This page was reviewed or revised on Thursday, October 22, 2009 1:29 PM
Is your toddler testing your patience when it comes to eating?
Refusing foods, eating the same food day in and day out and taking what seems like forever to finish a meal? These are all part of normal toddler development.
Some time after the first birthday, your toddler’s growth slows down so he/she needs less food. Appetite and amounts of food eaten will vary from meal to meal and from day to day. Toddlers become more interested in the things around them and less interested in eating.
How much food do toddlers need?
You’ll be surprised at how little food a toddler needs to eat. Generally, toddlers aged 1 to 2 years can eat only about 1/4 to 1/2 of an adult portion. It’s better to offer small servings and let your child ask for more. Remember that appetite can vary a lot. Your child may appear to eat well at one meal and eat "like a bird" at the next. Don’t make an issue of it. Children are good judges of the amounts of food they need. Keep these points in mind:
You are responsible for what your child is offered to eat, where and when it is served.
Your child is responsible for how much of it is eaten and whether or not it is eaten at all.
How often do toddlers need to eat?
Toddlers have small stomachs and may not be able to eat much at one time. They usually need two to three snacks during the day, along with their meals. Offer a variety of healthy snacks about mid-way between meals. Feed snacks when your child is hungry or thirsty, not for entertainment. Although milk and juice are good snack choices, don’t over do it. These foods are naturally sweet and should not be served too often throughout the day. If your child drinks too much, they may not want to eat solid foods. Other drinks like fruit crystals, pop, coffee or tea have no nutritional value and should not be given to toddlers.
How can you wean your toddler from the bottle to a cup?
By the end of the first year, your child may be well onto the cup and off the bottle. Introducing a cup should be done slowly. Start by giving water or juice in a cup. Try serving milk in a cup at one meal. Slowly replace the bottle with a cup at each meal. If this doesn’t work, dilute the milk you put in the bottle with water, so that your toddler will prefer milk in the cup. A toddler should be able to handle a cup, although there may be spills. Don’t expect too much at first. Baby cups with lids and spouts may be helpful.
What can you do if your toddler refuses to eat certain foods?
Respect your child’s wishes, even if nothing is eaten. Children will eventually eat; they won’t let themselves go hungry. Remove the food after a reasonable length of time. Be careful not to show your disappointment. Attention paid to not eating reinforces the behaviour of not eating. Food likes and dislikes change over time. A food refused today may be eaten next week. It may take up to 10 tries for your child to actually accept a food.
How can you get your toddler to try new foods?
Introduce only one new food at a time. Serve it with other foods that your child likes and at a time when your child is hungry and in good spirits. Let your child examine the food by smelling and touching it. Encourage one bite to taste but don’t force the issue if your child won’t try it. Don’t be discouraged if your child refuses it; try again another time.
What should you do if your toddler is hooked on one food only?
Food "jags" are a normal part of toddler development and won’t last long - as long as you don't make an issue of them.
Should a toddler be given a vitamin pill?
No. A vitamin or mineral pill can’t supply the 50 or so nutrients your child needs. Also, children can overdose on vitamin pills if they take too many. A well balanced diet based on Canada’s Food Guide will give toddlers all the nutrients they need and in proper amounts.
Toddler feeding tips
• Serve toddler-size portions. Let you child ask for seconds.
• Offer finger foods often.
• Introduce a new food along with familiar foods.
• Go easy on seasonings and keep foods separate. Young children prefer simply prepared foods.
• Present a variety of foods from the four food groups. Let your child pick from what is available.
• Present food in a way your child can handle, in bite-size pieces for example.
• Encourage one bite to taste but don’t overdo the coaxing. You can’t force your child to eat anything.
• Don’t bribe or reward with food. Present food in a neutral fashion.
• Keep the television off during mealtime.
• Have your child sit with the rest of the family, at least for part of the meal.
• Don’t hurry your child. Remove the plate without comment after a reasonable length of time.
• Set a routine for eating. For example, foods are to be eaten at the table.
• Seat your child at a comfortable height to the table with feet supported.
• Eat with your child. Children learn how to eat by watching others.
A caution about choking
When it comes to choking, even everyday foods need to be watched. Foods that are small, round or oval in shape, or hard to chew can choke a baby or small child by lodging in their throat and blocking their airway. Stay with your child while they eat. They should sit, not walk or run, lie down or talk with food in their mouth. It’s a good idea to learn what to do if a child chokes.
Adapted from Health Promotion Division, Sudbury & District Health Unit. Distributed by Community Health Services