Getting Your Toddler to Eat Healthy Foods

Child 1: Feast or Famine

The Eater: Luke Prater, 2 1/2 years

Daily Food Intake

8:00 a.m.
1 pancake (homemade, 5 inches across)
1/4 cup blueberries
2 tsp. syrup
3 bites sausage link
4 oz. 1 percent milk

12:30 p.m.
1 1/2 frozen microwaved chicken nuggets
1 medium banana
3/4 medium orange
4 oz. water

3:00 p.m.
8 grape tomatoes
4 oz. cranberry-apple 100 percent juice

5:30 p.m.
1/2 cup spaghetti with tomato sauce and 94 percent lean ground beef
4 oz. water
4 oz. 1 percent milk

8:00 p.m.
4 oz. water

Diet Makeover

What Mom Says: "Luke will either eat like a horse or won't take a single bite," says Lisa Prater, mother of three boys under age 5, in Des Moines.

The Good News: When Luke's in feasting mode, he eats a varied diet that includes servings from all the food groups. His mom thoughtfully plans out his meals and adds small amounts of protein to each. This is a healthy way to keep blood sugar even and mood swings at bay. On average, he drinks water and 2 cups of milk a day, the recommended amount for his age. (His mom watches his juice intake closely.)

What to Improve: Luke's intake varied from one day to the next and even one meal to the next. For example, on one day not shown here, he ate a hearty breakfast and a midmorning snack but then took two bites at lunch and skipped dinner altogether. This ever-changing pattern can be frustrating for caregivers, especially when tactics, such as taking away privileges or forcing a child to sit at the table until he eats, don't work -- they didn't with Luke.

In addition, Luke's intake of whole grains and fiber -- which keep a kid's digestive system running smoothly -- was low. This can be very common in toddlers who eat a lot of refined white-flour products.

Realistic Solutions: Luke's mom shouldn't worry about how much he's eating at each meal because at 2 1/2 years, he can self-regulate: If a toddler eats less at one meal, he knows to make up for it at the next meal. If Prater keeps Luke's portions realistic, she may find that she is less frustrated and wastes less food. Plus, Luke will be hungrier at the next meal. Most important, letting Luke decide how much and when to eat will reduce tension and encourage a better eating pattern.

To get Luke to eat more fiber, his mom could swap whole-grain pancakes for white-flour ones and do the same with pasta and cereal. She could also sprinkle wheat germ or a high-fiber cereal into yogurt.

When choosing cereal, look for 3g to 5g of fiber and no more than 5g of sugar per serving. Breads and crackers should have 2g of fiber per serving. Check to make sure they're made with only whole-grain flour, which should be listed as the first ingredient.

What Worked: "The whole wheat pasta and cereals have been swapped seamlessly. In fact, the other night Luke said, 'Mom, these are the best noodles ever!'" says Prater. "And mealtime is less stressful at my house because I'm not pressuring the kids to finish their food, and I'm giving smaller portions, letting them ask for seconds. When Luke says he's done, we say that's fine and let him stop. He sometimes comes back a few minutes later and wants to eat some more, so I usually leave his plate out for a few minutes longer to make sure he's done."

Parents Are Talking

Add a Comment