Little girl eats vegetable salad

Toddler Food - Tips for Feeding Toddlers

You are now hopefully sharing family mealtimes together and toddlers will want to feed themselves with a spoon and/or fork. They are still very messy, so don’t expect perfect table manners for another few years. They learn about their food by touching, playing, squashing and eating it.

They are not growing as fast as they did over the first 12 months, and they are very busy, so they might not have a great appetite. Don’t force them to eat or finish their meal – they will eat when they’re hungry. They express their independence by making decisions about what they will and won’t eat. They have likes and dislikes just as you do, so give them the chance to try out different foods.

What you offer them will depend largely on your cultural background, but it should always be a well balanced diet with a variety of foods.

Toddler sitting in a high chair eating greek yoghurt

Sample menu


  • Cereal, rice or porridge, finger food (e.g. fruit and toast) followed by a cup of milk.

Morning and afternoon snack

  • Chopped fruit, yoghurt or cheese stick, plus a cup of water.


  • Sandwiches or pocket bread with avocado, cheese spread, smooth peanut butter, chopped fish or chicken. Plus finger food – chopped fruit, salad or cooked vegetables and a cup of milk.


  • Fish or meat patties and vegetables, tofu, rice or pasta with sauce, or casserole of chunky pieces of cooked meat and vegetables. Follow with fruit and yoghurt or custard, and a cup of milk.

Tips for feeding your toddlert

  • Always sit your child down to eat, either at the family meal table or at their own toddler sized table (so they don’t run around with food in their mouth which they might choke on).
  • Encourage table manners, but don’t force them. Set the example yourself.
  • Feed them dinner before they get overtired.
  • Keep meal and snack times at a regular time.
  • Let them practice spoon-feeding themselves.
  • Keep mealtimes interesting, with small amounts of different food. Offer two or three small courses at each meal.
Happy Africanamerican dad feeding a cute baby

What should I do if my child will not eat?

  • It is normal for toddlers to be hungrier on some days than on others.
  • Perhaps they are overtired. Try moving the mealtime to an earlier time of day.
  • Often they won’t let you feed them because they are asserting their independence. Offer them spoon food and finger food at each meal.
  • Offer the food, but take the plate away after a reasonable time (about 20-30 minutes) or when the rest of the family have finished their meal, even if the food’s not eaten. Don’t insist on all the food being eaten.
  • If they refuse the main meal, don’t offer extra snacks or milk.
  • Don’t let meal times become a battle.

Create mealtimes as a social family occasion. Eat together wherever possible, as children will follow your eating habits and be more inclined to eat if they have company.

Girl who gets her clothes dirty

Tips on mealtimes

  • Present different coloured food (e.g. green beans, carrots and potato) and different shapes (sticks of carrot, cubes of potato, flowers of broccoli, wedges of tomato).
  • Always have some finger food at each meal, as toddlers love to play with and feel their food.
  • Avoid foods with added sugar and salt and do not add sugar or salt to food when cooking.
  • Create meal times as a social family occasion. Eat together wherever possible, as children will follow your eating habits and be more inclined to eat if they have company.
  • If your toddler won’t eat, don’t force the issue – they’ll eat when they’re hungry.
  • If you have concerns, discuss them with your Child Health Nurse.

Safety tips

  • To make eating safer, sit with your child when they eat. Never leave your toddler alone with food.
  • Do not offer your child small, hard, round foods like nuts or lollies, and avoid other hard, tough foods like raw apple, carrot and celery. Cut up or grate these foods.
  • Cow’s milk and water should be your child’s main drinks.
  • Don’t offer sweet, fizzy drinks, tea or coffee.
  • Never put your child to bed with a bottle of milk or juice as this can lead to serious tooth decay.

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