15 Toddler Nutrition Myths busted by a Dietitian
Updated: Nov 20
Keeping toddlers fed with nutritious and yummy food is no easy task. With their energic and consistently growing bodies, it’s hard to know if they are eating enough or enough of the right foods. Food gives us so much more than just nutrients, food is something to share and grow connection with, to form memories around, and bring joy to our lives and the lives of those around us.
Teaching children from the very beginning to grow up to have healthy relationship with food is what our Dietitians do! Our amazing Accredited Practising Dietitian, Veronica Roman placed 15 popular toddler nutrition myths under the microscope. Only using the latest evidence-based practice let’s answer some common toddler nutrition myths to help families and early childhood educators.
Let’s debunk some toddler nutrition myths!
1. Foods with sugar don’t send children wild.
The power of our minds contributes to this myth. It's likely that if we go into a situation expecting a certain outcome, we'll get that outcome. It's called the placebo effect.
The cause of your child's hyperactivity isn't sugar, but there are other factors contributing to it. These factors strongly relate to the release of serotonin with the interactions with others and the environment they are in.
In studies, children ate foods low in sugar or "sugar-free", removing this association.
2. It can take up 20 times for a child try a food before their taste buds will adjust.
The truth to this is that children may require 20-30 times or more, before accepting a particular food. This is because food preferences develop through exposure to specific flavours. The more unfamiliar an individual is with a flavour, the less likely they are to accept and even like the food over time.
Children have 10,000-30,000 taste buds which regenerate every 10-14 days, 10% of taste buds are regenerating every day. Over time our taste buds silence for approximately 4 weeks or more with ongoing exposure. Therefore, physiologically our taste and preference can adjust, and can take also of skills. But there are ways we can also increase acceptance without tasting also!
3. Children will eat broccoli.
Children often dislike brassica vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale and turnips. This is because genetically our inborn mechanisms increase our preference for sweet foods such as breast milk to provide us with high energy. This can also include salty and umami flavours as this help balance flavours. However, we reject bitter substances, as our bodies identify them as toxic, and are intended to avoid consumption.
Because children have many taste buds, the taste of bitterness increases, and exposure to bitterness in various ways has been shown to increase consumption in many ways. Exposure can also mean you eat with your children. Having it available daily, encouraging food and play are also contributing to acceptance. Try mixing, cooking, such as sautéing, boiling, steaming, adding it to Bolognese or pasta, etc. The results of a RCT demonstrated that a 70% increase in total vegetable intake (53-90g) was demonstrated by offering spinach, plain, creamed, ravioli and green beans at home 6 times a week for 6 weeks.
4. Toddlers don’t only like bland food like chicken nuggets.
There are several reasons why children love chicken nuggets. This is because they are easy to hold and have the same texture cold or hot. They don’t need to wash their hands and can return to their toys. They are easy to chew because they are highly processed and easier for your child’s jaw and tongue and have a low sensory load.
Chicken nuggets are classified as part of the "beige or white diet”. It incorporates bland, colourless, processed foods that are convenient to eat and don’t have an intense sensory load. Given their 30% increased taste buds they tend to avoid bitter, sour, and spicy foods.
Think of it like this, kids don’t eat foods they're not offered. Exposure is key and getting children to eat other foods is critical. By trying similar foods that have the same colour, texture, or even a different brand of chicken nuggets, you can broaden the child's palate.
Why not try making your own chicken nuggets with hidden veggies! You can still freeze them for convenience too.
5. Toddlers can have honey, Infants can’t.
Toddlers fall in the age group between 1-3 years of age and an infant is 0-1years.Infants should never be provided with honey OR corn syrup due to the risk of botulism. This is because honey contains a type of bacteria called Clostridium, germinates in the intestine, and produce a toxin, which is observed. It can cause symptoms of weakness, floppiness, poor feeding, constipation, lethargy, and compromise.
therefore, if your infant has consumed honey, it is important to seek medical attention as it can take 12-36 hours to feel symptoms.
