Toddlers’ appetites vary and they may eat well at some meals but much less at others.  If only healthy, nutritious foods are offered as meals and snacks, when toddlers do eat well they will be getting lots of nutrients, thus ensuring normal growth and development.

Parents often overestimate the quantity of food their toddler needs and coerce them to eat more when they may no longer be hungry.  Toddlers signal quite clearly when they have had enough by:

  • Saying ‘no’
  • Keeping their mouth shut when food is offered
  • Turning their head away from food being offered
  • Pushing away a spoon, bowl or plate containing food
  • Holding food in their mouth and refusing to swallow it
  • Spitting food out repeatedly
  • Crying, shouting or screaming
  • Gagging or retching
  • Trying to escape from the meal by climbing out of their chair or highchair.

When parents/carers override these signals and keep trying to feed they may be forcing their toddler to eat more than s/he needs. Toddlers who frequently eat more than they need are more likely to become overweight.

Toddlers may also not eat well if they are unfamiliar with their environment, the food and the routine. When confronted with unfamiliar foods or foods they do not like they may refuse them. In addition most will not eat well if they are:

  • Tired
  • Over hungry – feeling unhappy without realising that if they eat they would feel better
  • Distracted by TV, games or a new environment
  • Not feeling well – teething, sore throat, getting a cold
  • Anxious, worried, scared, rushed or sad.

When there is a routine of meals and planned snacks in place a toddler who hasn’t eaten well at one meal, may eat better at the next snack or meal. Therefore, when assessing their intake, it is best to view their consumption over a week rather than one meal or one day.

Did you know?

The toddler years (1-3 years) are a time of rapid change. After your child’s first birthday he or she may:

    • Show some food preferences – this might be for different textures, tastes and colours
    • Like to feed himself or herself and be more independent
    • Show sudden changes in likes and dislikes
    • Refuse to try new foods – this usually decreases as toddlers approach school age.

For more information on how to encourage healthy eating, check out our the NowBaby toddler section.  There’s also further information on healthy eating for toddlers, including practical tips and advice on portion sizes, planning meals, and offering snacks and drinks on the Infant and Toddler Forum website.