Toddler meal time tips

Your little one may well be going through their ‘fussy’ stage. Don’t worry, this is normal, you just need to develop some strategies to cope until they eventually grow out of it.

Meal time do’s and don’ts for toddlers

DO

  • Eat with your toddler as often as possible. Toddlers learn by copying their parents and other children.
  • Keep a food diary of what they eat throughout the day, rather than worrying about whether they’ve eaten enough at each meal.
  • Relax and go with their fussy eating. They will grow out of it.
  • Make sure there’s something they like at every meal.
  • Develop a daily routine of three meals and two to three snacks around their sleeping pattern. Toddlers don’t eat well if they become over hungry or very tired.
  • Check they are not still drinking too much milk – avoid large bottles of milk and no more than 3 small cups of 4 fl oz each day. Too much milk will fill them up and leave them little appetite for food.
  • Check they are not drinking large quantities of fruit juice or other sweet drinks. These will decrease their appetite for food.
  • Offer two courses at meals: one savory course followed by a sweet course. This gives two opportunities for your child to take in the calories and nutrients needed and offers a wider variety of foods. It also makes the meal more interesting.
  • Praise them when they eat well. Toddlers like praise.
  • Make positive comments about the food. Parents and carers are strong role models. If you make positive comments about your food, toddlers will be more willing to try it.
  • Offer finger foods as often as possible. Toddlers enjoy having the control of feeding themselves with finger foods and like to feel involved.
  • Eat in a calm, relaxed environment without distractions such as TV, games and toys. Toddlers concentrate on one thing at a time. Distractions make it more difficult to concentrate on eating.
  • Finish the meal within about 20 to 30 minutes and accept that after this they’re not going to eat any more. Carrying the meal on for too long is unlikely to result in them eating much more. It is better to wait for the next snack or meal and offer nutritious foods then.
  • Take away uneaten food without comment. Accept that they have eaten enough.

DON’T

  • Panic if they stop eating a particular food. This won’t generally last.
  • Insist they finish everything on their plate. Toddlers should be allowed to eat to their appetite and parents and carers should respect this.
  • Pressure them to eat more when they have indicated to you they have had enough.
  • Talk about them being fussy. They will understand and may start to feel tense at meal times.
  • Take away a refused meal and offer a completely different one in its place. They will soon take advantage if you do this. In the long run it is better to offer family meals and accept that they will prefer some foods to others.
  • Offer the sweet course as a reward. You will make the sweet course seem more desirable.
  • Offer large drinks of milk or fruit juice within an hour of the meal. Large drinks will reduce your toddler’s appetite for the meal. Give water instead.
  • Offer snacks just before a meal. The snacks will stop them feeling hungry enough for the food you are offering at the meal.
  • Give a snack very soon after a meal if they haven’t eaten well at the meal. Many parents may do this just to ensure their toddler has eaten something. However it is best to have a set meal pattern and wait until the next snack or meal before offering food again.
  • Assume that because they have refused a food they will never eat it again. Tastes change with time. Some toddlers need to be offered a new food more than 10 times before they feel confident to try it.
  • Feel guilty if one meal turns into a disaster. Put it behind you and approach the next meal positively. Parents also learn by making mistakes.
  • Worry if they don’t eat well when you take them out. If they are in new surroundings there may be too many distractions for them to be interested in their food. Toddlers can only really concentrate on one thing at a time.

Babies 1 to 2 years


Sometime during their second year babies become much choosier about foods they will eat. They are more assertive and will often refuse to eat certain foods. Your young toddler may:
  • Eat less than you expect them to
  • Refuse to taste new foods you offer
  • Refuse to eat certain foods including some they have previously eaten well.
Refusing to eat new foods is a normal developmental phase for young toddlers. It is called a neophobic response to food – ‘neophobia’ means fear of new.

This stage of food neophobia develops soon after toddlers have begun walking, are becoming more adept at getting about and can roam further to investigate their environment. The fear of new foods is probably a survival mechanism to prevent mobile young toddlers from harming themselves through eating anything and everything. If they were to taste any interesting looking berry on a bush they could well poison themselves.

Once the neophobic stage begins your toddler may refuse to even try a taste of a new food they are not familiar with. They will take much longer to learn to like and eat new foods than they did as a baby:
  • They may need to watch others eating a food that is new to them several times before they become confident to try it themselves.
  • They may take much longer now to learn to like that food and they will do this by just tasting a little each time you include it in a meal. It is the number of times they taste that food not the amount they eat that will determine how long it takes for them to learn to like the food.
Why your toddler (1 to 2 years old) may be refusing to eat a particular food:
  • Because the food is new to them and they need to see it several more times before they’re confident enough to try tasting it.
  • It may not be exactly the same as what they are used to. It may be a broken cookie or cracker rather than a whole one, it may have a small blemish on it for example a mark on the skin of an apple. Because it is different they will be wary of eating it.
  • Because they don’t like the taste.
  • Because that food looks like something they consider disgusting.
  • It may have been touched by another food they don’t like.
  • It may be on the same plate as a food they don’t like.
There are some simple, positive changes you can make to help your child eat more and enjoy meal times:
  • Eat more meals with your child, so that they can learn by copying you
  • Make positive comments about the foods you are offering and show them you are enjoying those foods.
  • Develop a daily routine of three meals and two to three snacks around their sleeping pattern. Babies don’t eat well if they become over hungry or very tired.
  • Cut out large bottles of milk and only offer a maximum of 3 small cups of 4 fl oz each day. Too much milk will fill them up and leave them little appetite for food.
  • Cut back on sweet drinks if they are drinking large quantities of fruit juice or other sweet drinks, as these will decrease their appetite for food.
  • Offer two courses at meals: one savory course followed by a nutritious dessert or sweeter course. This gives two opportunities for your child to take in the calories and nutrients needed, and offers a wider variety of foods. It also makes the meal more interesting for them.
  • Praise them when they eat well. Toddlers respond positively to praise.
  • Offer finger foods as often as possible. Toddlers enjoy having the control of feeding themselves with finger foods.
  • Eat in a calm, relaxed environment without distractions such as TV, games and toys. Toddlers concentrate on one thing at a time and distractions make it more difficult for them to concentrate on eating.
  • Finish the meal within about 20 to 30 minutes and accept that after this they are probably not going to eat any more. Carrying the meal on for too long is unlikely to result in them eating much more. It is better to wait for the next snack or meal and offer nutritious foods then.
  • Accept that your toddler has eaten enough when they signal to you that they don’t want any more and take away any uneaten food without comment.
You can tell a toddler has had enough when they:
  • Say no
  • Keep their mouth shut when food is offered
  • Turn their head away from food being offered
  • Push away a spoon, bowl or plate containing food
  • Hold food in their mouth and refuse to swallow it
  • Spit food out repeatedly
  • Cry, scream, shout, gag or retch when you try to feed them.


Please be aware that the information given in these articles is only intended as general advice and should in no way be taken as a substitute for professional medical advice. If you or your family or your child is suffering from symptoms or conditions which are severe or persistent or you need specific medical advice, please seek professional medical assistance. Philips AVENT cannot be held responsible for any damages that result from the use of the information provided on this website.

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