Most parents worry that their toddler is not eating enough, and may spend time encouraging their toddler to eat more than they need.  A toddler taste development and appetites vary and they eat more on some days and less on other days. Over a day they may eat well at one or two meals and eat less at other meals. Over time most toddlers will eat just the amount of calories in food and drinks that they need to grow normally.

Toddlers also vary in the way they like their food. Some are happy to eat foods served with sauces and don’t mind foods all mixed together in casseroles and dishes like lasagne. However other toddlers prefer their foods dry without sauces and all foods kept separate on the plate. They may like:

  • Pasta served dry or only with grated cheese and the sauce served in a separate bowl or just pieces of meat and vegetables with no sauce at all
  • Yogurt/custard in a small bowl and fruit or cake on a plate on the side
  • Only one food as a sandwich filling and with vegetable sticks or slices on the side e.g. hummus sandwich with red pepper sticks on the side.

How and why your toddler taste develops into a preference

During the second half of the first year, most children are willing to try many different foods, flavours and textures. In this way, they learn to like foods that their parents and siblings like and know to be safe. By about a year, infants already have ideas about what foods they like, and what those foods look like. If your toddler is not offered a wide variety of tastes and textures, they will be more likely to become fussy eaters.

During their second year, toddlers may begin to develop a neophobic response to food, which means they become wary of trying new foods. This may be a survival mechanism to prevent your increasingly mobile toddler from poisoning him or herself through eating anything and everything. At this stage, they may reject a food on sight without tasting it, which is sensible as it would not be safe to taste an unknown and possibly poisonous substance. Toddlers may also reject foods that look slightly different from those that they usually eat.

It is best to allow your toddler to eat according to their appetite rather than to specific serving sizes. The amounts toddlers eat will vary from toddler to toddler – some eat more or less than average intakes, and yet grow and develop normally. Generally, they will eat larger amounts as they grow. Your toddler should not be urged to finish everything on their plate or eat more than they wish to. Forcing toddlers to eat when they don’t want to, or withholding food that they like makes mealtimes upsetting for them.

Signals that your toddler has had enough or dislikes a certain food include:

  • Shutting their mouths
  • Turning their heads away
  • Pushing the spoon or plate aside
  • Refusing to swallow and holding food in their mouths
  • Spitting food out
  • Screaming or crying
  • Gagging or vomiting

For more information on how to encourage healthy eating, check out our the NowBaby toddler section.