoying working my way through it. The chickpea pancakes on page 92 are great.

Feeding babies peanuts and eggs can reduce their risk of allergies later in life. This is an update to the previous advice that said that parents should wait to introduce allergenic food. Makes sense, especially based on what we know about the immune system and the role gut bacteria play in digesting food. (JAMA)

Feeding toddlers.


Photo by André Robillard

My son is now two and a fully paid up member of the big boy eating club.

After much research, we decided to go with baby led weaning when we were moving him on to solid food. We were fairly relaxed about it as I was planning to breast feed for at least a year and I didn’t want to mess around with purees and spoon feeding. The path of least resistance, as it were.

So what happens now? This article about feeding fussy kids made me pause. Little J definitely isn’t a fussy eater, however… he knows what he likes and what he doesn’t like.

This article sets out five principles to make feeding your child easier.

Keep them guessing: Variety is the spice of life and still hugely important when feeding kids. Consistently exposing children to new food and using the ‘just one bite’ principle, helps to widen their palate and get them (and you!) out of food ruts.

Change the texture: As with the principle above, variation in the way individual food is served helps expose kids to different ways of eating and the mouth feel of food prepared in different ways. Grated sweet potato is very different to sweet potato wedges or sweet potato mash.

Use umami: I am a huge lover of umami and try to incorporate it wherever possible. Kids generally like these complex flavours and we need to move away from the strange notion that kids prefer bland foods.


Involve them: I really love sitting my son on the kitchen counter and getting him to add spices to dishes I’m cooking or to watch me chopping some veg up in the hand blender. He gets to be involved in the cooking process, seeing how food is made, smelling the spices and I get some company and stream of cute chatter and questions about the different ingredients. Win / win.

Teach by example: This is a big one. My husband can be a bit of a picky eater himself and I’ve asked him not to complain about not liking certain foods in front of little J. It’s not that I’m trying to create the perfect atmosphere, more like I want J to see both of us trying everything without complaining or whining. The other area I really try to lead on is always sitting down to eat. It’s true that sitting and eating in a restful way is good for the digestive system (parasympathetic / rest & digest mode). It’s also a major pet peeve of mine seeing children and adults alike walking around and eating. Perhaps it’s something I picked up when I lived in Tokyo (this is a huge no no in Japan), but I think it’s a terrible habit and always ask J to sit down when he eats and do the same myself.

There are two more principles I would add to this list.

Plan, plan, plan: A weekly meal planner helps avoid last minute panics about dinner and a big cook up at the weekend makes things even easier.

Relax: Look at your child’s food consumption over the whole day and week. If they don’t eat a lot at a certain meal, they might not be hungry and so they’ll likely eat more at the next meal. One week they might eat like a sparrow and the next week, they might hit a growth spurt and eat like they have hollow legs! Kids pick up our tension, so if you want them to eat, you yourself need to have a relaxed attitude!

What happens after baby led weaning?

Photo by leonie wise

When my son was three months old and I felt that we really had a handle on breastfeeding, I started to think about the next step – introducing him to solid food. My plan was to start giving him solids at six months, the age NHS recommends and the age when baby’s gut lining becomes less permeable and they have have a more mature, closed gut.

At five and a half months, all the signs of food readiness were there:

  • J could sit up without support
  • He had lost the tongue thrust reflex and was not pushing things out of his mouth with his tongue
  • He was trying to chew
  • He had a pincer grasp and could pick things up between his thumb and forefinger
  • He was grabbing food from my plate and seemed genuinely curious about trying what we were eating

So one day, I gave him some avocado, he seemed to enjoy eating and playing with it and we started to introduce more food slowly from there.

Anecdotally, many parents expect breastfeeding to reduce when they introduce solids. I can personally attest to the fact that this is not always the case. At seven months, J was still breastfeeding 5 times during the day and at least three times at night. It was only at 8-9 months when M and I started giving him three meals and two snacks a day, did the breastfeeding cut down to three times in the day and a few times at night.

Now that J is 17 months old, past the baby led weaning stage and no longer breastfeeding, what do we give him to eat? I started to think about this properly today after receiving the latest NHS email (which I find very informative). This email included a link to a Netmums page with lots of toddler recipe ideas, which got me thinking.

There is no doubt that feeding a toddler can be tricky.

They go through food fads, they refuse to eat when they’re tired, timing is key when you want them to try new things and they’re prone to throwing food all over the kitchen if they don’t like something. But the thing is, they’re capable of eating a lot more than we think and we need to trust them when they tell us they’re full – when J starts throwing food, the meal is over and I take him out of his high chair.

I’ve never really understood the recommendation to give babies and toddlers bland food. How will they develop a complex palate if they’re only exposed to mushy purées with no seasoning from the time they start solids? The same applies to toddlers. They are capable of trying and eating a much wider range of food that we seem to give them credit for.

Image courtesy of Maya Picture at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Maya Picture at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Think of the Koreans, who give their babies and toddlers kimchi, gradually increasing the spiciness until they’re capable of eating the same kimchi as their parents. The same goes for Indian and Pakistani parents who start their kids off with a mild daal, increasing the spiciness as they get older.

My personal experience of this comes from my Bahamian mother, who loves the spicy food from her native country and other surrounding Caribbean countries and would think nothing of giving my brother and I a spicy conch salad or rice and peas when we were toddlers, because she knew it was good for our palates and that we had to build up a tolerance to spiciness over time.

I try to apply these principles to my son J, who loves his food and generally loves to try new things. When M and I go out to eat, he’ll typically eat what we eat – steak, fish, bunless burgers, chicken, fish, curries, roasts, etc. M and I aren’t fussy eaters and enjoy trying new things, so J will generally eat from our plates as I’m not a massive fan of ordering from kid’s menus in restaurants.

