Encouraging Toddlers' Healthy Eating Habits

by - Tuesday, April 23, 2013

As your baby grows to a walking talking little person, she may well become develop fussy choices about what, when and how much she wants to eat. Rather than sit quietly in the high chair, she'll likely want to feed herself and make choices about what she will - or won't - put into her mouth.

It's essential that a child's healthy eating habits are developed early to ensure she is nutritionally fulfilled both now and in later life. Here are some helpful hints and morsels of advice to make meal-times healthy and happier for you both.

Don't worry about how much your toddler eats

Through growth and development spurts, babies experience phases of seeming incessantly hungry, but by the toddler years their appetite may wane. Forcing a toddler to eat their whole meal can cause unnecessary tantrums and may lead to eating problems in the future.

Don't worry if your toddler doesn't want to eat their whole meal: she instinctively knows how much she needs to eat and will be sure to let you know if she is hungrier later on. 

Eat together

Try to eat your meals at the same time as your toddler and enjoy family meals around the table as often as possible. Your toddler will enjoy the social interaction of eating together, particularly if she is presented with the same foods she watches you enjoy.

Those who eat at a set time and place are far more likely to enjoy a nutritionally balanced diet and of an optimum physical state. Toddlers learn much by watching and mimicking their parents behaviour, after all you are her greatest role model!

Food should not be used as bribery

It's all too easy for parents to offer sweet treats as a reward, but this can lead to poor eating habits. Telling your toddler that they may eat dessert only after finishing their savoury dish will cause her to eat in order to please you, which should be avoided. Similarly, rewarding other good behaviour with sweets or chocolate, for example, will lead to expectations of this reward on many more occasions.

Instead, help your child to learn that food and snacks should be consumed at certain times of day and that confectionery, cakes and other sweet foods are occasional treats. Model this behaviour to help reinforce this healthier approach to food.

Avoid too much fruit juice (as well as sugary drinks)

Fruit juice is a great means of ensuring your toddler meets the requirement of five fruit and vegetable portions a day, but is best served only at meal times. 

Ideally your toddler should consume no more than 180ml of fruit juice a day - though obviously preferable to sugary carbonated drinks, juice has a high sugar content which can lead to tooth decay, diarrhoea and nutritional imbalances. Offer milk or water as refreshments between meals instead.

Offer a variety of foods (even if your toddler doesn't want to eat!)

Favouring a particular type of food or refusing to eat certain foods altogether is perfectly normal behaviour for developing toddlers. 

Your toddler is developing her sense of self and is keen to make her own choices about what she chooses to consume. Despite these finicky phases, it's important to always offer a variety of foods - even if you are sure she won't eat it. Ensuring nutritionally balanced foods are available establishes normality: if you only present plates of what your toddler chooses to eat, she will expect only food she wants and be unwilling to try new tastes in the future.

Join the discussion!

Do you have any helpful tips for encouraging healthy eating habits for toddlers? What experiences have you had in encouraging a taste for a variety of different foods?

Please feel free to share your comments and suggestions below.

Photo credit: CarbonNYC, via Flickr

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