Toddler Food Rules for Parents to Live By

Chelsea Day

With developing tastebuds, most toddlers tend to agree on go-to foods and off-limits snacks. If little eaters could provide parents with a handbook of cuisine preferences, here are the major notes that would be included.

Green is Gross

Spinach, broccoli and brussels sprouts should be avoided at all costs. Green, leafy veggies may have their place in a smoothie or a salad, but toddlers would honestly prefer you keep them off the high chair plate altogether. That doesn't mean you shouldn't keep trying to introduce them to green goodies - you just may have to get inventive with dipping sauces, ants on a log (celery sticks with peanut butter and raisins), and blending it into a smoothie bowl with bright-colored veggies or beets to help discguise the green color.

Anything in a Tube is Golden

Those handy squeeze tube foods are the ultimate key to unlocking toddler hunger. My kids were obsessed with the applesauce tubes, which wound up being my key to introducing them to lots of nutritious options such as sweet potatoes, kale, and more. Manufacturers today put all sorts of fun stuff in toddler tubes, and there are even refillable ones that you can use with homemade concoctions. Maybe it's the fancy spout or the ease of a quick meal that requires little attention, but I've found that toddlers will down just about anything if they can squeeze it from a tube. They'd probably eat toothpaste if they could get their hands on it, so keep an eye on the bathroom!

Orange is Okay

Macaroni and cheese, orange wedges and Goldfish. It seems that anything with this bright hue is acceptable. Just keep them away from the Tang, lest you wind up with a sugar monster on your hands.

Finger Foods are Fun

Chicken nuggets and french fries and fish sticks, oh my! Any totable treat gets flying colors in the world of toddler snacks. They award bonus points for stuff that's breaded, fried, or comes with dipping sauce. Getting creative with finger foods can be a good way to introduce your kid to new flavors. Steak can be cut into long slices and dipped into ketchup, along with things like cauliflower skewers, broccoli bites, zucchini sticks and more.

Milk is a Must

Most picky eaters will still guzzle liquids all day long. Don't go too crazy with the milk and juice, though, or toddlers won't eat their real meals. The milk obsession can also offer an easy foray into the world of smoothies, which can help you introduce them to all sorts of new fruit and veggie flavors.

TV Time

Ever pull the high chair in front of the TV? Toddlers will eat just about anything when it involves dinner and a show. While TV dinners shouldn't become the norm. it can be a clever way to introduce new foods without getting the usual snub.

Common Toddler Food Questions

  • Can toddlers eat nuts? Yes! While practices vary by culture, most doctors recommend waiting until one year old to introduce nuts, and then to do it in the form of nut butters spread onto familiar foods. Introduce just one nut type at a time, monitoring for an allergic reaction.
  • What are the best meal options for toddlers? A variety is the best choice! Many parents take the baby-led approach, allowing their children to eat whatever the rest of the family does, just in kid-appropriate formats such as mashed and finger-friendly. Avoid small chocking hazards, obviously, but for the most part they can gnaw on whatever their parents are eating. With my first kid, I used to meticulously chop everything up into baby size. By the time I had my fourth baby, I was handing him full chicken legs and letting him figure it out. He's the best eater of the bunch!
  • Should I be worried if my toddler's poop changes consistency after eating a particular food? Nah, not really. Kids' poop changes constantly with their changing diet. Constipation is only a reason for concern if your baby goes several days in a row without pooping or appears to be in severe pain, bearing down and grunting. Grape juice is usually a good way to get things moving. Alternately, if he or she has loose stools, they've probably had too MUCH fruit and should eat things like oatmeal, rice and toast to help absorb the extra acid in their tummy.
  • Do I need to worry about my baby having too much fat in things like milk, nut butters and avocados? Nope! Kids' bodies are fully primed to turn those healthy fats into brain fuel and use it to help them grow. Doctors typically don't recommend reduced-fat dairy for toddlers, but do recommend steering clear of processed foods and things with artificial coloring. As long as your toddler is having regular check-ins with a pediatrician to assess any underlying or genetic issues and is getting a balanced diet with plenty of protein as well as fibrous fruits and vegetables, don't stress over implementing any sort of weight-monitoring diet.
  • What do I do if my child is a picky eater? Accept it, and keep offering them a variety of options. Forcing foods on your toddler will only increase their obstinance and cause serious food aversions. Do your best to incorporate healthy foods in creative ways, such as mashed vegetables hidden in noodle sauces and smoothies.

As a former picky eater myself, I can assure you that tastebuds change over time and your child will eventually find a way to get the nutrition that his or her body needs. With a couple of my over-the-top choosy children, I've made sure they get the nutrition they need in the form of chewable vitamins. Vitamins are honestly always a good idea, even for the most accepting palates. As long as there are no underlying nutritional problems, try not to stress too much about your child eating any specific foods.

There are so many food options today, and providing a variety is key! Stick to fresh, local, in-season offerings and teach your family to follow their tastebuds. They'll become well-rounded diners before you know it.

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Helping parents live simple and satisfying lives. Our homeschooling family loves to learn, and in our spare time (hah!) we RV travel and flip houses.

Boise, ID

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