Healthy Eating Habits in Toddlers & Young Children
It’s almost every parents concern whether their child is eating right and eating enough. Some parents struggle to get food past their little ones lips whilst others wonder where their child puts it all!
The toddler period is actually an ideal time to start teaching them about healthy eating habits. That’s because the patterns they develop now will likely be the ones they’ll carry into adulthood. So start them off right with these golden rules of toddler dining.
Let your child choose.
Independence plays a major part in toddler development, so offer a healthy choice (would you like scrambled egg or cereal for breakfast?). It’s one way you can tap into their desire for control while still making sure they’re eating healthily.
Get them involved!
Even if it’s just pouring their cereal and milk into the breakfast bowl, independent little toddlers seem to be more interested in sitting down and eating their creations when they’ve had some involvement. We sometimes go “shopping” in the lead up to meal time where we rummage around in the cupboard and fridge and see what we could have for tea and put it in their toy shopping basket. Helping to prepare meals can encourage your toddler to eat what they’ve helped to make.
Provide healthy meals and snacks.
Limit the foods that are high in bad fats, sugar, cholesterol, and sodium. So, what should you serve? In our household we aim to provide protein (eg; eggs, tofu, seitan, buckwheat, quinoa, cottage cheese, soya beans), dairy foods, brightly coloured vegetables (we use fresh and frozen) and fruit, and whole-grain breads, pastas and cereals. Don’t worry if your toddler doesn’t eat from every food group at every meal, as long as their diet is balanced overall.
Take your cues from your toddler.
It’s important to recognise that young children have a pretty good awareness of when they need to eat and when they don’t. Some days your child will eat like a horse, other days it will seem as though they’ve forgotten the need to eat. This is normal, and don’t feel compelled to sit them down and not allow them to leave the table until every pea on the plate has been eaten. You’ll be doing your toddler a big favour by not insisting they eat when they’re not hungry. Part of teaching your toddler healthy eating habits is helping them to recognise when they feel hungry and when they feel full. So continue to offer your child regular meals and snacks, but if they refuse, let them. You can offer another healthy snack later. If your child consistently doesn’t finish what’s on his plate, try scaling back the portions and letting him ask for more if he wants it. Rest assured that if your toddler is growing well, you can feel confident that he’s doing fine.
Be a good role model.
If your toddler sees you eating a healthy balanced diet which includes protein, whole grains, and plenty of fruits and vegetables while avoiding fried and junky foods, they’re much more likely to follow your lead. Otherwise, you’ll have a hard job explaining why mummy can eat chips for dinner while the kids have to eat vegetables!
Mix things up.
I’ve often asked my little one what they’d like for lunch or dinner and they’ve replied “Ready Brek!”. Who says your toddler can’t have peas and pasta for breakfast or porridge for dinner? As long as it’s nutritious, it doesn’t matter when they eat it.
Keep offering new foods.
Research shows that it can take ten or 15 tries before a toddler will accept a new food. So there’s no need to force the issue each time. If at first you don’t succeed, simply try, try, try again.
Have family meals together.
Sitting down for a family meal at least once a day is a great way to model healthy eating habits for your toddler and also teach the lesson that meals are about more than just food; they’re about spending time with family and friends without the distraction of toys, games and TV. Studies have also found that children who have regular family meals eat more healthy foods (and less junk food) than kids who don’t have family meals together.
Please note, we are not experts in nutrition or medical professionals. The information on this site is a result of the research we have carried out and from information sourced from reliable sources on the internet and in books.