Develop Your Toddler’s Appetite for Healthy Foods

12-18 Months

The food parenting choices you make for your toddler today will have a big impact on his preferences for years to come. Babies develop some food preferences as early as in the womb and, just like adults, there’ll be foods he’ll love and some he’ll have to see a few times before warming up to. It will take some patience on your part because sometimes toddlers need to see a new food 15 to 20 times before trying it.

The key: Offer a variety of healthy options, and delay introducing junk food and sweets until he’s older. By holding off on certain foods now and exposing him to healthy foods over and over again, you’ll help your toddler develop a taste for healthier foods.

Delay: sweets and desserts

We are born liking sweets, but treats like cookies and fruit snacks aren’t the best choices for your toddler’s health and teeth. But even more importantly at this age, they train impressionable young taste buds to crave sugar. In fact, most tantrums over food happen because the child wants something sweet and the parent tries to say no.

Tip: Make life easier on yourself and your child by holding off on sweets, at least for now. Toddlers won’t ask for what they don’t know, and you’ll have plenty of opportunities to offer sweet treats later. 

Rethink: prepackaged toddler meals

Salt is a learned taste, so serving your child salty foods now sets him up to want salty foods later. Plus, many processed, boxed and canned foods are loaded with both salt and hidden sugar.

Tip: If you’re going to choose convenience foods, read the nutrition facts and buy those with less salt (sodium) and sugar.

Skip: French fries

The number one “vegetable” 2-year-olds eat is French fries, but we don’t even count them as a vegetable. Fries are loaded with salt and unhealthy fats. So why are they so popular? Because they have a taste and texture we just like—crispy but soft, salty, easy to pick up and eat. And once your child has his first French fry, he’s likely going to want more.

Tip: When eating out, choose veggie or fruit side dishes for the whole family. If you get fries and he gets apples, he’ll notice (and let the entire restaurant know how he feels!). 

Ditch: pouches

Pouches contain fruit and are an easy way to serve up veggies. So what’s the problem? Masking the taste of veggies by sweetening them with fruit doesn’t teach your toddler to learn to like the taste of veggies. Serving them as a puree also doesn’t teach your child to like the rough texture of veggies. Better to serve the real thing. 

Minimize: sugary drinks

Sweet drinks, like juice, fruit punch, lemonade, flavored milk and sweet tea, train your child’s taste buds to expect everything he drinks to taste sweet, making it harder for him to choose water and plain milk later on.

Did you know juice has as much sugar as soda? Just an 8-ounce serving provides 6 teaspoons of sugar.

Tip: Keep sugary drinks, including juice, out of the house, especially if you know your child is getting them at school, grandma’s or restaurants. If you do choose to serve juice, water it down, limiting to 4 ounces (1/2 cup) a day.

Junk foods and sweets won’t be off limits forever, but delay them for now to help your toddler learn to like a variety of healthy foods!