Food – For Children Two to Four Years Old

What does any child do with food at this age?

After the age of two, low-fat dairy foods can slowly be introduced into your child’s diet. Before this age, it is difficult for children to consume adequate amounts of energy for their requirements and regular full-cream dairy products are needed.

Some high saturated fat foods that should be limited include:

  • Processed meats (such as devon and salami)
  • Sausages
  • Fried foods (such as battered fish and chips)
  • High fat snack foods like crisps, corn chips
  • Cream and chocolate-coated biscuits
  • Pastries
  • Chicken skin and visible fat on meat

In addition, more fibre rich foods can also be encouraged, such as wholemeal breads and crackers and high fibre cereals.

Being a toddler means learning to be an independent person in their own right. It also means learning the boundaries of this independence. Eating food… how much, what, when and where is a way in which a child at this stage explores the boundaries of behaviours and rules.


A toddler (like many adults) will choose foods because they like them, not because the foods are healthy. Toddlers also learn very quickly that refusing one food will mean they will get their favourite, so try not to fall into the trap of providing less nutritious alternatives.

Much of the stress of food refusal can be eased if you keep calm. Keep food preparation simple, so if it does end up on the floor or on the wall, you don’t feel you have wasted time.

The love/hate relationship with food that often occurs with toddlers is quite normal. Likes and dislikes of food can change on a daily basis. There is no logic in their actions, so don’t be tempted to bribe. Meeting demands for a favourite cup or plate is reasonable, but preparing special, separate meals is not.

If the same food is eaten for three days in a row there is no reason to be concerned as you’ll notice that over the next week or two, the range will broaden.


At this age it is very common for appetite to vary from day to day and meal to meal. Snacks are important; refer to the list on the previous page for great snack ideas.

Drinking too much milk or juice can contribute to poor appetite. Anaemia and tooth decay can result if fluids are chosen in place of food, particularly from a bottle. To prevent this, it’s very important to wean toddlers from a bottle to a cup. This helps decrease the amount of fluid taken and leaves more room for solids. As a guide, toddlers only need 500mL milk each day.  Try not to provide juice as a drink (except in the case of hypo treatment).  Encourage water as the best choice of drink. It’s also a good idea to avoid giving drinks just before a meal or snack as this can reduce appetite.


If you’re worried that your child doesn’t seem to be eating anything, try writing down all the food and drinks taken over the day – you might be surprised. Young children can nibble away at food over the day and take in quite a reasonable amount. It’s important that snacks are nutritious.

Sometimes the variety may be limited to two or three choices such as cheese sandwiches and bananas, but if the foods are nutritious there’s no need to worry. Try introducing new foods a little at a time and often during the day. The problem may resolve itself over time. Toddlers are learning about their likes and dislikes and are testing them out.

Begin to share family foods

At this stage, seating your child at the table is an important social event. Your child can enjoy many (if not all) of the meals that the rest of the family eats, such as stews, casseroles, mild curries, bolognaise sauce and pasta. Food may have to be cut into smaller pieces, but cooking two meals is not necessary, offering praise for eating well encourages positive eating habits in your toddler.

Sometimes midday and evening meals may need to be served earlier than the rest of the family. Smaller children can’t wait as long as older children or adults. Their attention span is shorter, they may lose interest in eating and they also may become very grumpy if a meal is delayed too long.

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