Toddlers can happily self-feed with their hands from around 12 months old, but will soon be able to use cups and utensils. Toddlers can also eat many of the same foods that you eat, and many will love the idea of inclusion with the grown-ups. However, some toddlers can get fussy with their diet – which can cause concern for parents – and there are some safety considerations you should be aware of when feeding your toddler.

Safe eating

Toddlers don’t yet have the large molars in the back of their jaw to chew up harder foods. This can increase the risk of choking on hard, coarse or tough foods like nuts, popcorn, boiled lollies and large chunks of meat.
Avoid giving your toddler food when they’re playing or running around – toddlers should always be seated while eating – and only give them food when being supervised by yourself or an adult.
As you expand your toddler’s diet you should also be on the lookout for allergic reactions. It’s a good idea to observe your toddler after introducing common allergens to their diet.

What to feed your toddler

Toddlers can enjoy a variety of the same foods that you do, but their food might need to be cut into smaller pieces, shredded, minced or peeled. Consider including elements from each of the following groups in your toddler’s diet:
  • Fruit – apples, pears, sliced cherry tomatoes and grapes, strawberries, blueberries, bananas, watermelon, cantaloupe, avocado
  • Vegetables – potatoes, pumpkin, broccoli, carrots, sweet potato, capsicum
  • Grains – noodles, pasta, wholemeal bread, quinoa, brown rice, porridge
  • Protein – chicken, red kidney beans, tofu, tuna, minced meat, peanut butter, eggs, cheese, hummus, yoghurt

Healthy diets feature lots of fruit and vegetables, supplemented by foods from the grain and protein group. Try to prepare foods that draw from at least three of these groups at every meal.

Foods to avoid

  • Choking hazards – these include tough meats like steak, lollies, hot dogs/frankfurts, nuts and uncut grapes and cherry tomatoes.
  • Processed foods – these are usually high in additives and preservatives and low in nutritional value. While they are tasty, this is due to high salt, fat or sugar content or the addition of flavouring. These foods include sausages, chips, chicken nuggets and other fast foods.
  • Sugary foods – sugar is an unnecessary additive to many foods. Your child will get enough energy through a healthy, balanced diet. Keep to a minimum any lollies, cordials, soft drinks, cakes, biscuits and fruit juice.

Fussy toddlers and not eating

Sometimes your toddler will start to show clear preferences for some foods and a dislike for others. These preferences can often be temporary, but they might persist for many years to come.
You can try to prevent this by offering your child a wide variety of foods early in their life. Ensure a diversity of textures and tastes and try not to rely too heavily on the same staple meals, as this is how your toddler develops habits.
If your toddler is refusing to eat food, don’t force them. Consider changing up how the food is served; rather than a designated plate of food, place bite-sized bits on a platter and set it on the coffee table. If they see you eating from it, they’re likely to join in and enjoy the ability to make a choice.
Avoid bribing your toddler with treats and desserts as this can reinforce bad habits. Consider also that an active, exercised toddler is also likely to be a hungry toddler!

Encouraging a good relationship with food

Mealtimes should be fun times for toddlers, and you can help them form a good relationship with eating by creating a positive and supportive environment.
Toddlers use mealtime to learn about different tastes and textures, as well as learning about how to feed themselves and listen to their bodies telling them that they’re hungry or full. Never force your toddler to eat as this can create a negative association with mealtimes. If your toddler is continually refusing food, however, this could be a sign of a serious condition and you should consider seeing a doctor.