Transitional feeding for young children – fostering good eating behaviour

As babies transit from a milk-only diet to an adult diet (from 6 to 24 months), they also develop skills in feeding themselves. Children at this stage would demand more autonomy on many aspects, including their feeding. It is important for parents and caregivers to understand children’s eating behaviour in order to foster good eating habits as well as to ensure good nutrition during early years of life.

Acquire feeding skills by exploring food and feeding utensils

Most 7 to 8 months old infants can hold and put food (eg. a rice-cracker) to their mouth to eat. By around 9 months, they also show great interest to the food and the spoon at mealtime. At 15 to 18 months of age, they can bring a spoon to mouth and eat without much spillage. A majority of children can eat independently with a spoon after 18 months old.

When infants can take food from a spoon, they can also take a sip from a cup. Parents should be prompted to offer their children water or juice in a cup or a trainer cup and to assist them in drinking from it at around 7-9 months. At around 12 months most children can drink independently from their trainer cups.

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Understanding the eating pattern of toddlers

  • Toddlers have a small stomach capacity and eat small amounts each time. So, they need 3 main meals and 2 to 3 snacks a day.
  • The amount of food they eat at each meal is highly variable. However, they can compensate by eating more or less in subsequent meals as they have the innate capacity in self-regulation of energy intake.
  • Toddlers’ food preference do change a lot: they may demand one particular food one day but refuse it the other day.

Fostering good eating habit in children

In order to facilitate children develop a healthy eating habit, a balance between the amount, type and variety of foods is necessary. However, most parents and caregivers are more concerned with the amount of food their children consume and forget about their ability of self-regulation. Parents’ responsibility in feeding their toddlers lies in providing a variety of healthy and nutrient-rich foods, presenting meals in suitable forms and helping them set up regular mealtimes and routine for each day. Most important of all is to be a model to encourage children to eat healthily. The amount to be taken is to be decided by the child.

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Say NO to bottles!

Nowadays, it is not uncommon to see children of 3-4 years holding their bottles to drink. In fact, children should stop using feeding bottles by 18 months. Persistent bottle drinking is associated with increased risk of early childhood caries and obesity in preschool children.

Some parents have concerns about their children taking less milk if they stop using bottles. Actually, the recommended daily milk intake of 360 to 480ml in a diet with variety of other foods is sufficient to meet the nutrient requirement for 1 to 2 years old. Providing anticipatory guidance on meal planning to parents can help alleviate their anxiety. Parents should also be reminded that drinking too much milk would displace their children’s appetite for other foods.

Tips on weaning from the bottles

  • Offer milk in the child’s favourite cup at breakfast and as snacks;
  • Give a smaller portion of milk each time, e.g. 120 ml so that children find it easier to handle with their small hands;
  • Children may prefer to drink with a straw from box of fresh milk or UHT milk;
  • Offer yogurt or cheese as an alternative to milk;
  • Key to success: ensure every family member and caregiver work together.