Not a winning formula

Tricia web£531 per year. What could you do with that? Months and months of nappies? A chunk of nursery fees? Weeks of food shopping?

That’s how much Which? calculates families can save by switching from toddler milks – formula products promoted as a sort of nutritional safety net for children from the age of one to around three years old – to standard cow’s milk each year. It’s serious food for thought – and not just because of the financial saving, huge though that is. It’s also about children’s nutrition.

Because – despite what the adverts might suggest – kids at this age simply don’t need specially-formulated milks. If they’re eating a healthy diet; having regular cow’s milk; and taking the multivitamin the government recommends for all little ones, they’ll be getting everything they need. With some toddler milks, they’re actually getting added extras they don’t need: Which? found toddler milks contained more sugar and less calcium than cow’s milk, and some even add flavourings like vanilla.

The companies who make toddler milks often argue the products are a way to make sure fussy eaters are getting the nutrients they need. But working on encouraging your child to eat well will do far more for their nutrition and eating habits in the long-term than turning to toddler milk.

Fussy eating and fear of new foods is thought to be a natural thing. It affects up to one in every five children, typically when they’re between 18 months and two years old.

The trick is not to worry about what your child eats in one day, or if they don’t eat everything in a single meal. It’s more important to think about what they eat over a week.

Boy eating at nursery

Very simply, a good diet for your toddler means eating a range of different foods from these four food groups:

  • different fruits and vegetables
  • a variety of starchy foods
  • a range of meat, fish, eggs, beans and alternatives
  • and at least three portion of milk and dairy foods.

My top tips:

  • Try and try again. It can take up to fifteen tries of a new food before children accept it, and their tastes change all the time. Every now and then, try them again with a food they’ve rejected in the past
  • Don’t use favourite foods as a reward if your child tries something new – you’re only making them prize those foods even more. Food should never be used as a punishment either – use stickers or non-food rewards instead
  • Eat with them, and give your child the same meals as the rest of the family
  • Start small. Give your child a tiny taste of a new food first – they can always have more
  • Give them control – they should have the chance to spit the new food into a tissue if they really don’t like it
  • Praise them for trying new things
  • Give your child small servings at first. They can always have seconds but can feel put off by big portions
  • Bring the food to life. A simple noodle soup? ‘Wiggly Worm Soup’ sounds so much more fun….
  • Keep calm. As frustrating as it is, don’t get cross or force your child to eat. Take their plate away without comment if they haven’t eaten what’s on it
  • In the meantime, fool ‘em! Add cooked and mashed carrots, butternut squash, sweet potato or swede to normal mashed potato; throw carrots, peppers and onions into bolognaise sauce ; smuggle fruit into puddings.

And when it comes to milk, go for full-fat cow’s milk for one to two year-olds; you can switch to semi-skimmed once they turn two if they’re eating a good diet. Avoid skimmed milk for under-fives – it doesn’t contain enough fat and energy for their needs. From the age of one, children can have goats’ and sheep’s milk, and unsweetened soya milk fortified with calcium if you need a non-dairy alternative for them.

Check out our autumn/winter menus for one to five year olds for more ideas.

Tricia heads up our team of nutritionists. Email Tricia.

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One response to “Not a winning formula

  1. Some really great advice here but I just don’t see a place at the dining table for rewards (food or non-food rewards). Children aren’t in control of what they eat if they’re worried they’ll make the ‘wrong’ choice and miss out on their sticker (and, by extension, their parents’ approval)

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