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Nutrition in the Toddler/Preschool Child  

Compiled by Tina Connelly, RN, CPNP  

Why is my toddler so Picky?


The first birthday is a time of transition for your child both physically and developmentally. They are now feeding themselves table food and have a strong, independent personality.  Also toddlers grow more slowly than infants so therefore do not want or need food as much they did when they where younger. They have more exciting things on their minds!


So what do I Serve?


Now that you are serving your child table foods, you are at a key time to promote healthy eating habits and attitudes about food that can help foster a healthy lifestyle for life. Parents main influence lies in what kinds of food are served to your child.  Below are some general suggestions.


  • Offer milk in a cup at mealtimes (breakfast, lunch and dinner) in the range of 6-24 oz per day. Children over the age of one year should not be taking bottles anymore.
  • Serve protein at every meal. Meats, eggs, yogurt, and tofu are excellent sources of sustained energy.
  • Create a colorful plate of fruits and vegetables. Don't assume that your child will not like them. Studies show that a toddler may need to see a new food up to 20 times before he will accept it. In general, toddlers prefer raw (cut up small!) fruits and veggies and love to dip them in things like yogurt or salad dressing.
  • Choose healthy high protein, low sugar snacks such as pretzels, fruit, and cheese. A mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack is sufficient. Beware that too much snacking can affect your child's appetite at mealtime.
  • Offer water at snack time and not fruit juice or soda. Even 100% fruit juice contains high amounts of sugar and is not recommended for toddlers.
  • Leave the sugary foods at the supermarket. Beware of sugary cereals and fruit snacks. Sugar is also hidden in foods like white bread and white pasta. Look for whole grain options instead. Become a nutrition label reader and look for foods low in sugar and high in dietary fiber.
  • Keep portion sizes age appropriate. A general guide is each portion of food should be the size of your child's closed fist (pretty small!).  
  • Stimulate the taste buds! Expose your child to different tastes and textures. Have fun with it! Too many parents assume that children like bland foods and miss an opportunity to expand their child's nutritional horizons.


How should I React when he/she Refuses to eat?


Do not react. There will be many times where your toddler will reject a certain food or refuse to eat entirely at a certain meal. We have learned that scolding, bribing, bargaining or cajoling makes the situation worse, not better. You can assume if your child is refusing to eat that they are simply not hungry at that particular time. Your job is to serve 3 meals and 2 snacks a day of nutritious and easy to eat food. It is your toddler's job to decide what to eat.


  • Do not turn food in to a virtue or vice, they are not "good" when they eat or "bad" when they don't eat. Food is just food. The toddler will learn to listen to his body and take what she needs when she needs it.
  • Do not make special meals or second meals when your child refuses. Calmly and happily declare mealtime over and move on to the next activity.
  • Do not reward or bribe a child with food. Reward your child for good behavior with a special outing or activity with his parents instead.
  • Model healthy eating! Make sure your toddler sees that you make healthy choices as well and that mealtime is a happy time for the family to connect. Also remember that all children need at least 60 minutes per day of physical exercise.

When do I Worry?


Your health care provider is always happy to see your child in the office for an appointment if you are concerned about your child's growth and to talk further about your families specific nutritional needs.





Your Pediatric providers at 


Children's Medical Office of North Andover, P.C.