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Normal Toddler Eating

The toddler years are times of change in behaviour and development. Toddlers start wanting to be independent. As well they are starting to achieve self control of thinking, behaviour and social interaction.

It is often at meal times that toddlers will show their independence. They may refuse to eat what is offered, limit the variety of what they will eat and not want to spend much of their time at the dining table.

Just like babies, toddlers know how much food they need. As long as food is offered on a regular basis, they will know how much to eat.

Fussy eaters

Many parents of toddlers are concerned about their child’s eating. However, most of these children will be eating enough and growing normally. It is common at this age to be suspicious of new foods, to have definite food preferences and dislikes and to not want to spend much time sitting at the dining table.

  • Keep it simple – offer the same foods for all the family. You are not running a restaurant. Making special food for your fussy eater is actually giving them less of a choice.
  • Offer new foods many times – they may only try it after seeing it a few times.
  • Set an example – you can’t expect children to eat foods that you don’t eat.
  • Don´t force feed – it doesn’t work. Children are less likely to eat foods that they have been forced to eat.
  • Eat together with your children – they enjoy eating with their parents and carers. It is a chance for you to eat the foods you want them to eat.

You offer, children choose

Because children know how much to eat, parents and carers need to offer appropriate foods at regular times during the day. It is up to your child to choose which foods to eat and how much to eat.

What are appropriate foods?

According to The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating toddlers need:

  • 3 to 6 serves of fruit and vegetables – no more than 200mL fruit juice.
  • 3 to 5 slices of bread or small serves (about ½ cup) of breakfast cereal, rice, pasta or noodles.
  • The equivalent of 500mL to 600mL of full cream milk, which can include yogurt, cheese, calcium fortified soy beverage.
  • 2 small serves of meat, chicken, fish, egg or legumes such as baked beans, lentils, chickpeas.

Two or three foods from the above food groups can be offered at each meal and morning and afternoon tea snack.

Toddlers have small stomachs and can only eat enough food to last two to three hours, so they need to be offered morning and afternoon tea snacks in between breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Family meals

Each family has different eating habits based on family traditions, cultural background and personal tastes. These habits are passed on from parents to children mainly at mealtimes. As more parents are working outside the home, more pre-prepared and take-away foods tend to be eaten and fewer meals are eaten as a family.

Family meals are not just about nutrition but also about learning family eating habits and having time to talk to each other. Even if it doesn’t happen every meal, try and have some family meals together each week.

Young children learn from experiences within the family, so if they see you eating a wide variety of foods, including foods from the core food groups, they are more likely to eat these foods as well.

Bottle to a cup

Around one year of age, toddlers are usually developmentally ready to go from a bottle to a cup. Toddlers who are still being breastfed at this age should be encouraged to drink other drinks from a cup.

The reasons for changing over to cup are as follows:

  • Toddlers who drink from a bottle (or use a dummy) have more infections than those that use a cup, especially if they are at child care.
  • Swigging continuously on milk or sweet drinks such as juice or cordial can damage toddler’s teeth.

More articles to help with nutrition for toddlers