Typical Eating Behaviors in Young Children

Toddler eating roll

Dealing with eating challenges such as picky eaters and food “strikes” is a common challenge in child care. Remember that children grow at different rates, and their appetites, food preferences and eating habits change as they get older.

When you’re caring for a group of children, how do you know what eating behaviors are typical? Here are some of the most common milestones.

Ages 1-2

  • Has less appetite as growth slows
  • Is weaned from breast or bottle, especially during the day
  • Learns to drink from a cup
  • Cuts back to about 2 cups of milk daily
  • Learns to bring food to mouth with a spoon
  • Likes to feed self but will likely need some help
  • Copies what other children and adults are eating at meals and snacks
  • Has difficulty chewing when cutting new teeth
  • Has acute taste buds that can detect slight differences in foods
  • Develops specific food likes and dislikes
  • Begins liking and showing an interest in sweet foods
  • Touches and plays with food
  • Responds to differences in food texture
  • Says “no” to specific foods

Ages 2-3

  • Can use a spoon and fork easily
  • Requests desserts and sweets
  • Is able to wait a short time for requests to be filled
  • Is willing to eat raw vegetables but may refuse salads
  • Accepts green vegetables more readily
  • Responds to simple either/or food choices, such as, “Would you like a peach or pear?”

Ages 4-5

  • Has food jags, insisting on eating only specific foods
  • Goes on food strikes, refusing to eat certain foods
  • Is easily influenced to try new foods when other children and adults try them
  • Requests foods seen in television ads
  • Prefers plain cooking,dislikes many mixed food dishes and gravies
  • Insists that foods be separated on the plate, gets upset if foods touch
  • Has a gradual increase in appetite

Ages 6-8

  • Shows more interest in trying new foods
  • Continues to be influenced by other children, parents, providers, teachers and television ads
  • Enjoys preparing simple foods and snacks
  • Enjoys reading and following recipes in cooking activities
  • Prefers using real kitchen tools and utensils rather than child-sized plastic ones
  • Has an increased appetite

For More Information

To learn more about healthy eating, check out the following eXtension Alliance for Better Child Care articles:

Photo by carbonnyc / CC BY http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/