By Raising Children Network
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You can help your toddler learn to love good food and enjoy physical activity. The toddler years are a great time to establish healthy habits for life.

Toddler eating a banana
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Getting toddlers to eat

Children watch what you’re eating. You can help toddlers learn good eating habits by eating well yourself. If you load up with hot chips and soft drink, that’s what they’ll want too.

Many children are fussy eaters. But fussy eating isn’t always about food – it’s often about children wanting to be independent.

Some children reject a new food 6-10 times before they taste it and love it. It can help if you eat the new food type enthusiastically yourself in front of your child. If your child still rejects the food, try again in a few weeks or months. Children’s tastes can and will change.

Young children are messy eaters, partly because they’re still learning to use cutlery, cups and plates. If you accept that accidents will happen, you’ll find the mess is much easier to put up with.

When it comes to toddler eating, try to trust your toddler’s appetite. Because of growth spurts and variations in activity, toddler appetites vary constantly. A good rule is that you decide what food, your child decides how much.

Healthy food and eating for toddlers

Nutrition needs
Our article on nutrition and fitness basics contains guidelines and practical tools to help you make sure your toddler eats good food. For more information on meeting your child’s nutritional needs for growth and development, you can also read our article on choosing good food.

Eating fresh foods is a better way of getting vitamins and minerals than taking supplements.  

What to eat
Cooking with your child
 gives you the chance to introduce her to a range of fresh, healthy food. For good food made easy:

  • Try our suggestions for finger foods for toddlers.
  • Pack a goodness punch by including lots of your child’s nutritional needs in one dish. Try Everything fried rice, an omelette with the lot, shepherd’s pie, baked beans on wholegrain toast, or pasta bolognaise with a meat and vegie sauce.
  • Avoid forcing your child to eat vegetables – or any other food, for that matter. Encourage him to try a spoonful, but don’t get upset if he refuses.

Healthy eating habits will help your child avoid falling into the trap of childhood obesity. Try limiting snacks such as salty chips, especially while watching TV. Our article on good and bad fats has more information on foods to eat and foods to avoid. 

Breakfast gives your child the energy he needs to handle his busy day. Children who eat a healthy breakfast go longer without feeling hungry. In general, eating with your toddler at meals helps her learn table manners and encourages her to try new foods.

And if it’s time for weaning your toddler, you’ll have more success if you go slowly, changing your child’s routine gradually over weeks or even months.  


Food labels can give you lots of information about how healthy a food product is – or isn’t. You can find out more in our article on food labels and nutrition panels, which includes information on food additives too.

Toddler exercise

Encourage your child to be physically active – you’re helping establish a healthy lifelong habit, and your support for physical activities will help boost his confidence and interest. So how much activity is enough? It’s good for children to have at least two hours of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day.

Exercise gives your toddler strong bones and muscles, a healthy heart, lungs and arteries, and improved coordination, balance, posture and flexibility. It reduces the risk of her becoming overweight or obese and of developing heart disease, cancer or diabetes down the track. Being overweight is unhealthy and uncomfortable – and very unpleasant for a young child.

Watching TV is one of the biggest obstacles to physical activity. Many child development experts recommend no TV at all for children under two. If you do want to let your child watch TV, try to keep TV time to 30 minutes or less, then follow it up with an outdoor activity (like a walk to the park).

If you’re stuck for exercise ideas, check out our article on activities for younger children. You can also read our ideas to get you going when it’s cold or wet (no sunshine necessary!).

Video: Avoiding junk food

Download Video  24mb

This short video features parents talking about junk food and children. Mums and dads share strategies for making a healthy diet part of everyday life. As part of this, they suggest approaching junk food as a ‘sometimes’ food. But the best strategy for getting your kids to avoid junk food is keeping it out of your home. If it’s not there, your children can’t eat it.

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  • Newsletter snippet: Toddler nutrition and fitness: in a nutshell

    By Raising Children Network

    You can help your child adopt healthy eating habits and enjoy being physically active.

    • Set a good example by eating well yourself.
    • Persevere when offering new food to your toddler – you might have to try many times.
    • Breakfast gives your child energy for play and learning.
    • Try finger foods or a single dish packed with all your child’s nutritional needs.
    • Fresh foods are best for vitamins and minerals.
    • Encourage your child to be physically active.
    • Exercise promotes strong bones and muscles; a healthy heart, lungs and arteries; and improved coordination and flexibility.
    • Remember that eating unhealthy food while watching TV can lead to childhood obesity.
    • Experts recommend no TV for kids under two. Limit TV time to 30 minutes, followed by an outdoor activity.

    This article is an extract only. For more information, visit

    Sourced from the Raising Children Network's comprehensive and quality-assured Australian parenting website

  • Last Updated 15-02-2012
  • Last Reviewed 07-12-2011