Feeding Toddlers

Children between ages 1-3 are actively developing their relationship with food. Neuronal pathways in the brain are increasing rapidly at this age from every new experience. Provide children with frequent opportunities to explore and taste a wide variety of foods. Canada’s Food Guide is designed for children over 2 years old but the concept of a balanced plate can apply before—always offer vegetables and fruit along with iron-rich protein foods and whole grains.

What are some challenges?

Picky eating can be common at this age as children assert their independence. This is normal. The Division of Responsibility is a way of feeding that can help you support children with their eating and maintain a positive environment at meal time. We have numerous resources on our website, on this topic including helpful phrases you can use. See https://www.appetitetoplay.com/healthy-eating/tips-ideas/picky-eating

What foods to consider:

•    Family foods, potentially prepared in a slightly different way, are best as children learn what to eat from watching their caregivers and peers. Let older toddlers pick which foods to put on their plate from the foods served. Be mindful that toddlers can sometimes be wary of unfamiliar foods, including mixtures and sauces. Teach children how to politely leave behind unwanted foods on their plate. Consider offering sauces on the side rather than mixed in, if you are serving a new dish to a group of cautious eaters.  Also, be mindful of foods that are choking hazards for those younger than 4—they may need to be cut differently, cooked longer or avoided altogether.

•    Finger foods and self-feeding. Children are learning hand-eye and hand-mouth coordination at this age and enjoy eating with their fingers and practicing self-feeding with a spoon. Offer bite-sized pieces of soft finger foods such as cooked legumes, boiled eggs, fish cakes, whole grain well-cooked pasta, whole grain pancakes/muffins, cooked vegetables, avocado and soft fruit (remove pits/seeds). Foods that are easier for toddlers to eat with a spoon tend to “stick to the spoon” Try cooked oatmeal, hummus, congee, lentil dal, squash stew, pureed soups, mashed potato, applesauce, plain yogurt and polenta.

•    Iron-rich foods should be offered at each meal to reduce the risk of iron deficiency. Iron rich foods include beef, chicken, turkey, pork and fish,  beans lentils, chickpeas, tofu, eggs, fortified grains, peanut, tree nut and seed butters. Daily consumption of foods rich in vitamin C, such as vegetables and fruit, help to increase the absorption of iron from plant-based sources and eggs.

•    Breastmilk and breastfeeding continue to provide many benefits to both toddlers and mothers and is recommended for two years and beyond. Support breastfeeding mothers to provide their toddler with expressed breastmilk or to breastfeed or pump on site.  When starting solids, breastmilk can be used to mash new foods into an appropriate texture providing a familiar taste and more nutrition than mashing with water. Breastfeeding can continue to contribute to a toddler’s nutrition, immunity, and feelings of security long after solid foods and cow’s milk have been introduced.

For more support: