Setting up a healthy eating plan for kids has never been more important, especially in the early toddler years. Good food habits learnt in childhood can last a lifetime. To help give your toddler a balanced and nutritious diet, below are some tips on planning meals.
Meal Planning Tips
You might want to offer an evening snack to your toddler later on, depending on your family’s routine.
If they ask for food between these meals and snacks, all you need to do is to reassure them that the next meal is coming up soon.
Don’t offer them more as this may fill them up and they won’t be hungry for the next meal. It can also contribute to tooth decay because of the frequent ‘topping up’ of the acid and bacteria cycle in the mouth.
Many toddlers like to have their dinner at around 5pm. Although this may be too early for your whole family to eat, making a hungry toddler wait to eat can be very challenging.
Involve your toddler in very basic meal preparation. If you’re preparing vegetable recipes for your toddler, for example, they can help wash the vegetables or tear up lettuce leaves, or mash banana or avocado. This will help them to link effort with rewards, and foods with their origin.
Foods rich in protein help to satisfy hunger and take longer to digest. Aim for a serve of protein at each main meal. Red meat recipes are a great source of protein for toddlers. For more, see Toddler Food Groups.
If your toddler is protesting about sitting in a high chair, a small table and chair may suit them better.
Your toddler has an inbuilt desire for independence. Let them feed themselves and make their own choices about how much they eat. Finger food is an easy-to-prepare option, with plenty of snack ideas for toddlers out there to suit your child’s tastes.
Be a role model for healthy eating behaviours yourself. If they see you eating sweets and treats, they’re likely to want some too, rather than enjoying the healthy recipes that you have planned, using your meal plan for toddlers.
Expect some protests and tantrums at meal times, especially if your toddler is tired. Toddlers can be very clever at maximising the family’s attention during meals, so stay calm, focus on something else and avoid giving your toddler the impression that they are the main event.
Offer milk after their meals to ensure that a good amount of solid food is consumed. For more, read about the role of toddler milk drinks.
Don’t be alarmed if your toddler’s appetite slows down. Overall growth at this age will not be as rapid as it was in their first year of life.
Foods To Avoid
There are some foods that are best avoided for children under the age of two. For a full range of recipes made with foods safe for toddlers, check out our 1-3 year old recipe page.
Reduced fat varieties of milk should not be offered until after the age of two.
Small, hard foods which could potentially cause choking need to be avoided. Foods too risky for young toddlers include popcorn, nuts, hard lollies, raw fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grapes and whole cherry tomatoes.
Sweet or salty ‘snack’ foods. Foods wrapped in a layer of plastic should sound a warning bell. They tend to be high in added sugars, salts and saturated fats, which contribute to childhood obesity. Filling up on unhealthy snacks can affect their appetite, lessening their hunger for energy dense, nutritionally appropriate snacks for toddlers.
Read the labels of foods you are offering and aim to minimise additives and flavouring.
To find out how milk should fit into your toddler’s diet, read The Role of Milk for Toddlers.
For information on healthy daily serving sizes for toddlers, see Toddler Food Groups.