What do Toddlers Eat?

by Laura_Philips

Feeding a toddler can be a challenge, what do toddlers eat and what should they be eating? Tips to help you get the most out of family mealtime.

What do Toddlers like to Eat and What Should they Eat?

Feeding a toddler is an adventure in the kitchen. Getting a toddler to eat healthy food is a challenge, compromising with a toddler over the types of food they eat can be a solution.

I have three children, all past the toddler stage now who will eat pretty much anything I put in front of them but it wasn't always that easy. I firmly believe that as long as you offer your toddler a wide variety of different foods you are doing it right. 

Toddlers are picky by nature, they are at the stage where they want to be independent in some aspects and not in others and food is one of the challenges that face parents of young children.

Most toddlers will change their mind about they types of food they like on a very regular basis. They might love cheese one day and the next cheese is "yukky". I can't count the amount of times I place my children's favorite food in front of them only to be told in no uncertain terms that "they do not eat that!"

Here are some tips to get your toddler eating the foods you want them to eat.

Toddler Healthy Eating
Toddler Healthy Eating

What to do When Your Toddler Won't Eat

As long as your toddler is not refusing food because they are unwell you can assume that your child is displaying his or her independence by refusing an otherwise favorite food. Many parents face this issue and I have heard many mom's cry in frustration "my toddler won't eat anything".

Now we have all heard the line, they won't starve if they miss one meal but most parents will fret if their toddler skips a meal. We also worry that we will throw them out of their routine and if they don't eat their evening meal they will wake up in the middle of the night starving.

What we should remember here is that toddlers are not usually able to eat like adults, three large meals a day can seem daunting to a small child and most toddlers prefer to graze throughout the day. So how do we find a balance?

Smaller meals and more often can be a solution, that way they get to eat with the family but if they feel the need throughout the day they can have smaller snacks. Try to leave small snacks within reach of your toddler and observe when they eat them. Don't make a fuss but a small bowl of raisins or chopped banana left in reach of your toddler can give a great insight to when they are hungry.

By doing this every day for a week you can learn when your child feels hungry throughout the day. A toddler who has to wait three of four hours from lunch to dinner may often refuse to eat dinner because they are too hungry and this has made them cranky.

Once you have discovered the times during the day when your child likes to eat you can start adding the things you want them to eat and giving them meals at those times. The best way to do this is to prepare the food as if you are making something for yourself to eat.

Your toddler will notice you are busy and will be curious about what you are doing, make a place at the table for yourself and your toddler and place the food in the center with a serving spoon. Serve yourself some food without commenting and see what happens. You might just find your toddler is interested enough to join you, yet it is totally their choice at this stage and watch to see if they serve themselves something to eat. Young children love to imitate their parents and if he/she sees you doing this they are much more likely to try than if they are picked up, placed in front of a large plate of food and told to eat it.

Hiding Healthy Food in Meals

Although it can be time consuming, preparing meals for your toddler means you get to decide exactly what goes into their food.

Say for instance your toddler will only eat pasta and sauce or even pizza. If you are making pasta try making your own sauce, there are many healthy foods such as grated carrot that can be added when cooking the sauce that will go undetected by your toddler on the plate.

Another example is pizza, home made pizza is a lot easier to make that it seems and when making the sauce for the pizza you can add finely chopped vegetables to the mix that they won't notice!

Does my Toddler Eat too Much?

How do you know if your toddler is eating too much? It can be hard to tell, as long as your toddler is not overweight and they are enjoying a wide variety of different food types you can assume that they are eating the right amount for their nutritional needs.

A balanced diet for toddlers should include everything from healthy foods to the occasional treat. 

When my children were younger we had three main family meals a day but I tried to give my toddlers up to six smaller meals each day, three meals all together as a family (with smaller portions for my toddler) and three light snacks in-between meals such as yoghurts, fruits or cheese. 

Toddler
Toddler

Is my Toddler Hungry or Thirsty?

Sometimes small children don't know for themselves. Thirst can often be mistaken for hunger with toddlers so if you are trying to keep your child in a meal routine and they tell you they are hungry or they seem to be getting a little cranky, firstly offer them a small drink. If they drink it and still want more you can offer them a light snack and assume it was hunger but if they are satisfied with the drink and it is not long until meal time then you can leave them for a little while. If the come back and still want food, offer them a snack.

How to Make a Toddler Eat?

You should never make a toddler eat. Offer food, encourage eating, but how would you feel if you were not hungry and someone tried to make you eat?

Mealtimes with toddlers should be lighthearted, a toddler is less likely to eat anything if you make a big deal out of it. In fact the more you try to get them to eat something the less likely they are to eat it, now or in the future. Toddlers do not like to feel under pressure to eat. At family mealtimes, simply make the food and give everyone a portion, without comment. 

If the eat it, great, you can say well done at the end of the meal and if you want to give them a treat then you can. If they don't eat it or start kicking up a stink about the food try and ignore the outburst as best you can. You can then offer an alternative such as toast if you are worried that they will go hungry but do not offer it only to your toddler or they will think that if they refuse something they will get a different choice.

Simply place the (healthy) alternative on a dish in the center of the table for anyone who want's some. That way you can see whether he/she is hungry enough to eat or is just not hungry at that particular time.

Whatever you do, do not get angry with your toddler for not eating, this can cause negative associations with food for your toddler and increase the problem.

Updated: on 01/31/2012, Laura_Philips
 
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sheilamarie on 02/20/2012

I agree whole heartedly with your advice to keep the emotion out of feeding your toddler. So many food issues with older kids and adults can be traced to making meals emotionally charged.
Great article. I'm a fan.

AJ on 02/19/2012

Four kids, all raised the same way as far as food is concerned. The youngest looks at a new dish as though you have put raw, witchety grubs that are still wriggling in front of her - she is 13.

Yes, everything you say makes sense and will work with most toddlers. But not all of them :)

teddletonmr on 01/30/2012

I agree it is extremely important. Forgive my banter on the puppy and the peanut butter story, I'm just an ole softy when it comes to kids and pets.
Be well, Mike

Sheri_Oz on 01/30/2012

This is so important. How you relate to your child's eating patterns at this age pretty much helps set up their relationship with food for the rest of their lives. Food is supposed to be eaten when hungry and too often too many people have lost that connection.

teddletonmr on 01/29/2012

like it, really good ideas here on how to get to the bottom of what toddlers eat. My youngest daughter is now 4 going on 5 and will eat junk all day if we let her,
I found her sitting looking out the window, jar of peanut butter under one arm puppy to her right.
Spoon in hand, muttering a bite for you, and a bite for me as she feed the puppy the peanut butter.
It was all I could do to keep from laughing out loud, the troubleing part. Have you ever watched a puppy eat peanut butter off your little girls spoon?
Thanks for sharing your helpful insights.
Best wishes, and happy Parenting. Mike

Angel on 01/29/2012

With four kids I have a lot of experience with toddlers eating. I actually miss those times because they were not so picky with their food like they are now! I have a hard time getting my 9 yr old and 12 yr old to eat anything good for them. They ate all kinds of good stuff when they were toddlers.. Great article.. look forward to many more.



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