It is important to note that infant botulism cannot be transmitted through breastmilk.
Once your child become a toddler, honey and corn syrup can be incorporated into their diet.
6. Cordial and juice do rot children’s developing teeth.
Cordial can contain sucrose and juice contains fructose a type of sugar that when consumed can also lead to tooth decay. Therefore, in addition to not providing substantial energy, it is suggested that toddlers and children avoid drinking sweet drinks such as fruit juice, cordials, and soft drinks. It is especially highlighted that they are avoided in-between meals as sugar will remain on their teeth. Contributing to greater tooth decay.
Rotting teeth are also known as tooth decay. It happens when bacteria in the mouth create a sticky covering called plaque on the tooth surface. These bacteria feed on sugars in food and drinks and produce acid that damages tooth surfaces. Over time, this acid eats away at the tooth surface, creating holes or ‘cavities.
7. Kids won’t starve if they don’t eat or skip a meal.
Healthy children eat when they are hungry. It is imperative to understand that children will not starve themselves. And that their food intake fluctuates based on their appetite, physical activity levels OR how much they have eaten prior to mealtime. Babies often eat a lot more than toddlers, give their rate of growth is slower and are periods of rapid growth, during these periods, children may sleep more, their appetite may increase and therefore requiring an additional 2-3 snacks. These spurts can last 2-3 days or even 1 week. This is particularly true as our hunger hormone Ghrelin stimulates the release of the hormone which helps build muscle.
If you’re still worried, it is important to look at their snack intake -s you would be surprised how many small handfuls add up.
8. Toddlers won’t eat a certain portion size per meal.
Children don’t require portion control and therefore should not eat a certain portion size per meal. Evidence has shown that portion sizes don't apply to real life and toddlers have the ability (although we all do) to listen to their natural cues of hunger and satiety (fullness). Therefore, eliminating the focus on big or small spoons, high-calorie or low calorie. As a result, individuals can eat however their bodies tell them to. – Children know how much to eat. Forcing kids to eat based on external cues can teach them to eat past their fullness. This is where adults have lost the ability to regulate their food intake.
Toddlers’ appetites vary. This is due to growth spurts and changing activity levels. It is also because toddlers’ stomachs are small, and very short attention spans and everything is an unfamiliar experience from the start. Furthermore, toddlers are also becoming independent and want to demonstrate their control, therefore providing variety is key.
But how much should you offer?
Offering regular meals through the day is critical, if you find your toddler won't eat, give them a small serve, they will always ask for another serve if they are hungry. The first step is to give them 2 tbsp of each food on their plate at 2 years old, 3 tbsp at 3 years old. You also want to make sure you provide your toddler with a variety of the 5 food groups.
For toddlers 1-2:
Grain (cereal) foods, mostly grains: 4
Lean meat and poultry: 1
Milk, yoghurt, cheese, and alternatives: 1-1.5
Parents are responsible for providing this variety of food for the groups.
If you are concerned, look at how much your toddler is consuming across the course of the week, given that there are many factors innately that impact their appetite. Therefore, looking at one meal portion or 1 days’ worth of eating are not accurate measures of a toddler's judgement if they are eating too little or too much.
9. Fussy eating is normal in children.
Fussy eating affects 85% of children. However, it is completely natural to worry about your child getting enough food if they refuse. Children often fuss about foods particularly due to the taste, shape, colour, or texture of foods. It is also very common for children to change their minds about foods for example liking a food one day and not the next, refusing new foods and even eating more or less from day to day.
Fussy eating is a normal part of children’s development, demonstrating independence by asserting their wants. Children’s appetite also fluctuates and depends on how much they grow and are active.
So, it is key to create safe, and enjoyable meals that reduce stress.
