Weaning and Toddler Eating

How to guide: Weaning and Toddler Eating

Following our webinar on 'Weaning and Toddler Eating' with Christine Bailey, we have created the following guide to help you with any questions you may have around weaning, nutrition and food for your little one.

Christine Bailey

Christine is a qualified nutritionist, health and food trainer, and consultant with over 18 years’ experience in the industry. Christine specialises in corporate health, families and children, allergies and digestive health.

As a qualified chef, she has authored numerous recipe books, including ‘Top 100 Finger Food Recipes’, ‘Top 100 Recipes for Brainy Kids’, ‘Top 100 Baby Food Recipes’, ‘Eat to Get Younger’, ‘Nourish Cancer Care’ and ‘The Juice Diet Book’. 

Nutritional Requirements of Babies and Toddlers

For babies and toddlers, nutritional needs are high in the face of variable appetites.
What you feed your baby in the first year can profoundly affect growth, development and overall health in the long term.
Research is now indicating that even before birth, a child’s overall nutritional status can influence children’s long term health and risk of disease.
Diet during pregnancy can also influence health status of the baby after birth.

Nutritional deficiencies

Dietary deficiencies are well known from National Diet Surveys – yet the number of overweight and obese children is rising – more than 1 in 3 British children aged 5-13 are already overweight or obese.

For toddlers, key nutrients to be mindful of include vitamin D, zinc, iron, omega 3 fats, protein, vitamin A.

Common signs of insufficiencies

Leg cramps, muscle twitches, insomnia = magnesium
Poor skin, poor wound healing, infections, poor appetite = zinc
Poor skin health, eyesight, prone to infections = vitamin A
Dry skin, inflammation, poor concentration = EFAs and choline
Tiredness, pale skin, prone to infections = iron
Poor immune health, poor bone development and growth = vitamin D
Irritability, mood swings, cravings = protein

Weaning – Baby led and traditional approaches, Weaning – puree vs. baby led

Each approach (puree/spoon fed vs. baby led) has advantages and disadvantages
Some studies have suggested babies who are weaned using solid finger food are less likely to become overweight as children, than those who are spoon-fed pureed food.
No differences noted in whether they become picky eaters.
Baby-led weaning may increase the desire for carbohydrates.
It may not be what food is given but how it is offered that is more important.

Baby-Led Weaning

Babies learn by doing and weaning allows them to learn about textures and flavours, combining foods or simply eating them separately.

This style of eating may offer more positive implications for children’s health, as well as for the atmosphere around family mealtimes and for family relationships generally.

Other Considerations

Make sure your child is sitting upright and has control of what they are eating to avoid the potential for choking. Foods such as nuts or small pieces of hard fruit and vegetables should also be avoided. If you are unsure about what food or items are safe to play with, you can purchase choke tubes which provide a great indication of which foods would become stuck in a child’s oesophagus.
Nutritional deficiencies may be more common. If you are concerned, you can combine some spoon fed feeding and finger food. 

Toddler Eating – Key nutrients

Nutritional Basics for Toddlers

Depending on their age, size and activity level, toddlers and preschool children need around 1000-1500 calories per day.
In addition to meeting their energy requirements, nutrient needs are particular high as they reach various developmental milestones. It is important to focus on nutrient dense foods offered regularly.

Macronutrient Requirements

Proteins are vital for the development of the skeletal structure including bones, cartilage, ligaments, teeth and nails, as well as for the body’s hormonal system, development of new muscle, organ tissue and neurotransmitters – the chemical messengers of the brain.
Protein is often low in toddler diets too.


Protein requirements vary according to age and body weight, and for toddlers it is around 13-19g. It is therefore important your child eats between one and three servings per day to ensure sufficient protein levels. As a general guide, 1 ounce (30g) of meat or fish will provide 7g of protein.


Toddlers are rapidly growing and developing, and carbohydrate rich foods, such as fruits, vegetables, grains and potatoes, provide lots of energy.
To ensure a more balanced blood sugar level, it is important to focus on carbohydrates that release glucose slowly into the bloodstream however, be mindful of excess high fibre foods that can irritate immature guts and fill them up too quickly.


Nothing is more important for your child’s brain than a steady, even supply of glucose. Sugar imbalances not only affect your child’s mood and behaviour, but studies have also shown that it can impact IQ. Changes in sugar levels and blood glucose are directly associated with limited attention, memory and aggression.

Hidden Sugars

The question around how much sugar our children should be eating is an important one, and there are lots of hidden sugars in food and drink.
It is therefore important to consider healthier sugar options:
Where possible, avoid adding sugars to food
Do not use artificial sweeteners
Focus on whole fruit for natural sweetness
Do not give honey to babies under one year old

Don’t Shun Fats

Fats play an important role in the provision of energy as well as being crucial for the development of organs, immune function and building a healthy brain.
Saturated fats provide essential building blocks for the body cells while cholesterol is essential for brain health and production of hormones. The brain is made of 60% fat too, and phospholipids are vital for brain function and memory.

