Toddler Articles

Bringing Your Toddler to the Family Dinner Table

By Kate Geagan, MS, RD

While breast milk and formula form the backbone of good nutrition for your infant, as he or she becomes a toddler you will begin to rely more on foods for your child to get the proper nutrients and calories for healthy growth and development. As a general rule, toddlers need between 1,000-1,400 calories per day-depending on their age, weight and how active they are1. As your baby is able to handle chunkier textures and food combinations, be sure to bring their high chair up to the dinner table so they can learn to participate in family mealtimes.

Offer your toddler a variety of healthy foods at meals and snacks, including lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and dairy products (or calcium fortified dairy alternatives) keeping in mind that low fat dairy isn’t recommended until after the age of 2. Expose your child to a variety of new tastes and textures that are at the right consistency, and cut up to the right size for your little one to handle. Be sure that they are supervised while eating, and always be sure to avoid choking hazards by cutting whole grapes and hot dogs into bite-size pieces.

Take advantage of their curiosity in the kitchen-Toddlerhood is also be the perfect time to let them try a variety of herbs, spices, and ethnic foods-not too hot of course!

Remember that it's ok if no one day is perfect-the power is in the PATTERN you create. Aim to provide a healthy variety of foods over the course of each day. And it’s perfectly natural for your toddler will be hungrier on some days than others.

Toddlers don't have control over much, but they often quickly learn that food is one area they do have control over. How to handle?

  • Let them "choose" from two or three healthy choices. So for instance, instead of saying "What do you want as a snack?", ask "would you like some apples or some cottage cheese?"
  • Resist the urge to be a short order cook for your child-they will miss out on opportunities to explore a variety of new foods. Some parents find it helpful to pair new foods alongside something familiar to set the child up for success. And remember- it's very likely your toddler won't love everything the first time you serve it-remember it can take 20-30 exposures before a food becomes a favorite-so keep offering!

Children’s rate of growth slows after the first year, and your toddler grows at a slower rate than when he or she was a baby. Therefore is very normal for appetite to vary from day to day during this time. Teach your child to listen to their body, make sure to give child size portions -smaller plates and cups are an easy way to help you do this.

Lastly-when it comes to building a healthy love of nourishing foods, remember that YOU are the most important role model for your child-be sure to sit with him and enjoy meals and snacks together-and serve the same healthy foods for both of you; modeling healthy eating habits is one of the best investments you can make in raising a healthy eater.

For more feeding tips for both infants and toddlers be sure to visit the Resource Center on

1 USDA Dietary Guidelines 2010, Appendix 7, USDA Food Patterns.