Good eating habits
Your toddler won’t be shy about telling you they don’t like cauliflower, even if he loved it yesterday. And kids are all different – just because an older child was a faddy eater, a younger one might not be. Treat each child as an individual. You’ll find ideas for healthy snacks and discover toddler unfriendly food as well as healthy alternatives.
Mealtimes troubleshooting checklist
- Is your child growing and thriving? If the answer is ‘Yes’, there’s no need to worry.
- Are they filling up on drinks? Because toddlers only have small tummies, too much juice or milk could be filling them up. If this is the case, gradually cut down and give them plain water instead, unless you are continuing to breastfeed.
- Does your tot keep asking for sweet and fatty foods? Have healthy snacks to hand to avoid denting their appetite with high-calorie food like sweets, biscuits and crisps. Dried fruit has a high nutritional value and its counted as one of their five-a-day. However, as it sticks to teeth and contains a lot of sugar, it can cause tooth decay. It should be given at mealtimes only as it is less damaging to teeth this way.
- Are they saying no to everything? Remember, there isn’t any food your tot has to eat. If they don’t like something, don’t force it. Instead, find an alternative from the same food group which they do like and try again another day. In the longer term, you could review their snacking options. Find more tips for getting your kids to eat healthy foods and view healthy snacking options for toddlers.
- Is your toddler still eating after everyone else has finished? Some children like to take things slowly. Have patience. If they don’t finish their food, take it away and don’t give them attention for not eating. Trying to force children to carry on eating when they have had enough could lead to over eating. Mealtimes should not really last longer than 30 minutes. You could try rewarding them for eating all of their food.
"Don’t like broccoli!" How you can get healthy stuff past faddy eaters
- Be flexible: ‘one of the best tips I was given is to be more flexible. I used to think Finn should have something cooked for lunch, but if he won’t eat it what’s the point?’ Lynsey, 31, mum to Finn, two and a half.
- Add variety: provide a good mix of textures and tastes and vary the way you cook. Sometimes try grilling rather than frying or stir-frying, stewing and steaming and serving some raw salads or finger foods. Remember, a portion of food for a toddler is what they can fit in their hand.
- Disguise vegetables: cheese sauce or adding them to a tomato sauce for pasta works well or try raw vegetable sticks with tomato dip.
- Make food look nice by slicing it. It will make eating a much more enticing activity for most toddlers. Eating in a group with family or playmates encourages the social aspects of mealtimes, and children learn by example. Spending time together over mealtimes is really important for a toddler. Try and eat as a family for a least one meal a day and limit meals in front of the TV. The best way to prevent fussy eating is not to make a fuss. Bribing, forcing or rewarding your child for eating is never a good idea. If you promise your child a biscuit for eating lunch, you are teaching them that lunch is a punishment and the biscuit is a reward. If food is refused take it away and try again another time.
- Get your toddler involved in the meal's preparation so he learns that vegetables are fun. Let him sit next to you when you cook and ask him to bring you things out of the cupboard.
- Your attitude to food comes into it too- if you make healthy food choices your child will too. Children often model their behaviour on others. Therefore, encouraging good food choices and eating habits in the adults, brothers and sisters and friends around children is important in reinforcing the right messages. If you enjoy eating, your feelings will rub off.
Cut it out! Toddler unfriendly food – and healthy alternatives
Helping your child develop a healthy eating pattern now could help reduce their risk of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes later.
- Sugar can cause tooth decay. It is found in sweets, biscuits, cakes, doughnuts and fruit squashes. Kids need more protein and energy in relation to their size than adults as well as more of certain vitamins and minerals – especially iron, calcium, and vitamin C. Protect teeth from decay by making sure sugary food and drinks are eaten with a meal rather than between meals. Give your tot water or full fat milk instead.
- Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system and leads to over activity. It is found in coffee, tea, cola and some fizzy drinks. Kids do need more energy (and protein too) relative to their size than adults, but caffeine won’t give them the longer-term energy they need. See the key elements in a balanced diet for the main food groups on Food Standards Scotland's website.
- Too much salt can cause kidney damage and lead to high blood pressure. It is found in crisps, salted snacks, bacon, soy sauce and tomato ketchup. One estimate is that 80 per cent of our salt intake comes from food that has salt added to it before we buy it. Try using fresh foods and other flavours, like onions, herbs, garlic and ginger.
Are Growing up and Toddler milks good for my child?
Growing up and Toddler milks are not recommended for babies and toddlers. These milks contain some added nutrients but toddlers should get what they need from their food, rather than fortified milk products. Full fat cow’s milk is ideal to drink from the age of 1 year and is less expensive.
To reduce the risk of your child choking:
- Remove any stones or pips before serving
- Halve or chop small fruit, nuts and vegetables like cherry tomatoes and grapes
- Cut large fruits into slices rather than chunks.
Healthy snacking for toddlers: quick, tasty, fun options
- Bite-sized chunks of apple or pear.
- Segments of seedless Satsuma.
- Carrot, pepper, courgette sticks.
- Slices of cherry tomato.
- Squares of toast, breads, rolls, baps with butter, spread or peanut butter.
- Mini sandwiches with yeast extract, tuna, cheese, mashed banana.
- Bread sticks with tomato dip or soft cheese.
- Homemade pizza triangles.
- Low salt oatcakes, rice cakes, crackers or crispbreads.
- Natural yoghurt and fromage frais with or without a little chopped fresh, canned or frozen fruit.
- Muffins, crumpets, pancakes, potato or cheese scones.
- Unsalted, plain popcorn.
- Breastfeeding will benefit you and your child for as long as you choose to continue.
- If you are bringing up your baby or child on a vegetarian diet, you need to make sure they eat a variety of foods to provide the energy and vitamins they need for growth. Find out more about www.healthystart.nhs.uk for more information vegetarian and vegan babies and children.