Improving toddler nutrition for fussy eaters

Feeding fussy toddlers can be challenging, frustrating, and exhausting. It’s not just about the food refusal, the complaints, or the waste. Worrying that they’re not getting enough nutrients totally adds to the stress and anxiety at mealtimes.

What if all they eat is nuggets, plain pasta, toast, and some fruit? Whilst there’s nothing wrong with those foods, and many toddlers go through picky phases, their growing bodies are going to need some additional vitamins and minerals to keep them going.

Toddlers are busy, curious, and going through a phase of rapid growth and development. To meet their nutritional needs, they require the following (among other nutrients):

  • Vitamins A, C, D, and folate to support their immune system.
  • Iron, zinc, and iodine for cognitive function (and quality sleep).
  • Calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, vitamins B6, B12, and E to help support normal growth and development.
  • Calcium and vitamin D to support healthy bones and teeth.

Improving toddler nutrition for fussy eaters

What we don’t really want to be doing is getting in the habit of ‘sneaking’ extra nutrients into the foods they actually do eat…because they will find out! They’re clever like that. Hiding ingredients can set them up to be suspicious about food, and perhaps even cause some trust issues in your relationship. Neither of which we want, and will only worsen their attitude towards trying new foods.

However, if we can be transparent about boosting their nutrient levels, give them some power and choice over what they eat, while having some fun with it and avoiding any pressure, it can help them to be more open to exploring food in a positive and calm way.

Here are some ways to boost toddler nutrition:


If your toddler likes smoothies or milkshakes, run with it! It’s a great way to get some additional protein and other nutrients into them. A good place to start is to look for a specially formulated toddler milk drink that contains essential vitamins and minerals to support their growth, development, and immune system.

Invite your toddler to help make the smoothies, and choose the ingredients that go into it. Give them a selection of fruit that they could help cut up and throw into the blender. If they like peanut butter, pop that in too for added protein and good fats. For the chocolate lovers, add in a little cacao (rather than cocoa), which is a great source of minerals. Dates or honey (for toddlers over 12 months) are tasty sweeteners for any smoothie.

Dips and sauces

By nature, toddlers love to snack. They usually prefer to eat little and often to keep them fueled and their tummy full (but not overly full). Sauces and dips can truly be your secret weapon when it comes to snack time or mealtime!

Offering dips and sauces provides an opportunity for toddlers to ‘play’ with their food and give them some autonomy over what they eat and how much they have in a fun and tasty way.

It’s best if you can make your own as the shop-bought options often contain all kinds of artificial additives, but if you go for the commercial ones, look for those with the most wholesome ingredients (and less of the numbers and nasties).

Here are some ideas:

  • Hummus (chickpeas are full of iron and protein) with carrot and cucumber sticks, and rice crackers.
  • Blend yoghurt and berries for a sweet protein and probiotic-rich dip to have with bananas or apple slices.
  • Tahini or natural peanut butter are full of healthy fats, magnesium and vitamin E. Serve it with cut up vegetables, fruit, or pieces of wholegrain bread.
  • They could dip meatballs into a vegetable-laden pasta sauce.
  • If they like porridge or yoghurt, offer some chia jam (pureed fruit and chia seeds) for them to stir through it.


Provide a few ‘sprinkle’ options (not the colourful variety) with their favourite foods so they can have some fun with it. For instance:

  • Chia seeds sprinkled on their cereal, toast, or in their smoothies.
  • Ground nuts and seeds, such as almond meal, on their yoghurt or porridge.
  • Shredded coconut contains several important minerals and B vitamins, and goes nicely in smoothies, bliss balls, or on toast with mashed banana.
  • Nutritional yeast is packed with protein and fortified with Vitamin B12. It tastes cheesy and nutty, so it’s yummy sprinkled on pasta. Find it in your health food aisle at the supermarket.

Make some swaps

Sometimes just making a few swaps for more nutritious options is a simple strategy to boost toddler nutrition. Here are some suggestions:

  • Change the type of bread. If they only eat white bread, swap it for a white sourdough.
  • Change their bread/toast toppings. Instead of just jam or honey, spread on some nut or seed butters with it. Try avocado instead of vegemite for a savoury option.
  • For baking, switch white flour for wholemeal or white spelt flour.
  • Use homemade bone broths to support gut health and immunity in meals instead of commercial stocks.

Mix things up

Just because a child doesn’t like a food in one form doesn’t mean they won’t try it a different way. Change the texture, flavour, and presentation, and you may well be surprised. Some ideas are:

  • Grate fruit and vegetables, such as carrots and apples, instead of cooking or slicing them.
  • Make pumpkin soup instead of cooked chunks.
  • Try roasting cauliflower instead of steaming it. Or make it into a puree to add to a cheesy sauce.
  • Use the peeler or spiraliser to make zucchini or sweet potato ‘noodles’.
  • Offer raw mushrooms, capsicum, and broccoli instead of cooking it. Remember to add the dips!

Make it fun

Toddlers love to play and have fun, and mealtimes shouldn’t be any different. Here are some quick tips:

  • Let them get messy at mealtimes.
  • Don’t stress if they prefer to eat with their fingers.
  • Licking or playing with food is still a win!
  • Get them into the kitchen to help prepare meals.
  • Use platters in the middle of the table to enjoy relaxed buffet-style meals.
  • Keep the conversation and atmosphere light and positive, and not about the food.
  • Avoid bribery, rewards, or punishments for eating. Toddlers can sense an agenda and will resist that with everything they’ve got. It’s a toddler’s prerogative!
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