What should my toddler be drinking?

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If your toddler is a fussy eater, and never seems to have the appetite for a proper meal, take a closer look what she’s drinking each day, as this could well be the culprit. Your toddler should be drinking about 250 ml (8½ fl oz/1 cup) of milk per day (more if she’s not eating other calcium-rich foods – go for 375 ml), plenty of water, and – with the exception of the occasional healthy smoothie – nothing else. Boring as it sounds, there are good reasons for taking this approach:

• Not too much milk – milk is a really important source of calcium for your toddler’s growing bones. However, having too much milk can put your toddler at risk of iron deficiency. Children who are ‘milkoholics’ tend to fill up on milk, which is low in iron, and then have no appetite for other iron-rich foods. Don’t let your toddler have a big glass of milk or a smoothie right before dinner. There’s just no way her little tummy will manage a proper meal when it’s full of milk.

• Not too much juice – juice should be a treat, not a staple. Drinking too much juice can cause all sorts of toddler problems, including diarrhoea, tooth decay and iron deficiency. I find it’s easiest not to have juice in the house. Instead, my son has it as an occasional treat when we’re out. However, if you’ve got a seriously fussy eater who won’t touch fruit or vegetables, having your own juice press might just allow you to get the odd carrot, beetroot (beet), apple and orange into her.

• No soft drinks – there is no good reason to get your toddler into the habit of drinking soft drinks. They are typically loaded with sugar, and are believed to be a major contributor to obesity. They can also contribute to type 2 diabetes, dental decay, nutrient deficiencies and even osteoporosis (possibly because people who drink lots of soft drinks don’t drink enough milk). It’s easier never to introduce your child to soft drinks than to try and wean her off them later. Cordials are in the same boat – there’s simply no reason your toddler should be drinking them, and plenty of reasons she shouldn’t.

• Plenty of water – toddlers need lots of water to keep them well hydrated and help prevent constipation. If you don’t like the taste of plain water, make sure you don’t deprive your toddler of the opportunity to develop a taste for it. Just think of all the sugar, salt and caffeine she will be spared over the course of her life if water is her drink of choice.

[This post is adapted from an extract from my book Cooking For Your Baby and Toddler].

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'What guides me is home cooking, listening to my appetite, using whole food ingredients, prioritising plant foods and keeping highly processed foods out of my kitchen.'