Feed 'em well

Good eating habits will keep your child fit for life - and now is the best time to start.

Food is an important part of your child’s development. As well as helping them grow strong and healthy, food helps them to use their hands, mouth and senses, learn about making choices, and social skills such as sharing, taking turns and talking. The starting point for eating well is a variety of foods in manageable portions.

Mealtimes troubleshooting checklist

  1. Is your child growing and thriving? If the answer is ‘Yes’, there’s no need to worry.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Some important things you need to digest

  • Helping your child learn to enjoy eating well could help reduce their risk of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes in later life.
  • Always wash and dry your hands before handling, serving or eating food and make sure your toddler washes their hands too. This will help prevent you and your toddler from getting tummy aches and other illnesses.
  • Add variety by providing a good mix of foods and tastes and vary the way you cook. Skip the fry-ups and try grilling, stir-frying, stewing and steaming and serving some raw salads or finger foods. Remember – a portion of fruit for a toddler is what they can hold in their hand.
  • Spending time together over mealtimes is really important for a toddler. Try and eat together as a family for at least one meal a day.

To reduce the risk of choking

  • remove any stones or pips before serving
  • halve grapes lengthwise or chop small fruit, nuts and vegetables
  • cut large fruits into slices rather than chunks.

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 pasteurised cow’s milk is ideal to drink from the age of 1 year and is less expensive. Or you can continue to breastfeed.

Healthy start

All pregnant women in Scotland get free Healthy Start vitamins. If you are pregnant, or have children under the age of 4, and you receive income-related benefits, you could qualify for Healthy Start vouchers to spend on milk, and fresh and frozen fruit and vegetables. Healthy Start will also give you vouchers for free vitamins for yourself, your baby and any other children you have up to the age of 4. Even if you are already registered, you must phone 0845 607 6823 soon after your baby is born – it’s likely you’ll be eligible for double the amount.
Ask your midwife, health visitor or family nurse for an application form, help to fill it in and where you can swap Healthy Start vouchers for food and vitamins in your area. For more information visit

Food, glorious food

Eat well as a family and your toddler will soon learn to take pleasure in food and mealtimes.

Food and eating can be really enjoyable for your toddler, especially if you set a good example as a family by all eating in the same way, and trying to eat together. This may mean you need to take a look at what you’re eating too!

How much is enough?

The amount your little one eats depends on their size and how much they run about. Toddlers grow more slowly than babies, but they still have growth spurts – often around the time they start to walk or after they’ve had to fend off an illness. Toddlers can eat everything in sight one day and pick like a bird the next. Provided they’re growing at a healthy rate, there’s no need to worry. The same applies if they seem to live on just a few foods; keep offering new foods and try to encourage but not force them to try. As long as a range of healthy choices are on offer, most kids seem to balance their food intake over time.

Little and often

Most kids like to eat little and often. That’s because they have tiny stomachs so it’s easier for them to cope with three small meals and two to three small snacks rather than three big meals. It’s important that they don’t feel overwhelmed and that you spot when they’re full. As long as you’re not filling them up with sweets or drinks between meals, you’ll soon get to know their eating pattern.

Last updated: 30 April 2018