Getting the Right Balance

The majority of people’s diets are low in omega 3 fats and too high in omega 6 fats. This imbalance promotes inflammation in the body, the precursor to many health conditions.
Omega 6:3 imbalances can aggravate skin conditions in children like eczema and asthma.
Try to focus on oily fish, such as sardines, salmon, trout and mackerel 2-3 times each week.

Ensuring Optimal Fats

DHA is highly concentrated in our brain and nervous system, and not only improves learning but enhances mood.
Omega 3 rich foods include flaxseed, hemp, chia, pumpkin, walnuts, oily fish, leafy greens and tofu.
Oily fish includes salmon, trout, sardines, mackerel, prawns, fresh tuna, swordfish, kippers, herring and anchovies.
Try to avoid fried and processed foods, and ready meals.
Saturday fats are most heat stable and therefore good for baking and frying eg. coconut oil.


The best drink for your toddler in between meals is water. Try to avoid mineral water as some have high mineral content, including sodium, which is unsuitable for your children.
If your toddler has suffered with diarrhoea coconut water is a good alternative, as it is rich in electrolytes potassium, magnesium and calcium which can often become depleted.

Portion Sizes

Portions for 3 years olds each day:
2-3 ounces of carbohydrates each day, including wholegrains and starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots and sweetcorn.
3-4 servings of vegetables each day. One serving of vegetables is approximately 3tbsp or 40g
2 servings of fruit each day. One serving is approximately 40g
2-3 servings of protein each day. One serving is approximately one ounce of meat or fish, 1 egg or ½ cup of cooked beans or lentils.
2 cups of dairy (full fat)

Breakfast Matters

As we all know, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Here are some ideas for your child’s breakfast:
Berries with Greek plain yoghurt and ground seeds
Wholegrain toast and nut butter/cream cheese
Boiled egg with crackers
Porridge topped with stewed fruit plus ground up nuts and eeds
Omelettes/scrambled egg with toast and fruit
Slices of ham or cheese/wholemeal crackers


Snacking is good for your child however it’s important to not use snacks as a substitute for proper meals.
Variety is very important – choose low GI snacks to balance blood sugar
Choose nutrient dense options too, with lots of fibre, vitamins and minerals

Healthy Snack Options

Small pot of natural yogurt, fromage frais
Cottage cheese and rice cake
Oat cake with nut butter
Chunk of cheese, cucumber slices
Slice of lean ham with carrot sticks
Hummus and vegetable sticks
Kale crisps
Dehydrated vegetable pieces
Homemade cereal bars, wholemeal muffins

Fussy Eating

The toddler years can be tricky when it comes to trying new foods, and many children suddenly become more restrictive in the foods they will try, often limiting themselves to a narrow range.
As a parent, you will always lead my example so firstly it is important that your children see you eating a healthy diet, enjoying wholesome, unprocessed foods.

Tackling Fussy Eating

Here are a few tips for tackling fussy eating:
Don’t let them fill up on drinks
Never force feed
Never force them to clear their plates
Do not use food as a reward
Set family mealtimes

Getting children involved with preparing and serving

Allow them to get messy and play with food
Take pressure off mealtimes
Be creative and sneaky at times
Persevere –keep offering new foods

Allergies and Food Sensitives

Vegetarian Diets
A vegetarian diet for a toddler requires careful consideration and planning to ensure they receive all the nutrients they need to thrive.
One problem can be the amount of grains and vegetables they eat which can be too bulky for their small stomachs and leave them low in calories and energy.
Be mindful of protein levels, essential fats, iron, vitamin D, zinc.

Allergies to certain foods such as eggs, nuts, dairy, gluten and soy are common particularly in young children
Allergies can involve IgE antibodies resulting in an immediate, severe and potentially life threatening reaction or delayed IgG antibodies which can cause a range of symptoms including digestive upsets, mood changes, skin disorders
Lactose intolerance is also common in many children
Coeliac disease affects 1% of the population and often under diagnosed in children

Probiotic Support

Studies have shown that probiotic supplements during weaning may reduce the risk of adverse allergic responses to new foods
Digestive problems are common in toddlers and probiotic support may be beneficial especially for Caesarean birth
Breastfeeding can also reduce the incidence of allergies


Current government guidelines recommend children aged between six months and five years could benefit from taking vitamin drops containing vitamins A, D and C daily. This is especially important for children who are picky eaters, have allergies and exclude certain foods or who do not eat many animal products
A daily supplement of vitamin D (400ius) is particularly recommended.
Other supplements may be important based on child’s health and symptoms