Nutrition for Toddlers

It’s important to provide your toddler with foods full of nutrients, such as a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods and dairy or fortified plant based alternatives. Avoid foods and beverages with added sugars and choose those with lower sodium.

MyPlate is a guideline to help you and your toddler eat a healthy diet. The USDA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have prepared the food plate to guide parents in selecting foods for children ages 2 and older.

The MyPlate icon is divided into five food group categories, emphasizing the nutritional intake of the following:

  • Grains. Foods that are made from wheat, rice, oats, and barley. Examples include whole-wheat bread, brown rice and oatmeal. Aim for mostly whole grains.
  • Vegetables. Vary your vegetables. Choose a variety of colorful vegetables, including dark green, red, and orange vegetables.
  • Fruits. Any fruit or 100% fruit juice counts as part of the fruit group. Fruits may be fresh, canned, frozen, or dried and may be served whole, cut up or pureed. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting juice to less than 4 ounces per day for children 1 to 3 years old.
  • Dairy. Milk products and many foods made from milk are considered part of this food group. Focus on fat-free or low-fat products, as well as those that are high in calcium.
  • Protein. Go lean on protein. Choose low-fat or lean meats and poultry. Vary your protein routine. Choose more fish, nuts, seeds, peas and beans.

The toddler phase (ages 1 to 3) can often be challenging when it comes to feeding. Several developmental changes occur at this time: toddlers are striving for independence and control, their growth rate slows down and their appetite often decreases. These changes can make mealtime difficult. It is important for parents to provide structure and set limits for the toddler. The following are suggestions to help manage mealtimes so that your toddler gets the nutrition they need.

Mealtime Tips for Parents of Toddlers

  • Avoid battles over food.
  • Provide regular meals and snacks.
  • Be flexible with food acceptance, as toddlers are often reluctant to try new things. If your toddler refuses a food, don’t make a big deal out of it, and try again in a few days or weeks.
  • Be realistic about food amounts. Portion size should be about one-fourth the size of an adult portion.
  • Limit juice intake; encourage whole fruit instead.
  • Dessert should not be used as a reward. Try serving it with the rest of the meal.
  • Make the food easy for your toddler to eat:
    • Cut food into bite-size pieces.
    • Make some foods soft and moist.
    • Serve foods near room temperature.
    • Use ground meat instead of steak or chops.
    • Use a child-size spoon and fork with dull prongs.
    • Seat your child at a comfortable height in a secure chair.
  • Prevent choking by:
    • Slowly introducing more difficult-to-chew foods.
    • Avoiding foods that are hard to chew and/or swallow such as nuts, raw carrots, gum drops, jelly beans and peanut butter (by itself).
    • Modifying high-risk foods: cut hot dogs in quarters, cut grapes in quarters, and cook carrots until soft.
    • Always supervising your child when they are eating.
    • Keeping your child seated while eating.