Compared with the enormous growth phase in the first year of life, toddlers tend to grow quite slowly. They don’t require as many kilojoules to fuel their bodies and they don’t need to gain much weight. It won’t be until they reach adolescence that they require a similarly high concentration of kilojoules and nutrition to meet their growth needs.
When combined with a growing sense of their own independence and a need to exert some control over the home environment, toddler feeding can be quite interesting.
Some handy hints for feeding toddlers
- Remember that toddlers don’t need to eat big volumes to feel full.
- Any more than 3-4 serves of milk/dairy foods within 24 hours are likely to impact on your toddler’s appetite for real foods.
- Sit with your toddler at meal times and role model healthy eating behaviours. Families who eat together boost their opportunities for communication and enhance their emotional connectedness.
- Avoid making your toddler the main focus of attention at the table.
- Avoid getting angry, upset or anxious over what your toddler does or doesn’t eat. As long as they are growing, reaching their developmental milestones and not crossing or dropping on their percentile/growth curves, they will be eating enough.
- Don’t expect a big weight gain or growth spurt over the toddler years.
- Hunger is the single most important factor which will persuade your toddler to eat. Keep them busy between mealtimes with lots of activity and exercise.
- As long as snacks are healthy and diverse, rather than biscuits or snack foods, they are a reasonable option.
- Sweet, salty “convenience” foods which are packaged to appeal to children do not generally sustain their appetites for any length of time.
- Look for foods wrapped in a minimum of packaging and plastic and get into the habit of reading the nutrition information and ingredient list on boxes and packaging. If you cannot pronounce something or it is identified by numbers, be suspicious.
- Aim to give foods which resemble their original food state. This is a marker for how much human/chemical/processing intervention there has been.
Need some toddler feeding tips? We’ve collected a bunch of them from real mums to help you out. Maybe you’ve got a fussy eater on your hands or perhaps you’re stuck for how to feed them enough veggies – either way we hope you find your solution here!
Jess: Hiding veggies in their favorite foods, i.e. chop up some zucchini, onion and carrot finely and put it in a lasagne or spag bol. Always works for me!
Sarah: Definitely give them a toddler vitamin, just to be sure that they’re getting enough nutrients.
Julieanne: What I found that worked was getting my son to help make dinner.. I cut up the stuff and he put it in the pot… He would tell every one that he made dinner and for
some reason he would eat it … Maybe he just didn’t like my cooking!
Rebecca: My three year old stopped eating her veggies when we moved. So I gave her no option but to eat healthy. She went to bed a lot of nights hungry because she didn’t eat what I gave her, now she is less fussy and eats her food. No matter how long it takes, they wont let themselves starve.
Samantha: I never force my child to eat. It is offered and taken away after half hour and then a week later the same food is tried again. Always eat the same thing with your child to lead by example. Eating should be enjoyable so I’ve learnt to never make a fuss.
Zoe: Vegetable muffins – my kids will eat 5 or 6 mini muffins in a day..I put zucchini, carrot, sweet potato, and apple for sweetness – going to make beetroot ones next to make them pretty pink.
Alexis: My two year old loves spiral spaghetti. We use a tomato based sauce and add purred veggies. It works and it’s cheap.
Christine: Don’t give snacks during the day unless they are veg/fruit with dips, cream cheese, etc. Try honey on veggies then wean the honey out.
Michelle: Milkshakes. Make them primarily fruit and sneak in a small amount of vege. I went to a toddler nutrition talk last week and they only need about 1/2 cup of veges a day!
Amber: Just keep trying. They’ll probably keep refusing but you’ll feel better about it if you give them a multivitamin as well. Kids can’t live on chips and nuggets after all!
When to start chunky food
Your baby should be eating chunky food by the age of nine months. Try not to provide soft foods for too long or your bub might become fussy later on. Keep rotating the variety of foods you feed to your toddler and remember that just because they don’t want something one day, it doesn’t mean they won’t eat it the next.
What foods do toddlers need?
Well before the time children have their first birthday, they need to be eating a similar diet to the rest of the family. Introducing them to a “family diet” and not keeping their food completely separate to what the adults are eating helps to reduce the likelihood of toddlers becoming fussy eaters.
Foods from the bread and cereal, fruit and vegetable, meat and fish, milk and dairy as well as fats and oils groups need to be part of their everyday toddler feeding diet.
