A dietician and mom of two shares quick and healthy food ideas for 9 to 18-month-olds

If you’re a first-time-mom, you might be wondering how much your little one should be eating. Registered dietician and mom of two toddlers, Lucinda Lourens says this will depend on your child’s weight and growth, appetite and current milk intake. “It’s important to understand that food portions in general should only be a guideline. You still need to follow your baby’s cues to see when he’s full or hungry.”

Approximate food portion sizes per day include:

  • Protein: 2 to 3 portions. Choose protein foods that are rich in iron, low in fat and opt for plant sources too.
  • Fat: 4 to 6 portions. Always choose monounsaturated fats over saturated or trans fats.
  • Veggies: A minimum of 2 portions. Choose a variety of colours.
  • Fruit: 2 portions. Focus on variety.
  • Carbohydrates: 1 to 2 portions. Opt for fibre-rich sources and limit refined options.

ALSO SEE: What exactly is a balanced diet for kids? 

Healthy snacks

Whether you’re feeding your child snacks or main meals, it should be soft – but it doesn’t necessarily need to be mashed or blended.

Lucinda recommends the following healthy snacks:

  • Soft steamed vegetables, which can be grated or mashed when cooked. Some examples include carrots, baby marrow, small broccoli and cauliflower florets, beetroot, gem squash, and cooked spinach.
  • Soft seasonal fruit salad, which can also be mashed, cut into very small pieces or grated and mixed with pureed fruit to make the transition easier. Some examples include apples (preferably grated), banana (cut into long slithers), papaya, mashed berries and strawberries, kiwi, mango, soft peaches and pears.
  • Starchy vegetables that can be mashed to a lumpy consistency. These include beans, butternut, chickpeas, orange-flesh sweet potato, pumpkin, lentils and peas.
  • Protein is an important source of iron and B vitamins. Options include mashed/scrambled eggs, cottage cheese, stewed beef or chicken (which should be really soft), oily fish sources such as salmon, pilchards and tuna, livers, minced meat and ostrich.

Protein vegan options include:

  • A combination of lentils, legumes, black and kidney beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Quinoa
  • Mashed spinach
  • Nut butters
  • Ground seeds and nuts that can be added to food.

For healthy fats, try lumpy avocado or add peanut butter or crushed flaxseeds to baby porridge.

Quick snacks or mini meals

Porridge fingers

Mix oats with milk, nut butters or finely crushed nuts and apple. Leave overnight in the refrigerator. Cut into long blocks and serve with a little cinnamon. You can also roll them into small balls.

Homemade muffins

Make your own banana, whole wheat or fruit muffins. Steer clear of chocolate or vanilla muffins that resemble cake.


Mix 2 eggs, 1 banana and oat bran together and cook in a frying pan over medium heat until the mixture starts to bubble, then turn over. Additional fruit pieces can be added.

Baby quiches

You can make these with eggs, grated veggies and cheese. Additional protein can be added.

ALSO SEE: 20 clever lunchbox ideas for toddlers

Healthy meals

When it comes to meals, it’s a good idea to build on what your child already likes and slowly introduce new flavours and textures. Remember, this isn’t a race. The key is to ensure your child enjoys her food while getting a variety of nutrients.

Here are some of Lucinda’s favourite meal ideas for toddlers at this stage:

Cottage pie

Made with mashed sweet potato, minced meat or livers and finely grated vegetables.

ALSO SEE: Cottage pie with cauliflower and cheese mash

Thick soup

Make the base from vegetables such as spinach, sweet potato, butternut or cauliflower. Then add protein such as liver, minced meat and beans or chicken and blend well into the soup. Add quinoa or couscous for a slight, lumpy texture.

Baby omelette

A family breakfast treat. Grated cheese and baby marrow can be added into the egg mixture. Serve with avocado.

Soft fish cakes

These can be made with any type of mashed fish. Add a variety of grated vegetables to the fish mixture. Roll into small balls. Serve with mashed chickpeas and broccoli.

 ALSO SEE: Salmon fishcakes

Baby pasta

Start by making a smooth tomato base using a blend of tomatoes, onions and carrots. Add grated vegetables and mashed protein options. Small shaped pasta can be substituted for rice, couscous, quinoa or lentils.

ALSO SEE: Secret cauliflower sauce

Food prep tips for toddlers

  • Steaming, poaching, boiling or roasting are good cooking options. Use minimal fluid during boiling as some vitamins and minerals are lost when exposed to heat.
  • Always keep the water used to steam vegetables to make soups and stews.
  • Make meals in bulk and freeze to save time for those mealtime emergencies.

ALSO SEE: 10 quick and easy freezer-friendly meals 

  • Avoid adding salt and sugar to your child’s solid food. Rather flavour food with garlic, minced onion and mild herbs.
  • Experiment with veggies. Add grated or mashed vegetables to sauces, soup or meat dishes to increase the fibre and micronutrient content of the meal.
  • Your baby should “eat a rainbow”. Think of vibrant colours of fruit and vegetables such as red, green, orange, yellow and even purple.
  • Make smoothies with fruit that’s about to expire. Add them to plain yoghurt and blend. Nut butters can be added for additional healthy fats.

ALSO SEE: 3 healthy smoothies for your toddler 

If you’re concerned that your child might choke, Lucinda has these tips:

Remember, your baby’s gag reflex is the strongest during infancy as a way to protect what they ingest. So, try not to worry too much if your child gags. Also try the following:

  • Do a gradual transition to texture. Add couscous, quinoa, and crushed seeds to pureed food to start with.
  • Always offer soft food that your baby can crush between her fingers. If you can break it easily, your child’s powerful gums can too.
  • Use a grater to gradually add fruit and vegetables to meals.
  • Avoid distractions such as the TV during mealtimes as they can take attention away from eating. Rather let your child play with pieces of food.
  • Use a safe highchair that supports your child sufficiently during meals. Sitting in a proper upright position is the best way to avoid choking.
  • Always supervise your little one during mealtimes.
  • Make use of small baby utensils for small bites.

A note on allergies

Allergy guidelines have drastically changed over the past year, says Lucinda. It’s become essential to start introducing allergenic foods early on in your baby’s diet – as young as six months old – to decrease the risk of developing allergies later on. However, it’s important to be aware of allergy symptoms that can include:

  • Skin rash
  • Hives
  • Swelling
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Coughing and wheezing.

More about the expert:

Lucinda Lourens is a registered dietician with a special interest in paediatric nutrition, as well as nutrition for special needs children. She is also a spokesperson for The Association for Dietetics in South Africa. She is a mother of two busy toddlers, who challenge her with nutrition-related matters. Cooking is her great passion and she particularly enjoys looking into alternative ways to include healthy food in everyday meals.

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