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Toddler Nutrition

Toddler Nutrition

The toddler (ages 1 to 3 years) phase may 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 with this may come a decrease in appetite. These changes may make meal time difficult. It is important for parents to provide structure and set limits for the toddler.

A toddler can want to be in control at meal time. As a caregiver, you are responsible for what food your child is offered and where and when it is presented. The child is then responsible for how much food he or she eats. Talk to your child, but not about how much food they need to eat. This will help to avoid struggles and control issues at mealtimes. This responsibility includes providing a safe, quiet, pleasant, and distraction-free (no television or phones), during meals and snacks. The following are suggestions to help encourage your child’s success at mealtimes.

Prior to Meals

  • Help toddlers wash their hands before meals and snacks.
  • Involve the child in food shopping and food preparation. The toddler may wash vegetables, wipe the table, or tear lettuce.
  • Serve meals and snacks (or 6 small meals) at consistent times of the day, with enough time for the child to become hungry between feedings. Toddlers feel most comfortable with routines.
  • Plan a few minutes of quiet time before each meal. A tired or excited child may not be interested in eating.
  • Seat the child at a table for both meals and snacks and discourage eating while walking or playing. Make sure the seat is at the proper height for the child's feet to be supported and is comfortable. The table should be at the level of child's waist.

At Mealtimes

  • Use child-sized plates, cups and utensils.
  • Ignore spills and dropped food, toddlers often make a mess while eating and learning about food.
  • Model healthful eating habits and manners. Remember, most toddlers follow their caregiver's examples. Teaching healthy eating habits and manners can be demonstrated as part of the family mealtime.
  • Encourage your child to try at least one bite of a new food. It may take several introductions of the food before the child will pick it up and try it. It is best not to trick, bribe, or force a child into trying a new food.
  • Present desserts and sweets as the usual last course of the mealtime. Do not use desserts and sweets as a reward for finishing a meal.
  • Check temperature of food before serving to make sure it is not too hot
  • Continue encouraging finger feeding by serving foods such as soft meat, steamed vegetables, bread, and cheese, or in strips directly off a tray or large plate.
  • Provide a mix of favorite foods, along with a small amount of new or previously disliked foods. If the toddler refuses a food, reintroduce it after several days or weeks, because a childs preference and appetite often changes. Toddlers sometimes do not like foods to be combined or arranged together and will disassemble sandwiches.
  • When your child stops eating or begins to play with food, this is usually a sign that they are finished eating.

General Feeding Tips

  • A toddler’s appetite is rarely the same day-to-day, and can vary greatly daily or every few days. It is best to look at what they eat over the course of a week.
  • Avoid ‘sugary’ beverages including soda, juice, lemonade and kool-aid.
  • To prevent a child from filling up on fluids, recommend providing fluids (especially milk) towards the end of the meal.
  • Always supervise the child during meals and snacks. Eating in the car is not recommended due to the risk of choking.

To Help Prevent Choking

  • Slowly add more difficult-to-chew foods.
  • Avoid foods that are hard to chew and/or swallow such as nuts, raw carrots, gum drops, jelly beans, hard candy and peanut butter (by itself).
  • Modify high-risk foods: cut hot dogs and link sausage in quarters, cut grapes in quarters and cook carrots until soft.
  • A child who is choking may not be able to make noise or attract attention. Always supervise your child when he/she is eating.
  • Keep your child seated while eating.

Healthy Food Choices

Myplate is a guideline to help you and your child eat a healthy diet. Myplate ( can help you and your child eat a variety of foods while encouraging the right amount of calories and fat. Be sure to choose the proper number of servings from each food group for your child each day.

Last Updated 05/2019

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