Many Australian toddlers are not eating enough meat, putting them at risk of iron deficiency, according to a QUT study.

Many Australian toddlers are not eating enough meat and it may be compromising their iron levels, a study has shown.

Experts have linked this to an overconsumption of formula and cow’s milk.

University of Technology Queensland researchers investigated the diets of more than 550 children aged between 12 and 16 months over a 24-hour period.

They found one in five toddlers did not consume meat and almost half of those that did ate less than 30 grams. The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating suggests toddlers eat 65g of cooked lean meats, such as beef, lamb and kangaroo, a day.

Researcher Rebecca Byrne of QUT’s Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation said too much reliance on formula and milk led to toddlers feeling full and refusing to eat a diverse range of foods.

The study found only 56 per cent of the toddlers consumed all five food groups – fruit, vegetables, cereals, meat and dairy.

“There are not as many children as we would like having enough fruit and vegies – and the meat area was a big issue,” Mrs Byrne said.

“They’re not eating enough meat or high-quality meat as we would recommend.”

Diet was critical for children aged one to two years, she said.

“It’s an important developmental age when children make the transition from a milk-based diet in infancy to a mixed diet of family meals.”

Iron deficiency in toddlers can result in behavioural problems, repeat infections, lethargy and a failure to grow at the expected rate.

Mrs Byrne said toddlers could be characterised by what parents perceived as fussy eating and a fear of trying unfamiliar food.

“Food refusal is normal and a poker face is needed,” she said.

“It’s better for smaller, nutritional-based food to be offered at frequent intervals.

“It’s a new phase of childhood development when growth naturally slows and neophobia (fear of anything new) can kick in, so remain neutral and continue to offer new food.”