Healthy food ideas for babies and toddlers

Toddler eating food

6 minute read

Healthy food ideas for babies and toddlers

The eating habits and food tastes that toddlers develop can stay with them into adulthood. To encourage healthy eating, we’ve put together this helpful nutrition guide for children aged between 7 months and 3 years.The eating preferences that a child develops as a toddler can last for life. It’s a time when positive attitudes towards food and nutrition can make a lasting impact on their health and wellbeing, and these need to be nurtured. As you might expect, there’s a bit of science to eating healthily. That said, a good diet doesn’t need to be complicated!As a general rule, toddlers require three times more energy than an adult for every kilo of body weight.[1] In proportion to their size, they also need higher amounts of nutrients, such as iron, than adults. This is why little mouths require meals that are energy- and nutrient-dense. It’s as simple as that.

Meals and servings

Most children have a built-in ability to recognise when they’re hungry or full. They usually know what amount is right for them, and understanding their cues is an artform that every parent perfects.For healthy eating and uncomplicated goodness in their diet, toddlers need a variety of foods from the five key food groups, as identified in the Australian Dietary Guidelines:

  1. Vegetables and legumes/beans
  2. Fruit
  3. Grains and cereals
  4. Lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds
  5. Milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or alternatives

The amount your child needs will vary depending on their age, activity level, growth and development. The following meal suggestions provide a simple guide, with daily food ideas and serving tips. They have been broken down into three age groups, showing the average nutritional needs of children aged 7–12 months, 1–2 years, and 3 years.[2]

1. Vegetables and legumes/beans

7–12 months: 1 1/2–2 serves per dayOne standard serve is about 20g and could include any of the following:

  • cooked green or orange vegetables (for example, broccoli, spinach, carrots, pumpkin, sweet corn)
  • cooked, dried or canned beans, peas or lentils
  • green leafy or raw salad vegetables
  • potato or sweet potato
  • cooked or canned legumes/beans (for example, lentils, chickpeas, split peas)

1–2 years: 2–3 serves per dayOne standard serve is about 75g and could include any of the following:

  • 1/2 cup cooked green or orange vegetables (for example, broccoli, spinach, carrots, pumpkin, sweet corn)
  • 1/2 cup cooked, dried or canned beans, peas or lentils
  • 1 cup green leafy or raw salad vegetables
  • 1/2 medium potato or sweet potato
  • 150g cooked or canned legumes/beans (for example, lentils, chickpeas, split peas)

2. Fruit

7–12 months: 1/2 a serve per dayOne standard serve is about 20g and could include any of the following:

  • ½ medium apple, banana, orange or pear
  • 1 small apricots, kiwi fruits or plums
  • ½ cup diced or canned fruit (with no added sugar)

1–2 years: 1/2 a serve per dayOne standard serve is about 150g (350kJ), equal to:

  • 1 medium apple, banana, orange or pear
  • 2 small apricots, kiwi fruits or plums
  • 1 cup diced or canned fruit (with no added sugar)

3. Grains and cereals (mostly wholegrain and high fibre)

7–12 months: 1–1 1/2 serves per dayOne standard serve is about 20g of infant cereal, or 40g of bread equivalent, and could include any of the following:

  • slice of bread
  • medium roll or flat bread
  • cooked rice, pasta, noodles, barley, buckwheat, semolina, polenta, bulgur or quinoa
  • cooked porridge
  • wheat cereal flakes
  • muesli
  • crispbreads
  • crumpet or a small English muffin or plain scone.

1–2 years: 4 serves per dayOne standard serve (500kJ) of grain is roughly equal to:

  • 1 slice of bread (40g)
  • 1/2 medium roll or flat bread (40g)
  • 1/2 cup cooked rice, pasta, noodles, barley, buckwheat, semolina, polenta, bulgur or quinoa (75–120g)
  • 1/2 cup cooked porridge (about 120g)
  • 2/3 cup wheat cereal flakes (30g)
  • 1/4 cup muesli (30g)
  • 3 crispbreads (35g)
  • 1 crumpet (60g) or a small English muffin or plain scone (35g)

4. Lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds

7–12 months: 1 serve per dayOne standard serve is 30g, and can include any of the following:

  • cooked lean meat (beef, veal, lamb, pork, kangaroo or goat)
  • cooked poultry
  • cooked fish fillet or small can of fish
  • eggs
  • cooked or canned legumes/beans such as lentils, chickpeas or split peas (preferably with no added salt)
  • tofu
  • nuts, seeds or peanut or almond butter or tahini or other nut or seed paste (no added salt)

