Your Toddler’s Nutrition: A Guide to What, When & How Much?
Ah your toddler suddenly needs more food! Reading on will give you specific advice on what foods, how much and when to feed your little one
6 min read
As any exhausted parent knows, toddlers are bundles of never-ending energy. Whether they’re running, jumping, skipping, hopping or scrambling, they tackle it all with enviable gusto before, hopefully, flopping exhaustedly into bed for a well-earned sleep.
Fuelling their appetite for their explorations is really important, giving them energy to race around like the little loons they are. This starts with great nutrition and great eating habits.
Here’s our guide to your toddler’s nutrition – advice on what, when and how much to feed them, plus guidance on drinks.
How to create life-long good eating habits for your toddler
Before we get into the food to fuel your toddler, let’s look at laying the foundations of great, life-long eating habits. The best way to get your toddler enjoying their food, and a wide range of it, is to make everything related to food fun.
Do this by:
- Making mealtimes fun by gathering all the family together (if possible).
- Focusing on the food – turn off the TV and phones.
- Eating at times that suit your toddler, even if that means eating earlier than you normally would.
- Getting them involved in preparing the meal, whether it’s washing the veg or getting their own plate out.
- Taking them food shopping and helping them to choose healthy foods, like fruit and veg.
What to feed your toddler
Like you, your toddler needs a healthy, well-balanced diet that includes a wide range of foods and snacks, like:
- Fruit and vegetables (raw or cooked).
- Bread and cereal.
- Meat and fish or vegetarian foods.
- Milk products, like cheese and yoghurt.
Try to offer them plenty of variety and let them choose – be sure to heap on the praise when they eat.
They might leave some things on their plate, or even refuse to try them. That’s absolutely fine – they’ll probably make up for it by eating other foods. So, if they turned their nose up at green beans, you may find they tuck into broccoli or a banana instead.
Keeping offering the rejected food in the future, they’ll probably change their mind (but hey f you are concerned, there’s heaps more info in our expert guide for feeding a fussy eater).
Toddler-friendly snacks and treats
Your toddler needs good fats to help them grow and give them energy, you’ll find these in avocado and peanut and other nut butters. Help your toddler understand that a little bit of not-so-good fats that you’ll find in things like chips, lollies and ice cream are treats to be enjoyed occasionally (not every day), rather than ‘bad’ foods.
Let them enjoy their treat 1-2 hours before a meal so they have time to get hungry again.
For more advice on what foods to feed your toddler, check out our top 10 toddler feeding tips!
How much to feed your toddler
Your toddler doesn’t need to eat as much as you, so their meal sizes need to be smaller than yours. When they’re full, let them stop eating – their little stomach means you won’t always see a clean plate.
We’ve got a great guide to serving sizes for a toddler. Serving sizes are only recommendations, you may find your little one can’t eat it all in one meal. In which case, you can split one serving into multiple smaller amounts for your toddler to enjoy throughout the day.
When to feed your toddler
To have the energy to run around and play, your toddler needs to eat regularly – aim for three meals per day, plus snacks in between.
Think of snacks as healthy mini-meals crammed full of protein and energy. Try to offer snacks 1-2 hours before mealtimes so your little one’s got time to get hungry for their meal.
A tired toddler is tricky to tempt with food, so try to feed them before they get too tired. This may mean that lunch is really early, like 11am, which gives them time to enjoy their food and digest it before heading off for their nap. It’s the same with dinner – have it early, say 6pm, before they get too tired and grouchy.
If you’ve got a little food hound who’s constantly asking for food but doesn’t seem hungry, go for the distraction trick and keep them so busy they won’t notice they’re not getting food.
Drinks for your toddler
Thanks to constantly moving around and all the growing, your toddler needs plenty of drinks – and the best drink for them is free and easy: water! Milk is also a good choice, but it can fill up their tummy, which means they might not eat well. Try giving milk after meals, with water in between meals.
Your little one is probably too busy to think about drinking, so offer them small drinks throughout the day.
To help care for your toddler’s teeth, offer drinks in a cup rather than a bottle. Plus, keep flavoured milk, juice and fizzy drinks as occasional treats, less than once a week. Dilute juice with plenty of water – one-part juice to 10 parts water – to help protect teeth.
Avoid tea, coffee and energy drinks – your little one doesn’t need caffeine for energy.
Keep your toddler safe when eating
Toddlers love to feed themselves, either with a spoon or with their fingers. Keep them safe while they’re learning this valuable skill by:
- Teaching them to wash their hands before they eat.
- Teaching them to sit down while they’re eating and drinking.
- Staying with them and supervising.
Because your toddler is still learning how to chew, grind and swallow their food properly, they can choke pretty easily. To help prevent this:
- Avoid small, round, hard foods like nuts, seeds and grapes.
- Try changing the texture of their food (cook, grate, mash, chop or boil it) to help them chew and grind it.
- Remove any tricky and dangerous parts of food, so slice off apple skin or chop out any tough fibres.
Tips for healthy, happy eaters
We’ve compiled a great range of tips to help you and your toddler in your eating adventures. It covers everything from exploring new foods to dealing with picky eaters.