Please always discuss any health and feeding concerns directly with your pediatrician.
Toddlerhood from 2 years of age is an exciting time of change as your baby develops a whole new range of physical, emotional, and social skills. Perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than at the high chair: budding independence, plus a newfound discovery of his or her ability to influence their world can make this an exciting (if messy!) time.
As your baby transitions from the breast or bottle to the family dinner table, offer a variety of certified organic fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and dairy options (or fortified non-dairy alternatives). These foods provide essential nutrients that power growing bodies, strong immune systems and physical and cognitive development during this stage. Including foods that are especially nutrient dense, such as darkly colored superfruits with antioxidant vitamins A & C, ancient whole grains such as kamut and quinoa with fiber, or fish and seafood can provide valuable omega-3 fatty acids.
Here is your ultimate toddler checklist that will help your toddler be well nourished and thrive while they are oh-so busy discovering the world around them.
1. Establish a predictable, positive eating routine.
Just as with bedtimes, food routines are important to your child’s sense of comfort. With busy family schedules, it can be challenging to offer regular meals and snacks seated at the family dinner table-but the benefits can last a lifetime. Rather than feeling that you have to entertain, keep mealtimes calm and technology free – it can actually help your toddler focus on the food and not feel overstimulated.
2. Serve tot sized portions.
Young children need the same variety of nutritious foods as bigger kids and grownups, just in smaller quantities. Toddlers can feel overwhelmed with large servings of food, as their tiny tummies can’t hold a lot at once. Help support them by using smaller cups and plates. Serve a few bites of each item rather than an adult sized portion. As a general rule of thumb, a serving size for a toddler is about what fits into the palm of their hand. Also, make sure that the foods you are serving are cut into the right size – and have an appropriate texture for your child’s development and so as not to be a choking hazard. Check with your pediatrician regarding when and how to introduce table food. Always remember to supervise your child while eating.
3. Introduce New Foods Along Familiar Favorites.
Picky eating is one of the top questions Earth’s Best® brand parents have when it comes to feeding their toddler. We’ve all been there – one day your little one loves Brussels sprouts, the next he shouts “no!” and refuses to take a bite. While frustrating, it’s a normal part of this stage.
Just as you may have foods you love and foods you find less than appealing, every child is different: what worked for older siblings, or even family favorites, may not be on your toddler’s wish list. If your toddler doesn’t like a particular food, keep offering in the weeks ahead, but offer other nutritious foods from the same food group in the meantime: another type of dark green vegetable, or a different type of cooked whole grain, for instance, will provide a similar set of essential nutrients for your little one. Gently offer foods multiple times, and let your toddler see family members enjoying those same foods (even if in different, adult-friendly forms) as well. And be sure your child arrives at meals ready to eat: sometimes the cure for picky eating can be as simple as moving snack time a bit earlier, so the toddler arrives a bit hungrier to mealtime.
4. Stay Safe.
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, round foods that have a firm texture, slippery foods and sticky foods might be a choking hazard and could be tricky for your toddler to handle safely at this age. For this reason, the following foods are not advised for children under 4 years of age:
- Nuts and seeds
- Whole grapes, cherry tomatoes
- Whole kernel corn
- Hot dogs
- Hard, raw fruits or vegetables such as apples, celery and carrots
- Chunks of meat or poultry
- Sticky foods, such as peanut butter, which can get stuck in the back of the mouth
- Hard candy, gum drops and jelly beans
5. Be clear about your role and your child’s role.
Recognizing the division of responsibility between you and your toddler can save hours of frustration and help ease power struggles at mealtime. As a parent, your job is to offer your toddler a variety of wholesome foods at meals and snacks and to provide the necessary supervision in all eating occasions. Your toddler’s job is to decide whether – and how much – to eat of those foods. When presenting a choice, frame it for success: ask, “Would you like banana or yogurt for a snack?” rather than an open ended question such as “What would you like for a snack?” This gives your toddler some control, but ensures you are still guiding them to nourishing choices.
6. Help your toddler sip smartly.
Is your child filling up on drinks? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 4 fl. oz. (or 1/2 cup serving) of 100% fruit or vegetable juice for children ages 1-6.
7. Notable Nutrients for Toddlers.
Which nutrients are most important for your child? Check out the guide below, and be sure to talk with your pediatrician if you have any specific or additional concerns.
Toddler Nutrition at a Glance
Calories: On average 1000-1400 calories/day depending on age, gender and activity level. For toddlers ages 1-3, 45-65% of calories should come from carbohydrates, 5-20% from protein, and 30-40% from total fat.
Protein: About 13 grams/day. Supports healthy growth and development of muscles and nervous system.
Dietary Fats: 30-40% of a toddler’s diet should come from fat, including mono- and poly-unsaturated fatty acids from plant based sources. Fats provides calories for proper growth, helps absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, and supports the cardiovascular system. Omega-3 fatty acids are important for your toddler for brain and eye development. The FDA recently issued new draft recommendations that young children consume fish or seafood 3x per week to contribute omega-3 fatty acids to the overall diet.
Zinc: Zinc plays an important role in making proteins and enzymes, supporting immunity, as well as cell division and growth.
Calcium & Vitamin D: Calcium and Vitamin D are essential for strong bones and teeth. Calcium also supports the cardiovascular system. Vitamin D also plays a role in immunity. Both are listed as “nutrients of concern” for Americans over age 2, as over half of children don’t get the recommended amounts.
Vitamins A & C: Found primarily in fruits and vegetables, antioxidant Vitamins A & C are important for the immune system, skin and tissue, vision and heart health. Vitamin C also aids iron absorption.
Iron: Iron is essential for transporting oxygen from the lungs throughout the body to cells for energy. The iron from animal sources (called heme iron, is more easily absorbed than the iron from plant sources (called non-heme iron).
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Published: February 1, 2019
Last modified: September 9, 2019