Skip to main content

Encouraging Good Eating Habits in Toddlers

Discover strategies for encouraging good eating in your toddler, whether eating out or eating in.

In this article, you will find:

Tips and strategies for toddlers
More tips for toddlers

Tips and strategies for toddlers

Encouraging Good Eating Habits in Toddlers

At this stage, baby will discover his favorite foods, and trying to get him to eat anything else becomes a challenge. I know this because Michael was stuck on macaroni and cheese for four years and Brandon still wants Bagel Bites as a side dish at age eight. Oops!

Teach your child to feed himself by letting him feed himself. It gets messy, but be patient. Eventually the mess will probably bother your child more than you! Yay!

  • The oldest and best rule ever for getting children to eat their meals is to limit snacks during the day. Especially limit sweet snacks and encourage fresh fruit, vegetables, and water!

  • The correct portion for a toddler's meal is one tablespoon of each food served for every year of age. For example, a two-year-old might get two tablespoons each of applesauce, chicken, and carrots, where a one-year-old would only get one tablespoon of each.

  • If your child wants to eat the same thing every day, such as warm mashed potatoes, he may be telling you he prefers food with that particular texture and/or temperature. Find alternate foods with the same qualities (such as rice, oatmeal, macaroni and cheese, warmed applesauce, custards, and thick soups)—he may like them also.

  • Don't be surprised if your toddler gets attached to a certain food and wants to eat only that food for a while. My brother ate a peanut butter sandwich every day for four years. But on his first day of school he switched to bologna with ketchup. Think of it as comfort food. As long as it's a decent, healthy choice (not candy), it's okay. He will drop it when he's ready.

  • Whenever you have more than one child with you, always buy each child the exact same food, the exact same toy, the same color get the idea.

  • Cooking, preparing, and baking can be fun! Use your favorite cookie cutters to cut small shapes from bread slices. It's easier if you freeze a loaf of sliced bread first. Then get out the peanut butter and jelly and you're set for a tea party! Add a little colored sugar on top of each "tea sandwich" for real excitement.

  • Use a regular pair of scissors to cut pizza and toast into fun shapes. You can make a meal into an adventure!

  • Most toddlers love eating animal-shaped snacks: animal crackers, graham cracker teddy bears, and goldfish crackers are very popular choices.

  • If you can't build a snowman, bake one! Use a sugar cookie recipe and your imagination, and you're on your way.

  • Toddlers can be a handful in restaurants, but a strategically planned meal can keep them occupied:
    • Always bring along snacks your toddler likes. A great snack to keep on hand is pretzel rods (the larger ones). Give one to him as soon as you get situated.
    • Place your order right away.
    • Order buttered noodles—eating slippery noodles keeps toddlers busy.
    • Use spoon foods like applesauce to occupy hands.
    • Dipping foods, like chicken strips or cheese sticks, are ideal.

  • Consider ordering one or two small appetizers served back to back. The point of this is to divert your toddler's attention with a new activity. Order foods that require different movements: dipping, stirring, and pulling.

  • Be advised: Older children will attempt to show your baby by example which foods to eat—and which to avoid. Feed your baby separately if you have older children who won't eat what you want her to eat.

Join the Family

Your partner in parenting from baby name inspiration to college planning.