My Toddler Won’t Eat
Feeding a Toddler

Feeding toddlers can be challenging. They are often picky eaters, are hesitant to try new foods, and in general, don’t seem to eat very much.

It may be helpful to remember a toddler needs a lot less to eat than you think. Remember that children grow much slower during their second year so their appetite may slow a bit.

This article is full of suggestions to help you have a toddler that likes to eat. Many food suggestions for toddlers are at the end of the article.

A common problem with toddlers is that they just won’t eat. This is often caused by the toddler drinking four bottles a day plus lots of juice. A toddler only needs two cups of whole milk a day plus 4 oz. of juice. That leaves plenty of room in the tummy for solid food and a healthy appetite. If your toddler isn’t eating like you think he should, keep track of his bottles for a day. He may be drinking all of his calories. Slowly wean him to 16 oz. of milk (two cups) and 4 oz. of juice per day.

Offer him meal and snacks at the table and let him do the rest.

Your Toddler’s First Chair

Toddlers are usually children from about 12-24 months of age, or the time period when the child begins to walk, or toddle. Many toddlers want to do everything themselves. This can be tough because even though they have the will to do everything themselves, they may not quite have the skill. Mealtime is a great place to let them "do it themselves." They can finger feed, drink from a cup, and even practice with a spoon.

When your baby wants to feed himself, it’s time to get a high chair. A high chair will help your baby learn how to feed himself. It will also help your baby be part of the family table. Your baby’s first chair is a very important chair!

Say “Yes to a Mess”!

Playing with food is part of learning how to eat. Your toddler will learn a lot about food before it ever gets into his mouth by touching and playing with food. Playing with food can be messy. That’s okay! Say yes to a mess and help your toddler learn to enjoy eating a variety of foods.

Bring his high chair to the family table. Your toddler will learn how to eat by watching you and others eat. Talk while you eat – talk about how the food tastes good, talk about how you chew the food. Offer a drink from a cup without a lid.

Toddlers need to eat with their hands. Most foods can become fun finger foods. Help your toddler wash his hands before eating. Offer soft finger foods on the high chair tray. Use table foods when possible. Avoid foods that are high in salt, sugar or spices for young toddlers.

Be ready for a mess. Put newspaper under the high chair before eating. The newspaper can be easily thrown away later. Or put a large towel under your child’s chair. Shake off any excess food and wash the towel. Clean up can be easy!

Your Toddler’s Diet

When your baby turns 1 year old, it is time to wean from the bottle. Wean your baby from the bottle when he is 12 to 14 months old. Most babies can drink whole milk when they are 1 year old.

Your baby will probably drink less when he is weaned from the bottle. That’s okay! Too much milk can lead to iron deficiency or anemia. Offer 16 ounces of whole milk during the day. Let your toddler drink milk from a cup at meal times and snack times. Your toddler will be drinking less milk and eating more foods. Offer 3 meals a day. Offer 3 small snacks a day.

What will my toddler eat?

Offer small amounts of the foods that your family is eating at meal times.

Offer soft foods, cut into small pieces that are easy for your toddler to eat.

Children under the age of 2 years usually eat small amounts. Offer 1 to 2 tablespoons of each food to your toddler. Let him ask for more if he is still hungry.

Let your toddler decide how much he needs to eat. Offer food every 2 to 3 hours, at meals or snacks. Snacks are small meals. Snacks are not treats.

Here are some ideas food suggestions for toddlers:

  • Fruits and Vegetables: use soft fruits and soft cooked vegetables cut into bite pieces. This could be fresh, frozen, or canned. Examples include bananas, peaches, pears, watermelon, applesauce, cooked carrots, peas, cooked green beans, etc. Toddlers should not have raw vegetables. They may choke on them.
  • Cereals and Grains: most toddlers love these foods. They include cereals like cheerios, or hot cereal like oatmeal or cream of wheat. (WIC approved cereals are high in iron! Your toddler will need this now that he is on whole milk.) Also in this group are crackers, bread or toast, pancakes, rice, and noodles.
  • Protein: this can be a little tricky for toddlers. Meats can be hard for them to chew, but they need the protein and the iron. Try foods high in protein like eggs, softer meat like meatloaf, meatballs, lean lunchmeat, soft chicken, hamburger meat, beans, and tofu (a soy protein). When you have a meat your toddler can eat, wrap a little up and freeze it for when you have a meat they can’t chew.
  • Milk Products: this is usually easy!! Your toddler needs about 16 oz. (2 cups) of whole milk per day. Use whole milk for good brain growth. Also in this group is cheese and yogurt. If your toddler has cheese and yogurt every day you may want to cut back slightly on the whole milk to drink.
  • Fats and Sweets: limit things like chips, fried foods, kool-aid or sweetened drinks, and candy.

Remember your toddler is watching what you eat! Set a good example by having simple, healthy meals at the family table. Here is my golden rule of feeding children:

Parents are responsible for what is put on the table to eat; children are responsible for what they put in their mouth. Put good things on your table to eat and your toddler will do the rest!

Early Head Start

Nutrition News

January 2007

From your nutritionist,