By Raising Children Network
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When it comes to feeding kids, some experts say that it’s all about collaboration. You control the menu, and your child decides how much to eat. 

Toddler and baby eating outdoors
 

Toddler appetites

Many parents agonise about whether their toddler is eating enough healthy food. Usually, you can trust your toddler's appetite. It helps to know that:

  • Because of growth spurts and variations in activity, toddlers’ appetites vary constantly.
  • Toddlers have very small stomachs.
  • Children are actually very good at judging how much food they need.
  • If children want more of anything, they will ask for it.

This means that toddlers need only small servings at mealtimes. Between meals, offer healthy snacks to keep them going.

As long as you offer healthy food, you needn’t worry if your child doesn’t eat very much sometimes. Your child will eat when hungry and won’t starve!

Forcing your child to eat – or to finish everything on the plate – can make mealtimes more stressful. It can also make it more difficult for children to know when they’re full. This puts children at risk of overeating later in life.

In some cases, a child’s appetite might be affected by a health issue. If your child consistently refuses food or you’re concerned about your child’s growth or overall nutrition, see your health professional.

Trying new foods

You might believe your toddler is fussy and will eat only one or two particular foods. Sometimes, though, toddlers will try new foods if you keep trying with them. If you assume your child will like new foods, you might find a whole new world of discovery opens up for both of you!

To encourage your child to try new foods:

  • Offer new foods when your child is relaxed and not too tired.
  • Offer new foods in a comfortable environment without too many distractions.
  • Offer new foods with those that your child already knows and likes.
  • Serve your toddler the same foods as the rest of the family. Your child will get the nutritional benefits of a wide range of foods, and accept different tastes and textures as ‘normal’.

If your child refuses something, offer it again in a week or so. Your child might gobble it up and even ask for more – a toddler’s interest in food can fluctuate wildly. You might need to offer a new food repeatedly on separate occasions before your toddler will try it.

Once you’ve found something your toddler will actually eat, it can be tempting to keep on serving it up. But eating a wide variety of foods is vital to ensure your toddler is getting all the nutrients necessary for growth and development.
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  • Last Updated 14-01-2010
  • Last Reviewed 12-10-2009
  • Cooke, L. (2007). The importance of exposure for healthy eating in childhood: A review. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, 20(4), 294-301.

    Department of Health and Aged Care. (1998). The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service.

    Fisher, J.O., & Birch, L.L. (1999). Restricting access to foods and children’s eating. Appetite, 32(3), 405-419.

    National Health and Medical Research Council (2003). Dietary Guidelines for Children and Adolescents in Australia. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service.

    Sigman-Grant, M. (1992). Feeding preschoolers: Balancing nutritional and developmental needs. Nutrition Today, 27(4), 13-18.