Healthy eating and toddlers
Meal times can be challenging for many families with toddlers (age 1-3 years), with the dining table becoming a stressful environment, instead of a place for getting together as a family.
Wanting to make decisions about what he/she eats is a normal part of a child’s development, and is part of learning to become an independent person.
Parents may worry that their child hardly eats anything at all, but healthy children do tend to have a remarkably consistent daily intake. If your toddler doesn’t eat very much at one mealtime, they will usually make up for it at another. It’s important to remember that, compared with their first 12 months children grow relatively slowly in their second and third years and have a correspondingly smaller food intake.
If your child is growing normally and is active, then he/she will be getting an adequate energy intake. However, it is important to try to match energy needs with adequate nutrition. Vitamin and mineral substitutes are not usually necessary.
Only rarely is a medical problem the cause of problems with eating in children, but if a child is not following a normal growth pattern it is important to seek medical advice. Regular measurements of height and weight are an important part of all children’s early years.
Toddler feeding tips
- Remember that a parent’s role is to provide appropriate and nutritious food options in a happy, distraction-free, environment. The child should be allowed to decide how much of it to eat.
- Too much milk will reduce appetite for food.
- Avoid fruit juice, cordials and soft drinks as they contain minimal nutrition, are high in sugar and reduce appetite for nutritious food.
- Have a routine of 3 meals a day, with snacks (small meals) in between. Don’t give snacks close to meal times.
- Offer small serves and seconds if wanted. Let your child decide how much. If none is eaten stay calm, clear it away and offer nothing until the next meal or snack.
- Keep the meal times short (no longer than 30 minutes).
- Involve your child in preparing the meal and in making some choices. Offer 2 or 3 alternatives, rather than asking, ‘what would you like?’
- Make eating fun. For example, go on picnics or have meals in the garden.
- Don’t have too much non-nutritious food in the house. If it’s not there they won’t ask for it.
- Don’t use bribery to get children to eat something you want them to have. It may work in the short term, but it reinforces their dislike for the food in question.
- Be a good role model for your child by displaying good eating habits and eating with your child at meal times.
- Try to keep offering a variety of foods, and don’t give up if a certain food is refused by your child.
Last Reviewed: 16/05/2013
Your Doctor. Dr Michael Jones, Medical Editor.
1. Childrenâ€™s Hospital Westmead; Sydney Childrenâ€™s Hospital; Kaleidoscope Hunter Childrenâ€™s Health Network. Healthy eating for toddlers (updated 22 Jun 2009). http://kidshealth.schn.health.nsw.gov.au/fact-sheets/healthy-eating-toddlers (accessed May 2013).
2. Childrenâ€™s Hospital Westmead; Sydney Childrenâ€™s Hospital; Kaleidoscope Hunter Childrenâ€™s Health Network. Managing toddler mealtimes (updated 22 Jun 2009). http://kidshealth.schn.health.nsw.gov.au/fact-sheets/managing-toddler-mealtimes (accessed May 2013).
3. MayoClinic.com. Solid foods: how to get your baby started (updated 17 Jun 2011). http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/healthy-baby/PR00029/NSECTIONGROUP=2 (accessed May 2013).