10. Toddlers won’t be overweight if they drink full cream milk.
Children aged 1-2 years should not be given reduced-fat milk, low-fat or fat-free milk routinely, as they need whole milk to meet their energy needs. Full-cream milk is recommended as it provides calcium, fat, protein, and vitamin D to support needs during this time of rapid growth and development. It is favoured over skim-milk because it is nutrient dense and supports their tummies. Whereas Toddlers 2 years and older it is recommended to incorporate reduced-fat milk products as they consume a variety of foods to meet their energy needs.
In terms of whether full-cream milk causes Toddlers to be overweight, this is undefined in the literature. Studies had shown that full-cream milk was favoured over reduced-fat products and demonstrated higher satiety. Given children are often initiative eaters, if children decrease their intake of fat, reducing satiety they have room for additional kilojoules to meet their food group needs. Therefore, these subsequent kilojoules consumed would influence overall body weight not directly full-fat milk.
Obesity in toddlers/children is complex and a public health concern. Therefore, current guidelines suggest reduced-fat milk over the age of 2 years old is recommended.
11. Picky eating will lead to nutrient deficiencies.
Picky eating can lead to nutrition deficiencies if patterns continue for long periods of time. However, research shows that fussy eating has a minimal effect of their macronutrient deficiencies such as protein, carbohydrate, or fats, but can result in micronutrient deficiencies. These nutrients such as Zinc and Iron.
Zinc containing foods are meat, fish, seafood such as oysters and eggs. Iron containing foods such as, iron-fortified (baby cereal) breakfast cereals, beef, poultry, legumes, peanut butter, and leafy greens.
12. Toddlers should refrain from sugary food up to 2 years.
Toddlers should refrain from eating foods with added sugar. This is because we are born to like sweet tasting foods. However, if you introduce added sugar, they are more likely to prefer and choose these foods later in childhood.
Eating foods high in sugar can lead to chronic diseases later in life. If we provide them with cakes, muffins and sweet beverages there won’t be any room left in their small stomachs for the nutritious foods you want them to consume. If you think you are depriving them of these ‘tasty foods’ babies don’t know what they are missing.
Although the food industry can make it difficult to find products without added sugar. Here are some ways in which we can avoid added sugar.
Instead of sugary drinks, stick to water or plain milk.
Instead of juice, offer soft fruits, such as bananas, ripe peaches, and drained canned fruit (packed in water or 100% juice, not syrup).
Instead of fruit snacks, offer freeze-dried fruit without added ingredients.
Instead of ice cream, offer a plain, whole-milk yogurt parfait with fruit.
Instead of sugary cereals, offer plain toasted oats (make them at home).
Offer a whole-wheat mini bagel with cream cheese (for toddlers).
Offer whole-wheat pasta with sauce, ground meat and veggies.
13. Vegan or plant-based diets aren’t bad for toddlers when they have the support of a Dietitian, GP and Paediatrician
Diets based on plants can be nutritious, but require the support of a Dietitian, GP, and Paediatrician. Since vegan diets limit nutrients and foods, this subpopulation of toddlers is most vulnerable to malnutrition. It is also not advised the toddlers ae vegan if they have health issues resulting in poor developments, are extremely picky eaters, or have allergies to nuts, seeds and soy as these are essential sources of vitamins and minerals.
A longitudinal study of vegan children from 1988 found "the majority of children grew and developed normally. However, they were smaller in stature and lighter in weight than standards for the general population". This is because energy, calcium, Vitamin B2, Vitamin B12, calcium and iron intake are often below the recommended amount. Vegan diets are high in fibre. For example, the maximum fibre recommended for toddlers is 14g, but a study demonstrated a fibre intake three times higher than this. Excessive amounts of fibre can lead to poor absorption of critical nutrients such as iron, zinc, and calcium. Vegan children need vitamin B12. This supplement is naturally found in animal foods but can now also be found in foods and supplements. Vitamin B12 is needed for the formation of red blood cells. Its deficiency can cause irreplaceable brain damage and life-threatening diseases, such as megaloblastic anaemia or neurological abnormalities.
