Your child needs less food now than he did during his first year. Surprised? Don't be. He's just not growing quite as fast, and so many other exciting developments are competing for his time.
Children this age are very picky about what they'll eat. Don't force-feed your toddler or require a clean plate before he leaves the table. He knows how much he needs, and he'll eat appropriately if not pressured. Forcing him will only result in a food battle —one you won't win! It can also lead to eating problems when he's older.
Your child can eat many of the same dishes the whole family eats. Just take out his serving before you add salt and strong spices. Of course, he may not necessarily agree to eat what you're eating. Toddlers this age tend to fixate on one beloved food and eat only that for days. These "binges" are normal, however, so don't worry. If what your child is eating is nutritious, it doesn't matter how often he eats it. Offer him a variety of foods anyway, a little at a time, to get him used to the sight and texture of new foods. Generally, you have to offer a new food about 10 times before a child this age will accept it, so don't be upset or daunted by the first or second refusal. Some cautions:
Make sure you give your child plenty of opportunities to feed herself — she's ready to practice using a spoon and a cup. Avoid foods she could choke on, however, such as whole grapes, nuts, and raw carrots. Hot dogs are the most-choked-on food! If you do serve them, cut them into small pieces lengthwise and also across so she won't choke.
How much juice and milk should your toddler drink? In general your child shouldn't have more than 4 to 6 ounces of juice each day, and all of that should be from a cup. Juice is mostly just sugar and water, and fruit is better for her. Juice addicts have poor growth patterns and are at risk for "toddler diarrhea," tooth decay, and nutritional imbalance. Your toddler doesn't need more than 24 ounces of milk, either. If your child is still sucking on a bottle, you should start trying to wean her now. A "sippy" cup is a good alternative to a regular cup if you can't stand the constant spills. Don't let your child take her bottle to bed. It's not good for her sleep or her nutrition and could rot her teeth and make her more prone to earaches.
Learn to love a mess! Your 18-month-old needs to try feeding herself to bolster her emerging sense of independence, as well as learn how to use utensils and cups. A big bib will help protect her clothes from the worst of it, and you might put a plastic mat under her high chair. Get used to messy mealtimes. And don't forget to change out of your nice clothes when it's feeding time. At the same time, don't tolerate airborne food. If your toddler starts to fling food all about and has stopped eating, it means she's done. Put her down, and don't try to coax more food into her.