I think my toddler is overweight. What should I do?

By Polly Logan-Banks | Medically reviewed by Sasha Watkins, Dietitian

Try not to worry. The first thing is to find out whether your toddler really is overweight. Just because she has to wear clothes sized for an older child, or she has a bit of fat round her tummy, doesn’t necessarily mean she’s an unhealthy weight.

On the other hand, there’s also no truth to that old wives’ tale that a chubby child is always a healthy child, either. What matters is that your toddler is a healthy weight for her own personal height and build.

Ask your GP or health visitor to measure your toddler’s height and weight. They will chart this in her personal health record (red book) and compare it to her previous measurements. This information will help them determine whether her weight is healthy.

If your health visitor or doctor agrees that your child is overweight, chances are she’s simply taking in more calories than she’s using up. There are two simple steps you can take to help your toddler reach a healthy weight:

encourage her to be more active
offer her a healthy, balanced diet

Of course, while this sounds like straightforward advice, it can be easier said than done! But with a little perseverance from you, your toddler should be back on track in no time.

How can I encourage my toddler to exercise more?

Children under five need to be physically active for three hours a day, which is more than you may think. Don’t worry though. That doesn’t mean she has to be running around for three hours straight! Instead, you can break the time up into six half-hour bursts of activity a day.

If your toddler needs a bit of extra persuasion to get moving, here are some ideas:

Once your toddler is walking confidently, leave the buggy at home for short journeys. Bear in mind that you’ll need to allow more time. Alternatively, she could ride her trike or push teddy in her toy pushchair.
Limit the time your toddler spends watching TV or playing on the computer or tablet. An hour or two a day is more than enough. Some experts say that children two years and younger shouldn’t have screen time at all.
Make sure your toddler gets plenty of sleep. Shorter sleep patterns can lead to an increased risk of becoming overweight.

If your child goes to nursery or a childminder while you’re at work, find out how much exercise she’s getting. It’s likely they’ll already be good at encouraging your toddler to play outside, but it never hurts to check.

For more fun ways to encourage your toddler to stay active, try our great selection of outdoor games.

Do I have to put my toddler on a diet?

No. Your toddler’s still growing, so she doesn’t need to lose weight. However, she may need to maintain her weight for a while. At least until she becomes a more healthy weight for her height.

Your GP or health visitor may ask you to keep a food diary for your toddler. Include all her drinks, as well as her meals and snacks.

This can help you to track her patterns of eating and identify times when she’s most likely to be hungry. Then you can adjust her mealtimes and be prepared with healthy snacks.

If your toddler seems to snack continually, she may be in the habit of eating even when she doesn’t need to. Try to cut down gradually on snacks between meals, until she’s having no more than two or three snacks a day.

When you do give snacks, go for healthy options, such as a piece of fruit, an oatcake, a rice cake or a breadstick. Your toddler may gain weight too quickly if she eats snacks that are high in sugar and fat between meals.

If your toddler still enjoys the comfort of sucking on a bottle, she may drink more milk than she needs. She should only have between 350ml (two-thirds of a pint) and 500ml (a pint) of milk a day.

Children under two usually need full-fat or whole milk. Only give your toddler semi-skimmed milk on the advice of your health visitor or dietitian.

Give your toddler her drinks in a free flow cup or beaker rather than a bottle. If she asks for a bottle during the night, offer plain water.

If you give your toddler fruit juice, keep it to mealtimes, and make sure it’s well diluted (10 parts water to one part juice). Don’t give your toddler fruit squashes or fizzy drinks. They lack nutrients, and even the low-sugar varieties can encourage a sweet tooth.

Aim to give your child five portions of different fruit and vegetables each day. Fruit and veg are an important part of your toddler’s diet. Not only are they packed with fibre and important vitamins and minerals, they’re also low in calories. One portion should be roughly the size of your toddler’s fist.

Don’t feel that you have to offer vegetables as a side dish. You can also make them into soups, blend them into pasta sauces or make fruit-and-veg smoothies. Or your toddler may prefer snacking on raw veg, such as carrot or cucumber sticks, or halved cherry tomatoes.

Try not to worry if your toddler doesn’t eat much at one meal. Remember that she only has a tiny tummy, so she won’t eat as much as older siblings. Never force or encourage her to eat when she doesn’t seem hungry.

Once your toddler’s finished eating, don’t coax her into eating more. Just take any uneaten food away and trust that she’ll make up for it when it’s time for her next meal or snack. What she eats over the course of a week is more important than what she has in one particular meal or day.

Encourage your toddler to sit down at the table to eat meals and snacks. Try to remove all distractions, such as the TV, so she can focus on what she’s doing. Eating on the go or while watching TV can lead to a habit of eating without thinking about it, which makes it easy to overeat.

In general, always follow the advice of your GP, health visitor or dietitian. They’ll help you get your toddler’s weight back on track.