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How to Influence Your Toddler's Eating Habits

Updated on August 5, 2012

Make sure your toddler gets food from each food group.

Fruit, milk, and eggs provide a variety of healthy food choices.
Fruit, milk, and eggs provide a variety of healthy food choices. | Source

Creating Healthy Toddler Eating Habits

With the issues of nutrition and healthy eating for kids and the rise of obesity in children, it is important to start your children on the right track when they are toddlers. The best way to ensure your child has a healthy relationship with food is to begin when he is a baby. It is much easier to start with good habits than to try and break bad ones when he is older.

My two-year-old daughter enjoys food and mealtime has never been a problem with us, but she has taught me a lot about having the right attitude with food. Here are three tips that I have learned to help your toddler develop healthy eating habits.

Set an Example with Your Eating Habits

Your toddler is going to learn how to eat by watching you. If you have a healthy attitude towards food, so will she. Be careful with what you say about food as well as what you eat. Don't label foods good or bad and don't be negative about any types of food. For instance, when you say " If you eat your vegetables, you can have a cookie," the child will learn that cookies are a reward and vegetables are a punishment.

Your toddler will be more willing to try foods that she sees on your plate. In fact, my daughter has often tried things that she sees me eating and they become her favorite foods. That is how I introduce new things to her. Of course, that becomes a problem when I don't like something. But since I like most fruits and vegetables, she gets a variety of options that are healthy.

Before you can teach your toddler eating habits that are good for them, you must take an inventory of your own eating habits. Ask yourself if you would want your toddler to eat like you do and then make changes accordingly.

Give Your Toddler Healthy Choices

Your toddler is at the age where he is struggling for independence and the ability to make his own decisions. It doesn't take him long to realize that food is one area he has some control. If he doesn't want to eat something, you will have a hard time making him. The best way to win this battle is to let him make some choices about what he eats. However, you will still win if the choices you give him are both healthy.

At snack time, offer a cup of grapes and a cup of strawberries and let him choose. Either option is healthy and he gets to decide. For dinner, fix green beans and corn and let him tell you which he prefers.

What do you do if he chooses neither option? Tell him the choices will be there when he gets hungry. As long as you offer two healthy choices of foods that you know he likes, he will pick one when he gets hungry enough. If he asks for something other than his two options, let him know that is not one of the choices now (unless it is also healthy).

Let your toddler help cook.

Prepare for some messy fun.
Prepare for some messy fun. | Source

Get Your Toddler Involved in The Menu

A child that is involved in the different stages of a meal will be more likely to eat when its dinnertime. Here are a few ways you can get your toddler interested in food before it is time to eat.

  • Take them shopping and let them pick out some healthy choices.
  • Let them help you cook the food. Even a two-year-old can dump a cup of ingredients in a pan or shake some seasoning with help. They will want to eat something they made.
  • Grow a small garden even if it's just in a few pots on the patio.
  • Let them help serve their own food as much as possible. If they put it on their own plate, they may eat some of it.

As your child gets older, they can even help plan the menu. You could give them one night a week to decide what you get to eat. By this point, they will know some foods that are healthy and can make good decisions. Make sure you let them know that is the one requirement of being in charge of the menu: the food has to be somewhat nutritions. When they choose something, you can ask them how it is a healthy choice.

Tips to Help Parents with their Toddler's Eating Habits

  1. Don't make mealtime a battle or fight over food. This will give your child negative memories surrounding food in the future. Mealtime should be a time of family and togetherness as much as possible.
  2. On the other hand, don't reward with food. Children should be taught that food is to provide nutrition for their bodies, not something that is for them to have when they are good.
  3. Don't forbid or ban foods, except in the rare case of high sugar or caffeine for toddlers or other foods that they are allergic to. It's much better to teach moderation in all foods. Making certain foods forbidden can cause them to want them more and eat them when they are away from you. Instead, you want to teach them healthy nutrition so they will make the right decisions even when you aren't around.
  4. Don't be too strict with food. It's okay to have pizza night occasionally or to end your meal with a cookie. Look at the overall picture if they are getting a variety of healthy foods.
  5. Don't force your toddler to eat when they don't want to. No toddler will starve and they will eat when they are hungry. Babies and toddlers have the right internal system to tell them when they are hungry and full. It's only as they get older and listen to outside influences that they lose that ability to listen to their own bodies.

Raising toddlers with healthy eating habits can be challenging, but it's worth the extra effort.


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    • Amy Gillie profile image

      Amy Gillie 

      6 years ago from Indiana

      This is very useful and a timely hub for my family right now. Voted up and shared!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      This is a well-written hub full of useful information. I do most of these things with my children and have found them to work. We try to eat healthy most of the time. Thanks for sharing this! Voted up and shared. Kelley

    • Rui Carreira profile image

      Rui Carreira 

      6 years ago from Torres Novas

      Hello... Good hub "toddler master".

      Voted up!

    • writeyourwrongs profile image

      John Crowley 

      6 years ago from Sheffield

      Scannable, easy to read, quality info

    • denisemai profile image

      Denise Mai 

      6 years ago from Idaho

      These are all really great tips for parents of young children.

    • TravelAbout profile image


      6 years ago from United States

      Really well organized and useful tips. Great hub and a very important topic of eating healthy. Voted up and useful.


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