1–2 years: 1 serve per dayOne standard serve is 65g (500–600kJ), and can include any of the following:

  • 65g cooked lean meat (about 90–100g raw weight of beef, veal, lamb, pork, kangaroo or goat)
  • 80g cooked poultry (about 100g raw weight of skinless chicken or turkey)
  • 100g cooked fish fillet (about 115g raw weight) or small can of fish
  • 2 large eggs (120g)
  • 1 cup (150g) cooked or canned legumes/beans such as lentils, chickpeas or split peas (preferably with no added salt)
  • 170g tofu
  • 30g nuts, seeds or peanut or almond butter or tahini or other nut or seed paste (no added salt)

5. Milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or alternatives (mostly reduced fat)

7–12 months:Infants should get most of their milk needs from breast milk or formula. They need 1 serve per day, and the standard serve is 600ml. They may also consume 20ml of yoghurt or 10g of cheese.1–2 years: 1–1 1/2 serves per dayA standard serve is 250g (500–600kJ) of milk equivalent, and could may include:

  • 1 cup (250ml) fresh, UHT long-life or reconstituted powdered milk or buttermilk
  • 1⁄2 cup (120ml) evaporated milk
  • 2 slices, or 4x3x2cm piece (40g) hard cheese
  • 1⁄2 cup (120g) ricotta cheese
  • 3⁄4 cup (200g tub) yoghurt
  • 1 cup (250ml) soy beverage or beverages made from rice or other cereals which contain at least 100mg of added calcium per 100ml

6. Snacks 

Note: Guide offers no info on snacking habits of 7–12-month-olds.In addition to meals, toddlers need healthy snacks to get their fill of energy and nutrients. A good daily eating routine might involve three meals with two to three snacks in between. Snacks could include:

  • Fruit (fresh or tinned in natural juice)
  • Soft vegetable sticks
  • Cheese on toast
  • Yoghurt
  • Cheese sticks or cheese and crackers
  • Rice cakes
  • Healthy savoury muffins/sandwiches.

Foods to avoid, limit and be careful of

There are lots of foods that aren’t essential to a toddler’s diet. These include foods that are high in calories, fat, sugar or salt. Consumption of the following should be reserved for special occasions (or, for many of the items listed, avoided entirely):

  • Sweet biscuits, cakes, desserts
  • Ice-cream, confectionaries, chocolate
  • Processed meats, sausages
  • Meat pies and other pastries
  • Commercial burgers, hot chips, fried foods
  • Cream and butter
  • Sugar-sweetened cordials, soft drinks, sports drinks
  • Crisps and other fatty, salty snacks.

Toddlers can choke on hard foods, so it’s important to be vigilant of meals that are potentially hazardous. To reduce the risk, it’s helpful to:

  • Cook or grate hard fruit and vegetables to soften them.
  • Remove all bones from fish and meat.

8 essential nutrition tips for toddlers   

  1. Water is the best drink between meals, encourage your toddler to drink from a cup and to drink water regularly.
  2. Serve food in small portions, with the option of second helpings, rather than overload a plate. This can make toddlers feel in control and help develop a positive attitude towards eating.
  3. Don’t use lollies and sweet foods as bribes or rewards for good behaviour.
  4. Toddlers may have to be offered a new food up to 10 times before they actually eat it.
  5. Toddlers are more likely to try a new food if they see their parents or siblings enjoying it.
  6. Keep mealtime distractions to a minimum.
  7. Set mealtimes and avoid casual grazing. Routine is important.
  8. Toddlers love to help prepare meals – it might take longer but it will encourage their positive interest in food.

Our Careline team is always on hand to help answer any questions you have.

Important Notice: Breast-feeding is the best form of nutrition for babies and provides many benefits to babies and mothers. It is important that, in preparation for and during breast-feeding, you eat a healthy, balanced diet. Combined breast and bottle-feeding in the first weeks of life may reduce the supply of your own breast-milk, and reversing the decision not to breast-feed is difficult. Always consult your Healthcare Professional for advice about feeding your baby. If you use infant formula, you should follow manufacturer’s instructions for use carefully.  The social and financial implications of using infant formula should be considered. Improper use of an infant formula or inappropriate foods or feeding methods may present a health hazard. If you use infant formula, you should follow the manufacturer’s instructions for use carefully – failure to follow the instructions may make your baby ill.

[1] NHMRC (2005). Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand Including Dietary Recommended Intakes, Commonwealth of Australia, 2006.[2] Source: Australian Dietary Guidelines, 2013, Commonwealth of Australia. www.eatforhealth.gov.au

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