Last Reviewed: March 2017
Feeding your toddler - age 12 to 36 months
Feeding toddlers can be challenging sometimes.
Now that your child is a toddler, he may be growing much slower than when he was an infant. Don’t be surprised if you notice some changes in the way he eats.
Here are some things you might have noticed about your child's eating habits:
- Breastfeeding may become challenging as baby is easily distracted and may nurse for shorter periods. Try to minimize the distractions by breastfeeding in a quiet room without loud noises
- As breastfeeding continues, baby may be more accepting of new foods if the flavour is first tasted in the breast milk.
- He may seem very hungry at one meal and not at the next.
- He might eat a large amount of food one day and much less another day.
- He may not want to try new foods.
- He may have favourite foods and not-so-favourite foods.
- When given a new food he may learn about it by touching it, putting it in and out of his mouth, and maybe eventually, by eating it.
- He may want to be in control and may say “no” a lot.
This is all normal.
Your toddler is learning at mealtimes
At mealtimes, toddlers are learning new skills such as:
- Becoming more independent.
- Feeding themselves with their fingers.
- Using safe child-sized utensils, like a plastic spoon and fork.
- Drinking from an open cup.
- And starting to eat most foods from the family table (with a few small changes to the menu).
How can I help?
- Plan regular meals and snacks
- Children eat better when you offer them regular meals and snacks.
- Don’t let your toddler ‘graze’ (eat bites of food all throughout the day) or she will not be hungry at mealtime.
- Plan the menu using Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide (PDF file, 553 KB)
- Know how much food to offer:
- Canada’s Food Guide is meant for children 2 years of age and older, but you can still use it as a reference for your one-year old.
- Provide foods from 3 to 4 food groups at each meal and from 2 to 3 food groups at each snack.
- Provide meals and snacks at regular times each day.
- Plan at least three meals and at least two snacks per day.
- Offer child-sized portions to your child.
- Toddlers have very small stomachs, so they may only eat 1/4 to 1/3 of what you might eat at a meal.
- Beverages count as well
- If your child is thirsty, breastfeed or offer water between meals from an open cup.
- When serving milk with a meal or a snack use breast milk or whole milk for toddlers under two. Offer 2 cups (500 mL) of whole cow’s milk a day, but no more than 3 cups (750 mL). There is no limit to how much breast milk to offer.
- Once your toddler turns two years old, you can continue breastfeeding or start offering him the milk or fortified soy beverage the rest of the family drinks.
- Fortified rice, potato or almond beverages are not substitutes for milk or fortified soy beverages.
- If you decide to offer your child juice with a snack or meal, limit it to 1/2 cup (125 mL) of 100% fruit juice offered in an open cup, once a day (there is no need to dilute juice).
- Enjoy family meals together in a pleasant sociable environment
- Offer a small open cup and child-sized spoons and forks as soon as your child can hold them so that he can start to practice using them.
- Serve foods that are fun and easy to eat (e.g. cut food into small ‘finger-food’ pieces or interesting shapes).
- Eat with your child at the table and include him in the family conversation.
- Encourage your toddler to feed himself even if it will be messy.
- Let your toddler eat as little or as much as he wants.
- Don’t bribe, punish, or reward your child with food, or use ‘games’ or ‘tricks’ to encourage him to eat.
- Turn off the TV and remove all distractions (toys, books).
- Keep your toddler safe at mealtimes
- Always supervise your child when eating.
- Have her sit upright securely in a feeding chair.
- Make sure foods are soft enough to chew and moist enough to swallow.
- Serve hot foods at a safe temperature to avoid scalds and burns
- Keep adult hot beverages, such as tea and coffee at a safe distance where your toddler can’t reach them
Avoid foods that are round, hard, sticky or crunchy, like:
- Nuts and seeds
- Chunky peanut butter
- Hard candies and chewing gum.
Cut up foods that could cause choking into bite-sized pieces
- Cut grapes or cherry tomatoes in half or smaller
- Cut or mash cooked navy beans and chick peas
- Slice hot dogs length-wise before chopping into smaller pieces
(try to serve plain meats such as chicken and avoid the less healthy processed meats such as hot dogs or deli meats).
- Do not use toothpicks or skewers
Spread smooth peanut butter thinly. Never serve it from a spoon.
Are You Looking for Child-Friendly Recipes?
Check out the Cooking Up Some Fun! Cookbook
When it comes to feeding your children, your goal as a parent is to raise healthy kids who enjoy eating.
Children love being in the kitchen with you and working with food. Let them help you prepare for mealtimes.
When children are young, find tasks that are easy and safe for them (such as putting paper napkins on the table). As children get older, they can become more and more helpful.
The Cooking Up Some Fun (1.2 MB, 30 pages) cookbook will provide you with recipes you and your child can prepare together.
To speak with a public health nurse, call:
Region of Peel - Public Health
Monday to Friday 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Caledon residents call free of charge at 905-584-2216