Setting up a healthy balance of good nutrition has never been more important especially in the early toddler years. Good food habits learnt in childhood can last a lifetime. To help give your toddler a good balance of food below are some tips on planning meals.
Toddlers need structure so offer food 5-6 times a day – at breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner time.
- You might want to offer an evening snack later on, depending on your family’s routine
- If they ask for food between these meals and snacks, all you need to do is to reassure them that the next meal is coming up soon
- Don’t offer them more as this may fill them up and they won’t be hungry for the next meal. It can also contribute to teeth decay because of the frequent ‘topping up’ of the acid and bacteria cycle in the mouth.
Many toddlers like to have their dinner at around 5pm. Although this may be too early for your whole family to eat, making a hungry toddler wait to eat can be very challenging. It can work to offer them their evening meal early, with their late snack when the rest of the family eats.
Involve your toddler in very basic meal preparation. Washing some vegetables, tearing up lettuce leaves, mashing banana or avocado will all help them to link effort with rewards and foods with their origin.
Foods rich in protein help to satisfy hunger and take longer to digest. So aim for a serve of protein at each main meal. For more see Toddler Food Groups.
If your toddler is protesting about sitting in a high chair, a small table and chair may suit them better.
Your toddler has an inbuilt desire for independence. Let them feed themselves and make their own choices about how much they eat.
Be a role model for healthy eating behaviours yourself. If they see you eating sweets and treats, they’re likely to want some too.
Expect some protests and tantrums at meal times, especially if your toddler is tired.
- Toddlers can be very clever at maximising the family’s attention during meals, so stay calm, focus on something else and avoid giving your toddler the impression that they are the main event.
Offer milk after their meals to ensure that a good amount of solid food is consumed. For more read The Role of Milk for Toddlers.
Don’t be alarmed if your toddler’s appetite slows down. Overall growth at this age will not be as rapid as it was in their first year of life.
Foods To Avoid:
- Reduced fat varieties of milk should not be offered until after the age of 2 years
- Small, hard foods which could potentially cause choking still need to be avoided. Popcorn, nuts, hard lollies, raw fruits and vegetables, whole grapes and whole cherry tomatoes are too risky for young toddlers to eat
- Sweet or salty ‘snack’ type foods. Those wrapped in a layer of plastic should sound a warning bell as they tend to be high in added sugars, salts and saturated fats, which contribute to childhood obesity. Filling up on unhealthy snacks can mean their appetite is affected and they are not as hungry for energy dense, nutritionally appropriate foods
- Read the labels of foods you are offering and aim to minimise additives and flavouring.
To find out how milk should fit into your toddler’s diet read The Role of Milk for Toddlers.
For information on healthy daily serving sizes for toddlers, see Toddler Food Groups.