A study conducted in Germany compared the nutrient intake of Vegetarians, Vegans and Omnivorous using a 3-day weighted dietary record and a lifestyle questionnaire. This looked at children aged 1-3 as well. In early childhood vegetarian and vegan diets showed preferred micronutrient intake of vitamin E, B, folate, magnesium as well as overall fat quality higher in polyunsaturated fat and lower in saturated fat. However, Omnivorous consumed a greater amount of vitamin B2, calcium, iodine, and DHA. Conclusions of the study demonstrated that none of the groups with median without supplementation met the nutritional requirements for Vitamin D, iodine, and DHA. In plant-based diets, vitamins B2, B12, calcium, and iron need special attention. But supplements can be necessary for all toddlers.
Plant-based diets also have benefits.
Plant-based diets and whole foods protect brain health, boost immunity, and decrease chronic inflammation. This is since plant whole foods increase the amount of fibre contained in promoting gut health, phytonutrients, and antioxidants. As well as reducing added sugar and saturated fat, it protects against chronic diseases later in life. Studies have shown that vegan diets demonstrate healthier relationships with food and a “healthy attitude about their bodies". Vegan diets have also demonstrated less strain of greenhouse gas emissions and assisting the fight against climate change.
Overall, a plant-based diet for young children can benefit, however provision, expert guidance, planning, and supplementation is required.
14. Toddler formula should not be given past 1 years old.
Your baby doesn’t need formula after 12 months. This includes toddler or stage 3 formulas.
At this age, toddlers should get most of their nutrition from solid food and cow's milk. If toddlers have toddler formula, it can reduce their food appetite. This can mean they don’t get the nutrients they need. It can also contribute to fussy eating and challenging mealtimes.
15. Orange and red food products don’t trigger challenging behaviours.
In relation to red foods such as tomatoes, capsicum, red meat etc. or orange foods such as mandarins, oranges, carrots these foods only benefit children’s gut health. However, evidence has been circulating regarding food dyes and their effect on hyperactivity, sleep disturbances and other behaviours. Artificial dyes have neurotoxic chemicals that can affect sensitive children such as children with ADHD. However, the evidence is limited and inconclusive.
Food dyes can also cause allergic reactions in some people. Therefore, foods that contain dyes should be limited as they are often processed and can impact overall health. Limiting processed foods can also accommodate more nutritious food options from the 5 food groups: Milk/Milk alternatives, meat/meat alternatives, fruit, vegetables and grain and cereals.
We’re here to help you!
We hope you enjoyed this toddler nutrition webinar. Dietitians are a reliable source of evidence-based nutrition so always reach out to a Dietitian for support. Our Dietitians help children build a healthy relationship with food and together within Childcare centres we can do this from the beginning. We provide nutrition training (including fussy eating training), menu reviews and developments, and food allergy training.
Fussy Eating Presentation
We have a 1-hour Fussy Eating Presentation, where one of amazing our Dietitians can come out to your childcare centre and present to the educators and families on this topic.
What is covered?
Of course, fussy eating, as well as:
What to do if your child dislikes...
How to encourage healthy eating
Fostering healthy habits
Strategies to deal with fussy eating.
Steps to eating
If you’re interested in booking this for your centre and parents, reach out to us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can set something up for you.
Within our Mulgrave clinic, our Dietitians are available to help one-on-one for a range of reasons including children’s nutrition, women’s health, weight management, IBS, Diabetes management and sports nutrition. Our team is here to help everyone for all ages and can even conduct a telehealth appointment if you are unable to come to our clinic.
Rewatch our Food Myth Webinars
Missed our previous webinars in this series, or want to rewatch? Here’s the links.
12 common food myths debunked by a Dietitian - watch here
18 Food Allergy myths debunked by a Dietitian - watch here
Be sure to subscribe to our mailing list to be the first one to know when the next one is released. Or keep an eye out on our events pages for more details.