Toddlerhood is a time when children learn about new foods and where lifelong eating habits are often established. These habits will enable them to grow up to be healthy adults.
During the first year of life, your child’s growth will be rapid, however this will slow down in their second year and they’ll spend more time exploring their world, leaving less time for eating and drinking. This will probably mean their food intake will slow down, and combined with their increase in independence, may mean they’ll start saying no to foods and start wanting to make their own choices.
This is completely normal behaviour, so as a parent, it is your responsibility to make sure you provide the right types of food at the right times and leave the rest up to your child. Toddlers normally develop good signals for hunger and fullness and should be able to decide how much they want to eat and, in fact, whether they want to eat at all.
Tips for developing healthy eating habits
- Be a good role model and eat healthy, regular meals – your toddler will pick up good habits by watching you.
- Make sure your toddler eats regularly with a routine that consists of three meals with two to three snacks between meals.
- Offer small serves and your toddler will ask for more if they are still hungry – don’t force them to eat if they don’t want to.
- Set aside 20 to 30 minutes for main meals, 10 to 20 minutes for snacks, and avoid distractions like TV, toys or games during meal times.
- Offer a variety of nutritious foods and change-up the taste, textures and appearance to add variety.
- Refusing to try new foods is common and these may need to be offered 10 times or more (every two to three days) before they are accepted.
- Allow your toddler to have some choice, but keep their choices simple by offering two or three healthy food options.
- Avoid biscuits, soft drinks, lollies, cordial and juices as these are high in sugar and may reduce their appetite for healthier foods.
Food your toddler needs
The most common nutritional deficiency in childhood, iron deficiency anaemia, can result from toddlers filling up on large volumes of milk or juices which are devoid of iron. Toddlers require no more than 500ml milk per day and should avoid fruit juice. Water should be your toddler’s main drink. Water is freely available, contains no sugar, calories or artificial colours or flavours, and most children will enjoy water if it is offered from an early age.
Small portions are less overwhelming to toddlers, while bigger portions may encourage overeating.
It’s important that toddlers and young children are offered small, frequent snacks throughout the day because generally toddlers can’t eat enough food at main meals to provide them with the sufficient energy and nutrients they need. Foods high in sugar and unhealthy fats (like cakes, biscuits, lollies and sugary drinks) should be avoided and healthy snacks offered instead, which can include:
- Fresh fruit slices or canned fruits in natural juice
- Small tub of yoghurt
- Rice cakes or pikelets with a thin spread of cream cheese or avocado
- Sandwiches with natural peanut butter, ham and cheese or vegemite
- Cheese sticks or cheese slices
- Baked beans on toast
- Plain milk
- Soft vegetables like steamed sweet potatoes or carrot sticks
- Fruit smoothie – milk blended with fresh fruits
Did you know?
Healthy children are born able to regulate their hunger and fullness.