Children, like adults, are attracted to certain textures, flavours and presentation. Appetite is a personal and innately well-controlled mechanism in young children.  

Remember, the toddler years are all about:  

  • exploration and finding out who they are;  
  • discovering what they like and don’t like; and 
  • seeing how much influence they have over their environment.  

Temperament and food choices

Consider your child’s temperament for a moment. Do they:  

  • like lots of rough and tumble, tickling and noise?  
  • hang back and consider new environments before jumping in and having a go?
  • like things ‘just so’ and predictable events and order in the day?  
  • hate scratchy clothes and labels and new bedding, clothes and shoes?  
  • love to get their hands in the mud, or can’t wait to take their shoes off, and enjoy chaos?  

Not surprisingly, these adorable traits our children are developing will in some way be expressed in their food choices: textures, flavours, presentation and how they eat.

It is not necessarily predictable, but as you get to know and understand your child (which will take years!), it seems reasonable to indulge some of your child’s strong preferences around food. 

Common food preferences

Here are a few preferences to consider and some ideas to manage them.

Compare notes with other parents to check out what successful approaches they have come up with. 

‘Drinking’ their food
  • Raw juice: fruit and vegetable blends  
  • Shakes: milks (cows, goats, coconut, nut milks)  
  • Smoothies: mix a milk base with a variety of fruits  
  • Soup: homemade from weekend roast bones stock, chunky or pureed.  
  • Slushies: frozen/fresh fruit blended with ice chips  
  • Custards: homemade egg custard  
  • Yoghurt drinks: fruit or plain, thinned with milk  
Strong flavours and casseroles  
  • Bolognaise sauce combining five vegetables: cook down then puree with tomatoes, capsicum, zucchini, celery before adding mince
  • Slow cook one-pot meals with variety of vegetables  
  • Gravies, soups and sauces with quality stock  
  • Homemade tomato sauce or ketchup where you can add more vegetables
  • Use natural flavours: garlic, herbs, spices, chilli, curry, strong cheeses, mushrooms 
Crunchy or crispy food
  • Raw vegetables with dips  
  • Toast breads that are sliced very thinly  
  • Oven toast vegetable ‘shavings’
  • Homemade potato wedges coated in spice mix and oven roasted  
  • Homemade popcorn
  • Dry quality cereal mixed with nuts and seeds (watch out for choking hazards and allergies) 
Sweet foods
  • Homemade cakes like carrot cake and use other novel vegetables and fruit in the recipe 
  • Homemade biscuits made with oat flour, golden syrup or honey
  • Homemade icecream
  • Homemade jam: just stew down some berries, will not need added sugar  
  • Homemade egg custard with fruit 
  • Frozen mashed overripe bananas (naturally very sweet)  
  • Pikelets made with an extra egg for more nutrition  

Keep it simple

Parents often feel stumped when it comes to thinking up recipes and combinations of food in the toddler years.

In truth, it is more straightforward, economic and better received if we serve simple food.  

Eating food from your plate (or someone else’s!)

You may find that toddlers will like to eat food off your plate.  

Food is a lot about trust and association. If it’s okay for you to eat it, your child figures it should be good for them too!

The mental connections toddlers make when they sneak a green bean off your plate soon after they tipped their serve on the floor may be hard to understand, but if they eat it, celebrate!

It may be frustrating at the time, but it makes survival sense for your toddler.  

Want to know more? 

The Raising Children Network – Toddler nutrition: mealtime 

Healthy Kids Association – Food and nutrition