- Breakfast is an important meal of the day for toddlers. If they have been breastfeeding overnight or sucking on bottles of milk or formula, they are unlikely to be interested in eating breakfast. The best way to boost their interest and appetite for meals is to stop all milk drinks overnight. Cereal drenched in milk, whole grain toast with a healthy spread and some fruit will meet your toddler’s nutritional requirements from the start of each day.
- Morning tea can be a light snack such as fresh fruit, cheese and a drink of water. One drink per day of fresh fruit juice, diluted with water to (at least) 1/3 or 1/2 full strength concentration is sufficient. Fresh fruit is a much better way of providing fibre and vitamins.
- Lunch needs to be timed reasonably early for most toddlers; around 11-11.30 a.m. is ideal. A protein source such as meat, egg, or fish with salad/vegetables or bread is recommended. A cup of milk or serve of dairy food such as cheese, yoghurt or a dairy dessert will provide a calcium serve.
- Afternoon tea is similar to morning tea in terms of quantity and variety. Another piece of fruit, cheese, crackers or salad vegetables are additional toddler feeding options. Offer another drink of water as well.
- Dinner needs to include meat or fish, vegetables, baked beans, lentils, rice/pasta. Try to feed your toddler before they get too tired and be organised with feeding them when they show signs they are hungry. Offer a cup of milk after dinner when this will be less likely to impact on their food intake.
- Three to four serves of milk or dairy foods a day is generally sufficient. This will meet their (RDI) Recommended Daily Intake of 500mgs/day for children aged 1-3 years.
How much food should I feed my toddler?
Unfortunately kids do not come with an instruction manual, but thankfully there are some recommended guidelines you can follow when it comes to how much to feed your toddler. They’ll also let you know when they’re hungry – watch out as they can communicate this in the form of tantrums and all round grumpiness! Toddlers should have three main meals each day (breakfast, lunch and dinner) and a snack in between these. We’ve got some great snack ideas if you’re having trouble finding something healthy.
Many parents invest an enormous amount of time, energy, money and emotion into their children’s eating habits. But despite this, toddlers pretty much know exactly what they want when it is time for them to eat. Although the amount of food a child eats becomes number one on their parent’s priority list, this can be a rather insignificant issue to most toddlers.
Top 10 things to keep in mind when feeding toddlers
- Sugar ideally should not be added to a child’s diet. However, if a product has added sugars they should not be in the top three ingredients listed on the packet.
- Drinks containing caffeine should not be given to children.
- Sodium should be minimised and ideally not exceed 120mg per 100g.
- Fruit juices are not necessary. It is better to eat the fruit instead and water. Fruit juices may be a good source of some vitamins, but the downside is they are low in fibre, high in energy and can displace foods.
- Potato chips are not the best way to eat potato. Most commercial brands are high in fat and salt, and best left for special occasions. Some healthier versions are available, and of course homemade chips in fresh olive oil can be a tasty treat.
- Fruit bars and fruit straps are high in sugar. While these tasty morsels generally contain some fruit, they are often high in sugar (some in added sugars), low in fibre and become stuck to children’s teeth (increasing the chances of decay), so are best avoided.
- Wash all fruit and vegetables. This will reduce the risk from any nasties.
- Supervise young children. To reduce the risk of choking, toddlers and young children should always be seated and supervised while eating all foods, including chopped raw fruit, vegetables and all “hard” foods.
- Picky eaters should still be offered healthy food even if they reject it continuously. And be tricky by grating, pureeing, grinding vegetables into foods such as scones, cakes, muffins, bolognaise, and opt for foods with vegetables already in them such as vegetable ravioli, healthy carrot cake etc.
- Take care when using fillings such as honey, jam or other spreads as they can limit the nutrition of a meal. Likewise biscuits, chips, bars, lollies, flavoured milk, cakes and pastries can severely impact on the nutrition of a meal as well as displace health foods and meals later due to the large amount of energy in such foods.
Feeding toddlers on the go
Once your little ones start day care or pre-school it can be a hard task thinking up nutritional snacks to pack with them, visit our lunchbox ideas for some great recipes you can use. Or maybe you’re stuck on what they should be eating if they’re playing a lot of sport, in which case, we have some great information on sports nutrition for kids.
Last Published* December, 2022
*Please note that the published date may not be the same as the date that the content was created and that information above may have changed since.