My toddler won’t eat meat, what can I do?

Toddlers who don't eat meat

Toddlers are cheeky little beings, one day they’ll eat bananas with gusto, the next day all yellow food is off the menu.

Bless their little hearts, toddlers are fickle when it comes to food and meat can be one of the most difficult things to get into their diet. Mum’s Grapevine nutritionist Mandy dos Santas looks at this meaty issue and offers some ways to get tots chowing down on more meat.

Mandy dos Santos food nutritionist

Eating with toddlers is a tricky time. Amazingly they appear to survive on white pasta and crackers without a vegetable or meat in sight. When is this okay and when should you be worried?

Why eat meat?

Firstly, we eat red meat for many reasons, but nutritionally some of the reasons we eat it are for protein, iron, zinc and vitamin B12. Protein is a macronutrient not of concern in a society such as Australia. We obtain protein from many sources including dairy, wholegrains, legumes, eggs, nuts and seeds and vegetarian sources such as tofu. A toddler (one to three years) needs around 12- 14 grams of protein a day and this is easily obtained even through a simple breakfast as an egg on toast and a glass of milk:

Protein-rich breakfast

  • 1 hardboiled egg is 6 grams
  • Milk at breakfast (200ml) 7 grams
  • 1 slice of wholemeal bread 4 grams

Iron is more of a concern as it is the meat sources of iron which are easiest for our bodies to absorb. There are many non-meat sources of iron and there are a few listed below. A toddler needs around four to nine mg of iron per day. It would probably surprise most mothers if their child ate a kale salad or some of these foods, so
there are a few suggestions on how you could offer them to your toddler.

Non-meat iron-rich toddler meal and snack ideas

  • 1 hardboiled egg yolk (the egg white doesn’t have any iron. Cooked egg yolks could be mashed
    through potato or sweet potato or perhaps even in porridge) – 0.8mg
  • 1 small can of baked beans (90g) – 0.9mg
  • 1/2 cup of kale (popped in a smoothie or made into some pesto for pasta) – 0.3mg
  • ½ cup of lentils (lentil bolognese over pasta or as a topping on roasted potatoes) – 2.2mg
  • 2 tbs of hommus with veggies or crackers – 0.7mg
  • 10 cashews (as a snack for older kids or blended as a cashew cheese or in a pesto or sauce) – 0.7mg
  • 100ml prune juice (to drink or added to smoothies or icy poles) – 0.5mg

If you child doesn’t eat meat consistently, then think of substituting their meat intake with a range
of legumes, lentils as well as leafy green vegetables, nuts and seeds. If these aren’t foods they likely
to eat either and they are having health issues with iron, it is best to talk to your GP about
supplementation.

So how do I get my toddler to eat meat?

fussy child food plate toddler si

Many people around the world are incredibly healthy without eating any meat, let alone red meat. But if this is important to you for them to be able to eat red meat, then you need to identify what is holding them back.

If it is texture based, then starting with softer meats such as minced meat and slow-cooked meats is
best as they are easiest to chew. If it is flavour driven, then look at the least flavourful meat cuts such as white meats like chicken or pork. Slowly you will work towards red meat through a process, starting with say crumbed chicken, then crumbed red meat, then less crumbed red meat, then no crumbs.

Our children are learning to eat and each day presents another opportunity for them to try a food for the first time. It is important there is no pressure placed on them to eat specific foods and that they have the opportunity to see, touch, smell and even listen to the sounds of the food when eaten. Exposure and patience is the key.

Mandy dos Santos is a nutritionist, food scientist, author and mumma to three monkeys. Her kitchen is always messy with mini cooking experiments popping from every crevice. She adores everything about food and is passionate about nurturing the love of food in children and their families. You can find her at Little People Nutrition

Want to get creative with toddler food? Here’s how to make a toddler finger food tray.