Liz Iudakhina

Liz Iudakhina

Oct 7, 2023. 4 mins read

Food

6 Top Dos and Avoidable Don'ts to Navigate Toddler Nutrition

Worried about your toddler’s eating habits? You’re certainly not alone, with up to half of all parents expressing similar concerns. 

Whether you’re unsure about the amount of food your little one accepts, or their particular unique quirks (yes, this includes only eating with that one blue fork or only accepting star-shaped sandwiches), we’ve got some helpful parenting tips to encourage more peaceful mealtimes. 

Asian child does not like to eat vegetables and refuse to eat healthy vegetables stock photo

And spoiler alert: sometimes all you need to change is not their plate, but your perspective.

1. DO: Adjust your expectations

“Fussy” or “picky” eating is incredibly common , with little ones often refusing certain flavours, textures, or even shapes and colours (sigh). An even more head-scratching toddlers’ tendency is to happily accept a certain meal one day, only to throw the exact same culinary masterpiece on the floor a few days later. 

All of those things are both frustrating and – repeat after us – totally normal in most cases. Through these experiences, toddlers are exploring the world around them, learning to push boundaries, and showcasing their newly acquired need for independence. 

Adjusting your expectations accordingly will not magically solve your child’s fussiness – but it’s half the battle in becoming a calmer, more grounded parent. 

2. DON’T: Force your toddler to eat

Not even a little. Not even “gently”. Absolutely no “just try a little piece, c’mon, buddy”. Nada. Health professionals agree that this will likely result in even more food rejection and picky behaviours. 

It’s best to encourage your child by enthusiastically eating the food yourself and discussing its properties in a positive light (“wow, this carrot is so sweet!”). This may feel like a one-sided performance for a while, but over time, you are likely to see your toddler getting more adventurous at the table.

3. DO: Offer new foods repeatedly

Great news for busy parents: there’s absolutely no need to completely revamp your family menu if your toddler happens to refuse your offerings - even multiple times. 

Research shows that repeated exposure is the key to reduce refusals and food aversions, with 10 or more (yep, more) encounters needed for your child to become comfortable with a particular meal. 

And if they still don’t seem to like it after countless attempts? That’s fine too! Just like grown ups, kids are bound to have their own unique preferences.

4. DON’T: Overfill The Plate

Once you have a good grasp on what your toddler likes, it may be tempting to fill their plate to the brim with all their favourite foods.

But hold on, chief chef! Toddlers have little tummies, and while they might have a gigantic appetite for exploration and playtime, their stomachs are actually quite petite. So, it's important not to go overboard, or else your child may actually feel overwhelmed and refuse the meal altogether. Give them just the right amount of food instead - you can always offer seconds later. 

Plus, it reduces the chance of food wastage – yay for saving money and embracing sustainable living!

5. DO: Divide Responsibilities

…with no one other than your toddler! 

Imagine you're the curator of a fantastic food gallery, and your toddler is the discerning art critic. Your job is to offer a colourful, nutritious spread of options, like a gallery displaying masterpieces. You present them with veggies, fruits, grains, and proteins, like an art exhibit for their taste buds. 

Now, here's where the magic happens – it's your toddler's responsibility to decide what they want to try and how much they want to eat. Just like art, taste is subjective, and toddlers are tiny connoisseurs, developing their own palate. 

So, while it’s on you to create the menu, let your little one decide what culinary masterpieces they want to savour. 

6. DON’T: Ignore Your Intuition

True – typically, there’s no need to worry if your child is bright, energetic, passes their general health checks with flying colours, and their weight gain is on track. All these things usually signal that your little one is eating enough.

However, if something feels off – for example, the range of foods your toddler has even accepted is very narrow, or they can go without entire food groups for weeks on end, it may be time to get a consultation with:

  • A trusty GP

  • Your child and family health nurse

  • Or a paediatric dietitian (although typically this step is done by referral, there’s nothing stopping you from booking an appointment directly). 

Remember – as a parent, you know your little one best, and there’s never anything wrong in seeking a professional opinion.

So, there you have it, fellow busy parents!

Armed with our tips, with a dash of love, a dollop of healthy options, and a pinch (handful) of patience, you'll become the maestro of toddler nutrition in no time. 

Remember, it's all about balance, patience, and a sprinkle of creativity. Here's to happy, healthy eating and smiles that can come with it. Cheers to your tiny food explorers and your nutritionally vibrant journey together!

Liz Iudakhina

Liz Iudakhina

Researcher . Dietitian . Crazy cat lady . Toddler mum

When she’s not decoding the universe or negotiating with a tiny human over juice vs. water ratios, you’ll find her cuddled up with two meowing furballs. A true plate-spinning pro, she turns broccoli into superhero snacks and threads various facets of motherhood into delightful stories.

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