Healthy living

Tucker without tantrums – a guide to healthy eating for your toddler

Best food choices for toddlers

The pre-school years are the ideal time for your child to learn to eat a variety of nutritious foods.

There are only a few foods that are not suitable for young children.

  • Whole nuts are not recommended because of the danger of choking.
  • Honey is not suitable for children less than 1 as it contains bacteria that can be harmful to infants.
  • Reduced or low fat milk is not recommended for children under 2 as they are growing rapidly and have high energy needs.

The Australian guide to healthy eating (external site) will help you select the type of foods to make the best choices for your child. Remember, the amount your child eats will vary depending on their appetite and individual needs as they are growing.

Feeding toddlers

You’d think it would be easy getting toddlers to do something that should come naturally – eat!

Toddlers often have small appetites and very firm likes and dislikes.

Your baby is quickly growing into a busy and independent little person. Part of that independence can result in a battle about almost everything. Children quickly learn that food is really important to you. Battles about food cause parents the most worry – is the family food all right, or are special foods required?

Experts say …

Special meals for toddlers are not needed. Home cooked meals are quite satisfactory, but don’t load them with added sugar or salt. A taste for sugar and salt develops when children are young and it is a difficult habit to change later. Sugary foods and drinks can decay young teeth and children don’t need added salt in their food.

Food fads

Toddlers may have times when their diets are very limited. They will only eat foods prepared and presented in a certain way. They develop strong likes and dislikes, and these change frequently. Days of eating only tomato and cheese may be followed by a dislike of everything but bananas and bread.

These food fads are one of the ways children assert themselves as individuals. Fads are rarely a danger to health. The fad changes so quickly that the diet eventually becomes quite varied.

It is usually easier for parents to play along with harmless food fads.

Young children are at risk of choking

To reduce the risk of choking:

  • Always stay with your child when he or she is eating.
  • Be a good role model and encourage your child to chew well and not to overfill their mouth.
  • Never force a child to eat as this may cause them to choke.
  • Popcorn, nuts, seeds, hard lollies, and corn chips are not suitable for young children.
  • Cook hard fruit and vegetables (for example peas, beans, carrots and apple).
  • Remove small bones and gristle from meat, fish or poultry.
  • Remove the skin from sausages.

When to seek help?

Contact your child health nurse or doctor if:

  • you are worried about your child’s growth
  • your child is unwell, tired and not eating
  • mealtimes are causing a lot of family stress and anxiety.

Where to get help

Local community or child health nurse

  • See inside your baby's purple All About Me book.
  • Look in the phone directory under child health centres.
  • Visit your nearest child health centre.

Local family doctor

Dietitians Association of Australia

Ngala Helpline 

  • 8.00am – 8.00pm 7 days a week
  • Phone: 9368 9368
  • Outside metro area – Free call 1800 111 546 (free from land line only)
  • Visit the Ngala website (external site)

Raising Children Network


Acknowledgements

Child and Adolescent Health Service


This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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