Food for toddlers

The eating habits and food tastes your child develops in their toddler years usually last right into adulthood. Find out more about encouraging healthy nutrition for a healthy life.

Healthy nutrition for a healthy life

The eating habits and food tastes your child develops in their toddler years usually last right into adulthood. So it’s a time when you can make a big difference to their future – by encouraging positive attitudes towards food and providing nutritious meals and healthy snacks.             

Your toddler needs three times the energy an adult does for every kilo of body weight.1 In proportion to their size, they also need higher amounts of some nutrients, like iron, compared to adults. So to get this energy and nutrients, the food little kids eat has to be very high in energy and dense in nutrients.  

What should you feed your toddler and how much?

Most children have a built-in ability to recognise when they’re hungry and when they’re full, and to eat an amount that’s about right for them. So understanding your child's cues can help to ensure they eat an amount that's about right for them.

For healthy eating and good nutrition, toddlers need a variety of foods from the five key food groups identified in the Australian Dietary Guidelines. The amount they need varies depending on their age, activity levels, and growth and development, but the following provides a guide for toddlers aged 2-3 years old, including daily serves and examples of how to provide these to your toddler.2.

1. Vegetables and legumes/beans: 2 ½ serves per day

A standard serve is about 75g (100-350kJ), and could be:

  • ½ cup cooked green or orange vegetables (for example, broccoli, spinach, carrots, pumpkin or sweet corn)
  • ½ cup cooked, dried or canned beans, peas or lentils
  • 1 cup green leafy or raw salad vegetables
  • ½ medium potato or sweet potato
  • 1 cup (150g) cooked or canned legumes/ beans like lentils, chick peas or spilt peas

2. Fruit: 1 serve per day

A standard serve is about 150g (350kJ) and is about equal to:

  • 1 medium apple, banana, orange or pear
  • 2 small apricots, kiwi fruits or plums

Or – only occasionally – alternatives to fresh fruit:

  • 125ml (½ cup) fruit juice (with no added sugar)
  • 30g dried fruit (for example, 4 dried apricot halves,1½ tablespoons of sultanas)

3. Grains and cereals (mostly wholegrain and high fibre): 4 serves a day

One standard serve of 500kJ could be:

  • 1 slice (40g) bread
  • ½ medium (40g) roll or flat bread
  • ½ cup (75–120g) cooked rice or pasta
  • ½ cup (120g) cooked porridge
  • 2/3 cup (30g) wheat cereal flakes

4. Lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds: 1 serve a day

One standard serve (500-600kJ) is equivalent to:

  • 65g cooked (about 90–100g raw or approximately a palm size) lean meats like beef, lamb
  • 80g cooked (100g raw) lean poultry like chicken or turkey
  • 100g cooked (about 115g raw) fish fillet or one small can of fish
  • 2 large (120g) eggs

5. Milk, yoghurt, cheese and/ or alternatives (mostly reduced fat): 1 ½ serves a day

A standard serve (500-600kJ) could be:

  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 slices (40g) or 4 x 3 x 2cm cube (40g) of hard cheese, such as cheddar
  • ¾ cup (200g) yoghurt

Healthy snacks for toddlers

Your toddler needs snacks as well as meals to get the energy and nutrients they need. A good daily eating routine is 3 meals a day with 2 to 3 snacks a day in between.

It’s important the snacks are nutritious – here are some suggestions:

  • Fruit (fresh or tinned in natural juice)
  • Soft vegetable sticks
  • Cheese on toast
  • Yoghurt
  • Cheese sticks or cheese and crackers
  • Rice cakes
  • Mini muffins/mini sandwiches

What foods should you avoid or limit?

There are lots of foods that aren’t essential for the diet and are high in calories, fat, sugar or salt. If your toddler is given these foods below, keep them to a minimum.

  • Sweet biscuits, cakes and desserts
  • Ice-cream, confectionery and chocolate
  • Processed meats and sausages
  • Meat pies and other pastries
  • Commercial burgers, hot chips, and fried foods
  • Cream and butter

Sugar-sweetened cordials, soft drinks and sports drinks are high in sugar but don’t have a lot of nutrients, and they can cause dental decay, so these are best avoided. It is also best to avoid crisps and other fatty and/or salty snacks.

Toddlers can choke on hard foods, so it’s important to sit with them while they eat, and to be careful with certain foods.

  • Cook or grate hard fruit and vegetables to soften them
  • Remove all bones from fish and meat

Tips for toddler meals and healthy eating

  • Water is the best drink in-between meals.
  • It’s better to serve food in small portions than to overload the plate. Let your toddler have a second helping if they need one – this can also make them feel in control and help develop a positive attitude to eating.
  • Don’t give lollies and sweet foods as bribes or rewards for good behaviour.
  • Persevere with new foods. Toddlers may have to be offered a new food up to 10 times before they’ll actually eat it.
  • Toddlers are more likely to try a new food if they see their parents or siblings enjoying it.
  • Try and keep mealtime distractions to a minimum.
  • Routine is important, so try to eat at set meal times, and don’t let them graze all day.
  • Toddlers love to help prepare meals – it might take longer but it will encourage interest in food.

 

1. NHMRC (2005). Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand Including Dietary Recommended Intakes, Commonwealth of Australia 2006.

2. Source: Australian Dietary Guidelines, 2013, Commonwealth of Australia. www.eatforhealth.gov.au

 

 

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