Toddler Nutrition

Toddler girl at a table with healthy lunch.

New Foods for Growing Toddlers

The toddler phase (ages 1 to 3 years) can often be challenging when it comes to feeding and nutrition. Developmentally, many changes are occurring in your child’s body and mind. This can make mealtime difficult. It is important for parents to provide structure and set limits for toddlers. Here are a couple suggestions that may help manage mealtime:

  • Establish a schedule for serving meals and snacks. Routine and consistency help with development.
  • Offer 3 meals and 2 to 3 snacks daily with a 2–3 hour break between eating times. Allow adequate time for your toddler to become hungry between feedings.
  • It is the responsibility of the parent and caregiver to choose which foods to offer. You may choose the food selection, but let the child choose whether to eat or not, and how much.
  • Encourage your toddler to talk about food. This will help them communicate their eating preferences and needs.
  • It may take 8 to 10 tries of a new food before you child will eat it. Encourage them to try at least one bite each time the new food is offered and discuss why they like or dislike the food. Do not trick, bribe or force children into eating new foods.
  • Avoid serving large amounts of sweetened beverages and juice. This may cause them to drink less milk or water.
  • Engage your toddler in help with food preparation. This may include rinsing fruits and vegetables, tearing lettuce or stirring ingredients together. They may be encouraged to eat and enjoy foods more if they participate in preparation.
  • Toddlers should sit at the family table for all meals and snacks. Discourage eating while walking or playing.
  • Offer a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods and dairy. Offer whole grains for at least half of daily grain servings.  

Choking Hazards 

Always supervise when your child is eating. A choking child may not be able to make noise or get your attention. Encourage chewing and swallowing before talking or laughing and discourage eating while walking or playing or riding in a car.  

The following foods can be choking hazards: 

  • Fruits and Vegetables: raw vegetables, raw apples, whole grapes
  • Proteins: meat chunks unless finely chopped, hot dogs, sausage links, peanut butter, nuts if not finely chopped
  • Grains: popcorn, whole corn
  • Sweetened foods: jelly beans, gum drops

Tips to avoid choking: 

  • Cut meats into very small chunks; cut up hot dogs and sausage links lengthwise.
  • Cut grapes into quarters.
  • Cook or steam vegetables like carrots.
  • Chop corn into smaller pieces.
  • Serve peanut butter thinly with jelly instead of by the spoonful.

Picky Eating 

Even selective or picky eaters can take steps to healthy eating and good food habits. Here are a few tips to help your picky eater:

  • Offer a good variety of foods, especially fruits and vegetables. Try offering new foods along with foods already enjoyed by your child.
  • Don’t write off foods that are rejected by your child the first few times. Some children may need a new food offered several times before they’re willing to accept it.
  • Encourage your child to try new healthy foods by showing them that you enjoy those healthy foods also.
  • Maintain a regular schedule by keeping mealtimes routine and consistent. Three meals and 2–3 snacks are recommended.
  • Eat together as a family as often as possible. Make sure to sit at the table, shut off all screens and devices, and minimize other distractions.
  • Avoid using food as a reward for behavior management.
  • Remember, it’s natural for children to refuse some foods at times. This is a way they show their independence and learn to make decisions. Occasional picky eating is normal.
  • Be aware of signs that may put your child’s health at risk like:
    • Not eating any foods from one or more of the food groups
    • Losing or not gaining enough weight 


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