Tasty toddler mealtimes

Your toddler will be growing quickly and is no doubt very active. That means they really need a healthy diet with plenty of variety to give them the nutrients and energy they need. Toddlers only have small tummies, so three small meals and two to three healthy snacks a day are plenty to make sure they don’t get too full.

Which foods should I choose?

Children need a range of foods each day. Try to make sure you’re offering your child foods from each of the food groups when you’re planning meals:

Fruit and vegetables

Fruit and veg is jam-packed with the vitamins and minerals kids need to stay healthy. Just like adults, children need at least five portions a day. As a rough guide, one portion is the amount they can fit in the palm of their hand. Don’t forget, your fruit and vegetables can be fresh, frozen or tinned, and dried fruit such as raisins or apricots and fruit juice count too.

Bread, rice, pasta, potatoes and starchy foods

These foods, the carbohydrates, give children the energy they need to grow and play, and should be the main component of your child’s meals and snacks. It’s a good idea to use a mixture of white and some wholegrain foods as wholegrain foods are very filling for toddlers.

Beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and proteins

These foods provide protein and iron for growth, and you need to try and include them at least twice a day. If possible, offer your child an oily fish, such as salmon, sardines and mackerel, a couple of times a week. Oily fish contain omega 3, which is great for brain development.

NHS Choices has some great advice for families who are vegetarian to help ensure that children are able to get all the nutrients they need.

Dairy and alternatives

These foods are important for helping children develop strong bones and teeth. Dairy foods include milk, cheese, yoghurt and dairy puddings like custard or rice pudding.  Aim for your child to have three portions of dairy per day. Remember though, children under two years old should have whole milk rather than semi-skimmed or skimmed. Skimmed milk shouldn’t be given to children under five.

Oils and spreads

Toddlers need some fat in their diet. They can get it from whole milk and other full fat dairy foods, from oily fish like salmon, sardines and mackerel, from spreads and from some vegetable oils such as rapeseed, olive or sunflower oil.

Foods to be eaten less often and in small amounts

Things like cakes, biscuits, crisps, sweets and fried food should only be for ‘treats’! Limit the amount of foods high in fat and sugar that your toddler has – they’re not part of a healthy, balanced diet.

Healthy snack ideas

The recipe for healthy snack success is simple. Just:

  1. Pick a starchy food (for example crackers, toast, crumpet, chapatti, unsalted and unsweetened popcorn, pitta, bread muffin or oatcakes)
  2. Add a topping (thin slices of cheese, hummus, hard-boiled egg, yoghurt dip, spreading of smooth nut butter)
  3. Serve with a bite-sized portion of whichever fruit or vegetables are in season (in Spring try kiwi, bananas or carrots; in Summer try raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, nectarines or peaches; in Autumn try plums, pears, tomatoes or peppers; and in Winter try apples, pears, satsumas, oranges or pineapple)

You’re ready to go!

Drinks

Offer your toddler between six and eight drinks from a beaker or cup each day. Milk and water are the best drinks for your toddler.

Squashes, flavoured milk, ‘fruit’ or ‘juice’ drinks and fizzy drinks aren’t suitable for very little ones. They contain lots of sugar and can cause tooth decay, even when they’re diluted. In older babies and toddlers, they can lead to poor appetite, poor weight gain and sometimes diarrhoea. Fizzy drinks are acidic so can damage tooth enamel. The ‘diet’ or reduced-sugar versions aren’t suitable either.

Avoid giving tea or coffee to young children because they can reduce the amount of iron absorbed from food, especially if they’re given with meals. And, when sugar is added, it can lead to tooth decay.

Making meals magical

To make eating fun:

Do….

  • Give gentle, positive encouragement and praise
  • Eat with your child so they can copy you
  • Offer regular meals and healthy snacks but start with small portions, offering seconds if your child’s still hungry
  • Turn off the TV and remove other distractions
  • Offer a food more than once, your child might dislike something one day and love it the next

Don’t …

  • Give snacks and drinks between planned meal and snack times
  • Reward good behaviour with food
  • Offer sweet foods as a bribe to get your child to eat dinner

Never force your child to eat. If they refuse a food, remove it without fuss and try again later.

Encourage your child to have fun with you making and eating food. You could:

  • Make fruit kebabs together
  • Grow cress heads in egg shells and use the cress to make egg and cress sandwiches
  • Make a fruit milkshake
  • Have an indoor teddy bears picnic
  • Use cutters to make food into different shapes for example, make sandwiches into stars or flowers

Useful links


ChatHealth logo

Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust runs a confidential secure text messaging service for parents of children aged 0-19 years called Chat Health. The service operates Monday to Friday between 9am and 5pm, excluding bank holidays. All texts will be responded to by a public health nurse (health visitor/school nurse) within 24 hours. Outside of the service working hours, you’ll receive a message back to inform you that your text will be responded to once the line reopens.

Should you require urgent health advice in the meantime, please contact your GP, visit an NHS walk-in centre or call NHS 111. For emergencies, dial 999 or visit A&E.

Leicester City: text 07520 615381

Leicestershire & Rutland: text 07520 615382

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