At home, a typical day of food might look like this for J:

Breakfast: Omelettes, scrambled eggs or oatmeal with fruit

Lunch: Quiche, savoury tarts, stews, couscous with veg and hummus

Snacks: Banana, sweet potato, cheese, raspberries or blueberries, chorizo, fruit pouches (we like Ella’s Kitchen and Plum Baby)

Dinner: Leftovers from our dinner the night before. J eats his dinner a lot earlier than us so we typically eat something different to him and I make enough for him to eat the next day.

We definitely haven’t cracked it. Someday J eats a lot and will eat everything we offer and will do so with a fork or spoon. And then I do my happy mom dance!

Other days, he’s in discomfort from molars cutting through, sick, distracted or just plain tired, he doesn’t want to try anything new or eat much at all. What I’ve learned is that you just have to roll with it, not take it personally and know that they’ll probably eat more the next meal.  If you look at what they eat over a week, it all balances out.

Let’s talk about gut bacteria, baby.

Photo by Matthew Pilachowski

The world of the gut-brain connection and our gut bacteria is a fascinating one. Our gastrointestinal tract has to both absorb nutrients and act as a barrier against foreign organisms and molecules like microbes and allergens, from the day we are born.

Did you know?

  • 70% of our immune system is in our digestive tract, so when the gut is unhappy, the rest of the body is unhappy
  • The digestive tract is one long tube that runs from the mouth and runs all the way to the anus
  • Stretched out, the gut would cover a surface of 400 square metres
  • We have 100 hundred billion bacteria in our gut – more than cells in our body!
  • There are approximately 400 – 500 species of bacteria in the large intestine and 200 species in the oral cavity
  • Infants have a special need for stimulation of their gut microbiota because they are born with a sterile intestine

There are two categories of gut bacteria:

  1. Innate gut bacteria: This is the gut bacteria that we are born with and helps protect us from the time we come out of our mother’s womb. In the West, certain practices such as Caesarean sections, formula feeding, early introduction of food and early antibiotic usage chip away at this innate gut bacteria and can lead to some problems in the future, such as frequent illness and obesity.
  2. Acquired gut bacteria: This is the Gut Associated Lymphoid Tissue (GALT) that we start to acquire when we are six months old. GALT is made up of several types of lymphoid tissue that contain immune cells that protect us and are fundamental to our immune system.

Building your child’s gut bacteria with breastfeeding

Breastfeeding and skin to skin contact is the most immediate way of providing your baby with the immune components that help establish and build their gut bacteria, as well as provide protection for their respiratory system and other mucus tissues. Breastfeeding promotes the growth of beneficial lactic acid bacteria in the baby’s gut flora, which are beneficial to the development of the child’s immune system. The antibodies that are transmitted from the mother through the colostrum have been educated by maternal gut microbes and provide a broad range of immediate protection to the baby.

The friendly bacteria in the gut play multiple roles, including secreting natural antibiotics and competitively inhibiting pathogenic microbes. The more varied the species of bacteria in your gut flora, the more protection you and your baby will receive from them. This protection stays with the baby throughout their life.

Building your child’s gut bacteria with food

Once you introduce solid food to your child, it’s important to feed them a nutritious diet, not only to ensure they are receiving the necessary vitamins and minerals to help them grow, but to ensure they continue to be exposed prebiotic and probiotic food that build their gut flora.

Prebiotics are a non-digestible food ingredient that promotes the growth of beneficial microorganisms in the intestines.

Probiotics are live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.

What are good prebiotic and probiotic foods?

Prebiotics – Onions, garlics, banana, leeks and asparagus are a few examples of prebiotic food that you can give to your child, once you’ve established that they are not allergic to any of them.

Probiotics – Fermented foods & drinks like kimchi, sauerkraut & kombucha, coconut kefir and pickles are good options to add into your family’s diet a few times a week. If you’re using store-bought versions of these food and drinks, make sure to read the labels to check for unnecessary extra ingredients like sugar and preservatives.

If you’re formula feeding or want to give your baby’s immune system some extra support, Stephanie at Mama and Baby Love has a great article on how to give probiotics to your baby.

What about magnesium?

Photo by Juan José Valencia Antía

As a mother, I’m constantly quizzed about my son’s milk intake and whether or not he gets enough calcium, but it’s very rare to hear much from the NHS or other mainstream nutrition experts about other vitamins, minerals and enzymes, with the exception of vitamin D.

So why is magnesium so important?

Magnesium is a very important mineral, used in the fluid between cells, and is required for muscles and nerves to function normally, for bone growth, for heart function and for the metabolism of carbohydrates and proteins. In other words, without magnesium, your muscles wouldn’t be able to retract after they contract when you flex them, your body couldn’t convert your breakfast omelette into energy, your heart wouldn’t beat properly and your bones wouldn’t get stronger after doing any kind of weight bearing exercise.

Getting enough magnesium

Luckily, with a real food diet, it’s relatively easy to make sure that you and your child get enough magnesium. It’s plentiful in green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale, avocado, seafood, nuts & seeds such as pumpkin seeds, almonds, sunflower seeds, Brazil nuts, cashews, pine nuts, flaxseed & pecans, berries & other fruit and meat.  According to the NHS, women need 270mg a day and men need 300mg a day. Children between 1 and 4 years old need 80mg a day and go up to 130mg a day between 4 and 8 years of age.

What does this look like in real terms?

Food                                                                                                                     Magnesium Content

1 medium banana 32mg
1 cup cooked spinach 157mg
1 avocado 58mg
1 tablespoon sunflower seeds 14mg
6 medium strawberries 9mg
1 kiwi 13mg
1 large baked potato 90mg

If you aim to eat the rainbow most days, it should be fairly easy to get the daily requirement of magnesium without needing to resort to a supplement.

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