Toddler Feeding Guide
Feeding toddlers can be challenging. Toddlers enjoy becoming independent eaters. They are picky eaters, slow to try new foods, and don’t appear to eat very much. They are also “grazers” – preferring small, frequent meals and snacks. Children have been shown to increase their acceptance of a new food after repeated exposure to that food. It may take up to 10 exposures to a new food for a toddler to accept it. All too often, parents give up after only 2 to 3 exposures. Most children do not eat a balanced diet each and every day, but over the course of a week or so their diet will be well-balanced.
Parents are often concerned whether or not their child has eaten enough. Remember that as long as he/she is gaining weight and is active and healthy, then he/she is likely getting enough calories. The meals presented to toddlers should be healthy and balanced. There should be regularly scheduled meal times and toddlers should eat with the rest of the family. The meals should be social and it is good for the entire household to sit together for at least one meal/day. Meals should not be eaten with the television on and children should be fed in a seated environment.
You should always encourage your toddler to eat but you should not force them. You will never win a food battle and it can create long-term eating problems. Model behaviors that are nutritious and your child will eventually follow them. This is the time to modify your own eating habits to healthy and nutritious ones. Remember that good eating habits are formed early in life.
In planning your toddler’s diet, remember that portion sizes for toddlers are actually a quarter of the portion size for adults. Children do not grow as fast as they did during their first year of life and therefore have lower energy needs. Your child will determine how much he or she wishes to eat and research has shown that they are very good at listening to their own hunger and satiety cues. A recommended guide is to provide 3 main meals and 2-3 small snacks/day.
Here are some guidelines for daily servings for toddlers:
Fruit: 3-4 servings/day. A serving of fruit consists of 1/2 to 1 small fruit or 2 to 4 tablespoons of canned fruit.
Vegetables: 3 servings/day. A serving of vegetables consists of 2 to 3 tablespoons of cooked vegetables.
Dairy: 4 to 5 servings/day. A serving of dairy consists of ½ cup of whole milk, ½ cup of yogurt, or a slice of cheese.
Protein: 2 servings/day. A serving of protein consists of 1 to 2 ounces of meat, poultry, fish; 1 egg or 4 to 5 tablespoons of legumes.
Grain: 3-4 servings/day. A serving of grain products consists of 1/2 to 1 slice of whole grain bread, 1/4 to ½ cups of rice or pasta (preferably whole grain like brown rice, whole wheat pasta or quinoa pasta), 1/2 cup to 1 cup of dry low sugar cereal, 1/4 to ½ bagel, 1/2 to 1 whole wheat or corn tortilla.
Fats and sweets: Limited.
Your child should be on whole milk until the age of 2. This is because their energy requirements are great and they also need cholesterol for the formation of their still developing nervous system. After the age of two, we recommend changing to skim or 1% milk. You should be giving your child the milk in a non-dripless sippy cup, straw cup or regular cup. The amount of milk should be limited to 16 to 24 ounces per day. Too much milk will curb your child’s appetite for solids which are important for a growing toddler. Milk is the preferred form of calcium because it also contains vitamin D.
Juice is not a necessary part of your child’s diet. If you do decide to give your child juice, you should do no more that 4-6 ounces/day which should be watered down. Juice adds calories without significant nutritional value and extensive juice drinking will decrease your child’s appetite for nutritious whole foods. Never give juice in a bottle. It should always be in a sippy cup, straw cup, or regular cup.
All children from 6 months until 13 years in areas without fluoride in the water should be on a fluoride supplement. This can be part of a total vitamin or as fluoride only. We usually change the children from a liquid to a chewable version at the age of 18 months. Do not give fluoride 30 minutes before or after any products with calcium. (eg. Milk, yogurt, cheese, calcium fortified orange juice)
Fish can be an important part of a toddler’s diet. Aim to serve fish two times per week. Fish is low in saturated fat and high in protein, vitamin D, and many of the B vitamins. Fish like salmon and mackerel are high in omega-3 fatty acids which help brain development. Safe fish that are low in mercury include the following: Pollack (found in fish sticks), wild Alaskan salmon, tilapia, catfish and canned chunk-light tuna. If children are over the age of 2 and there is no family history of shellfish allergies, they may also have scallops and shrimp. Shellfish is highly allergic and some allergists do not recommend giving these foods until age 4 in an allergic family. When giving shellfish for the first few times, always watch for signs of an allergic reaction.
Cholesterol and Saturated Fats
Children under the age of 2 need a higher fat and cholesterol intake. Their energy requirements are great and they also need cholesterol in the formation of their developing nervous system. As mentioned above, children under the age of two should be on whole milk.
Eggs can be a healthy part of a toddler’s diet. Eggs are high in protein, iron, minerals and B vitamins. Since an egg contains 213 mg of cholesterol, eating eggs too often can cause your child to have a diet that is high in cholesterol. He/She should not eat more than 3 to 4 egg yolks per week.
Your whole family will benefit from eating more fish, poultry, and legumes and less red meat. A diet low in cholesterol and saturated fats will help prevent future heart disease.
Fiber is an important part of your child’s diet. It is recommended that toddlers consume at least 10-19 grams per day of dietary fiber. Fiber passes through his or her digestive tract relatively intact and helps form normal stools. Fiber also aids in controlling blood glucose and cholesterol levels. Vegetables that are great sources of fiber: cabbage, brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and corn. Legumes such as peas, beans, and lentils also are great sources of fiber. Fruits that are high in fiber: blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, pears, apples, peaches, plums and dried fruits such as figs, dates, and prunes. Make sure you cut the dried fruit into small pieces so that it is not a choking hazard. Whole grain rice, cereals, pasta, and breads are great sources of dietary fiber. You can look for bread and cereal products that carry the American Heart Association’s “whole grain” heartcheck mark symbol.
Sugar is not a nutritionally important food. Research shows that when children eat more sweets, they eat less produce, grains, and dairy. This puts them at risk for poor bone density, obesity and type 2 diabetes. Sugary foods also promote dental caries. Sugary foods have not been shown to cause behavioral changes or hyperactivity. Sugar treats may be used on occasion with appropriate tooth brushing.
Peanuts are a highly allergic food. Peanut butter is a great source of protein, magnesium, and healthy fats. If there is no family history of peanut allergies, you may introduce peanut butter at age 2. There is likely a genetic link to peanut allergies, so if there are allergies in your family you may want to hold off until age 4. Peanut butter is the best way to expose your child to nuts when you are ready. Remember that peanut butter can be sticky and can get stuck in your child’s throat. You should not serve a big dollop of peanut butter to a toddler, but should instead spread it thinly over bread or crackers. Do not serve whole nuts as they can be a choking hazard but you can do small crushed nuts as are found in cookies.
It is the consistency of the food and the size of the piece of food that is most important. Do not feed your child foods that he or she may choke on. These include the following: nuts, chunky pretzels, whole hot dogs, whole grapes, whole dried fruit, popcorn, hard candy, gum, cherries, olives, and large pieces of raw vegetables or fruit. Any round smooth object may be choked on. Be aware of your child’s developing chewing skills and gradually introduce foods that are difficult to chew. Serve foods in small pieces that are easy to pick up. Remember that gagging is not something to panic about – it is learning how not to choke.
If you plan to use any nutritional supplements, special vitamins, teas, herbal preparations, etc., please consult with us first. There are some that could be harmful to your toddler.
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