Mealtime tips for children aged 1 to 4

Good eating habits that your child learns at home will stay with them for life. This page has helpful tips for healthy mealtimes.

Preparing for meals

Take time to plan your meals in advance.

This will help you to:

  • introduce a mix of food groups
  • eat more nutritious food
  • save money
  • rely less on processed foods

Read meal plans for children aged 1 to 4

Have a daily routine

Try to have regular mealtimes where you sit down at a table with your child to eat together. When your child sees you eating lots of different foods, they are more likely to do the same.

Breakfast is important

Make sure your child eats breakfast every day. It gives them the energy they need. Lead by example and make sure you eat a breakfast. Sit down with your child for breakfast as often as possible.

Give them an iron-fortified porridge or breakfast cereal most days of the week.

Add a fruit high in vitamin C like kiwi or orange pieces to help them absorb the iron.

Making mealtimes easier

One family, one meal

Eat the same meal together at mealtime. Do not make different meals for children. Try to make each meal healthy and balanced with a mix of food groups from the food pyramid shelves.

Get them to join in

Try to make meal times a relaxed, happy, and fun occasion.

Involve all the family in:

  • planning
  • shopping
  • washing
  • peeling
  • chopping
  • cooking
  • serving
  • tidying up

Healthier cooking methods

Use healthier cooking methods for the whole family. Try grilling, baking and steaming instead of frying or roasting with fat or oil.

Portion sizes

Use children's plates and bowls to give your child a small portion of food. Children's appetites can increase according to your child's growth. Do not try to over-feed your child.

Read about portion sizes for children aged 1 to 4

Let them lead

Let children stop eating when they say that they are full. Wait until the next snack or meal time before offering more food. Let them have more food if they say they are still hungry.

Enjoying food

Healthier options

Do

    • Give your child fruit when they want a snack. Healthy snacks are an important part of the diet of young children. You can offer them healthy snacks 2 to 3 times a day.
    • Choose wholemeal bread as well as white bread.
    • Include vegetables in main meals, and fruit at lunch.
    • Choose milk and water for them to drink.
    • Limit dried fruit.
    • Offer smooth nut butter without sugar or salt.
    • Try not to use food high in fat, sugar or salt as a reward or comfort for your child.

Do not ban any foods, such as ice cream and sweets. A ban can make your child want these things even more. Instead, pick a day of the week when everyone can have a treat together.

Get ideas for healthy snacks

Introducing new foods

Introduce new foods slowly. Make positive comments about food. Avoid placing too much focus on certain foods, for example vegetables. Include a food you know they will eat in the meal.

Your child might not like new foods at first, but keep trying. It may take a few times to be successful.

Read about fussy eating and what you can do

Extra foods at mealtime

Sometimes your child will ask for foods that are not part of the meal. Try to avoid giving them extra foods, even when they ask for something healthy like crackers or fruit.

Screen-free meal times

Make meal times screen-free time for all the family. This means no phone, television or tablet. Children can get easily distracted from eating.

Find advice on how to manage your child's screen time

Good behaviour

Try not to use food to reward your child for good behaviour or as a comfort if your child is upset.

Think of other rewards. You could use stickers, or a trip to the playground, beach or park.

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This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 8.

Page last reviewed: 10 August 2021
Next review due: 10 August 2024