Healthy Eating – Toddlers


Throughout the month of June we are chatting to Tracy Sparrow about healthy family eating. We know that it can be quite complicated and daunting when you try to cater to every individuals eating needs in your family, but it is so important for us to create this culture. Many diseases and conditions can develop from unhealthy eating habits, so throughout this series we will be sharing some practical advice on all the different stages in life and their eating needs. Today we will specifically look at young children, between the ages of 1 and 6, and their needs with regards to nutrition.

This period in your toddler’s life is marked by vast development and the acquisition of skills as your child learns to talk, run and become a social being. Growth is usually slower during these years which will lead to their appetites also decreasing and their interest in food is the direct opposite to their increased interest in the world around them. It is well documented that implementing healthy eating habits at an early stage can reduce the risk for obesity, heart disease, cancer and other chronic diseases later in life. This might sound scary, but remember that your child is like a sponge, absorbing all the sights, sounds and tastes of the world around him/her, so use this opportunity to really shape and mould your his/her attitude towards food as well as healthy eating habits.

What does your toddler need to eat:

  • A good variety of healthy foods in amounts that will suit his appetite and dietary requirements
  • At least 5 times a day: 3 Meals and 2 Snacks in between
  • Meals consisting of enough of all the food groups

How much does your toddler need to eat per meal:

  • 1 Tablespoon of every food group per year of age up until the age of 12


  • Half a small plate of vegetables
  • His/her fist size of starch
  • His/her palm size of protein

Food Groups:

  • Toddlers need a small portions of protein rich foods to be included at two of the meals for growth of muscles and bones. (meat, fish, eggs, milk, dry beans legumes and even peanut butter)
  • They need starch to give him energy (breads,rice, samp and pastas – never give an energy foods alone, add vegetables to the main meal)
  • They need fruits and vegetables for vitamins and minerals.
  • They also still needs milk. It is an important source of calcium & phosphorous to help bones grow. They should have at least 2 cups of milk/yoghurt (dairy product) every day.

Ideas for Healthy Snacks:

Snacks are a very important part of their eating and often we tend to grab the easiest foods that will fill their tummy’s, but they might not be the most nutritious. Instead of giving your toddler chips or biscuits for snacks, rather give a wholesome, healthy eat. We want to instil healthy eating habits in our kids, so that they can grow up making the healthy choices. There is space for a yummy treat every now and then, but it shouldn’t be an everyday thing.

  • Fruit
  • Vegetable Sticks
  • Yoghurt
  • Nuts (older children)
  • Provita Biscuits
  • Rice Cakes
  • Bread with Peanut Butter or Fish Paste
  • Humus or Cheese
  • Milk

The next spanner in the wheel when it comes to feeding toddlers, is that you usually have to chase them around trying to get them to eat. At this point they have much more interest in investigating and playing rather than eating, so here are a couple of ideas to make this task easier.

Hints to make toddler feeding easier:

  • Feed your toddler after enjoying a favourite television program or playing, so that he/she won’t be restless to go play and will be more likely want to eat.
  • Make your toddlers food colourful, interesting and fun to eat. (Use carrot sticks as hair or raisins as eyes)
  • Remember that playing is part of the learning experience
  • You toddler learns by watching you, so set a good example with your own eating habits. Share mealtimes and eat the same healthy dishes.
  • Children prefer plain unmixed foods, so stews may not be accepted.
  • Encourage your child to feed him/herself with finger foods. Tasting and handling foods is part of the whole learning experience and they can eat while doing something else. (Remember, young children need supervision when they are eating, in case they choke.)
  • At all mealtimes try to offer at least one food that you know your child will like.
  • Never force feed your child, rather wait for a few minutes then try again. We don’t want create negative thoughts and attitudes around food and eating.
  • Reward your toddler with affection and attention – NOT WITH FOOD. Using food as a reward or punishment only promotes unhealthy attitudes about food.

When your child is feeding him/herself just keep an eye out to ensure that they do eat enough. If a whole day goes by where they don’t want to eat or drink much, take them for a check-up. If your toddler isn’t hungry at breakfast, but starts eating a couple of hours later, you don’t have anything to worry about, just keep on offering something to drink. It is quite normal for toddlers to be eating little bits, so we need to ensure that what they do eat is concentrated and packed with good nutrition.

Tracy Sparrow is a dietician in Nelson Mandela Bay with her own practice. If you’d like to make an appointment to find out more about Healthy Family Eating you can contact her on Tune in to Kingfisher FM every Friday between 11:00 and 11:30 for your latest health chats.