Encouraging Your Toddler To Eat

Encouraging a toddler to eat a full meal can be tricky and messy! Read our best tips and tricks.

  • Don’t forget that your toddler has a small stomach – about the size of their fist – and so they will know when they’ve had enough to eat.
  • Always offer a range of nutritious food.
  • Ban unhealthy snack foods from the house – that way, you’ll never be tempted to give them to your toddler.
  • Avoid cordials and too much fruit juice as these are high in sugar and take away the appetite for other foods.
  • If your child says they are thirsty just before they eat, offer water only.
  • Encourage your child to help prepare the meal. There is almost always a small task that can be managed by a child – setting the table, getting food from the fridge for you, adding ingredients to a bowl. Save peeling, grating and cutting until they know how to handle kitchen implements properly.
  • Don’t serve your child too much food – it’s better to have them ask for more if they are still hungry than have them sit face-to-face with a mountain of uneaten food on the plate.
  • Don’t use dessert as a bribe to eat the rest of the meal – it rarely works and can often lead to more resistance over dinner.
  • Invite one of your child’s friends over for a meal. The feeling of festivity at the table often encourages a fussy eater to eat.
  • If your toddler rejects everything you put on the plate, try placing all the meal’s food on communal plates in the centre of the table and encourage them to serve themself.
  • If your toddler is too tired to eat at dinner time, try giving them most of their dinner for afternoon tea and then offer a light supper when you eat later.
  • ‘Picnic food’ is sometimes a nice substitute for a meal at the table. Try offering cold meats, bread, raw veggies (grated) and salad on a mixed plate – but don’t stress if it’s not all eaten.
  • Don’t force your toddler to eat. You could cause them to choke – it’s almost impossible to chew and swallow if you’re crying – and may make them tense about eating.


Your child is born instinctively knowing how much food they need so they won’t usually overeat. However they can easily lose this skill. If they are always pushed to eat more than they want or is encouraged to finish everything on the plate, they may learn to ignore the body’s messages when they’ve had enough to eat. This can lead to weight problems later.

It’s going to be messy!

Learning to feed themself will be a messy business for your toddler. Let them have fun with their food because the more practice they get doing it for themself, the quicker they will master the skills.

This article was written by Ella Walsh for Kidspot.


  1. dawnblyth 05/05/2019 at 11:54 pm

    My youngest loves to snack so we have to watch near dinner time what he is eating otherwise dinner is terrible

  2. SarahBlair 04/05/2019 at 10:31 pm

    My 5 year old is a terrible eater, he will eat hardly anything, I am going to try these suggestions, even though he is not a toddler, to see if we can make some improvements

  3. Shorrty4life1 15/04/2019 at 12:55 pm

    I found this very interesting that a toddlers belly can only hold the amount the size of their fists. No wonder they are picky little eaters. My children have started to eat bigger meals now with being at school thank goodness but toddlers are always too much on the go to settle and eat a full meal

  4. Mands1980 12/04/2019 at 12:22 pm

    Little and often is best for toddlers as like this article says they don’t have big tummy’s. For first time parents you have to learn about a lot and what to give them as well. We probably offered too much foods but at least they had a good choice so they tried different foods. These are great ideas though for parents of toddlers.

  5. Micht 11/04/2019 at 1:30 pm

    My little one is definitely in charge of her tummy, she lets us know when she has enough and is willing to eat what we give her. I do agree with the not forcing them and making them upset, i have seen many people struggle with their toddlers in this area and the result is not pretty. I think in our busy lives we forget to slow down and give them time. If we do, i think they will happily comply and it wont be such a chore.. i agree so much on many points in this article. The idea of bribing is really destructive cos it sets parents up for having to do this each and every time you want them to eat. Great article and very practical.

  6. Bevik1971 11/04/2019 at 12:29 pm

    I think we tried to give our daughter too much at a sitting when she was a toddler. Then remembered that her tummy is a lot smaller than ours! She was a picky eater but we offered her different foods and often during the day. She did make a mess and loved it of course 🙂

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