At this age toddlers are moving from the eating habits they had
as infants toward a diet more like your own. Your job is to keep
broadening your child's palate by introducing new flavors and
textures. Food preferences are set early in life, so help your
child develop a taste for healthy foods now.
Toddlers have little tummies, so serve foods that are packed
with the nutrients they need to grow healthy and strong, and limit
the sweets and empty calories.
Your toddler will continue to explore self-feeding, first with
fingers and then with utensils at around 15 to 18 months of age.
Give your child many opportunities to practice these skills, but
lend a hand when frustrations arise. As skills develop, step back
and let your child take over.
Toddlers also like to assert their independence, and the table
is one place where you should give yours some sense of control.
Allow your toddler to respond to internal cues for hunger and
fullness but set the boundaries.
Remember: You decide what variety of healthy foods to offer at a
meal and your child decides which of those foods to eat, how much
to eat, and whether to eat at all.
A Word About Milk
Milk is an important part of a toddler's diet because it
provides calcium and vitamin D, which help build strong bones. Kids
under age 2 should drink whole milk for the dietary fats needed for
normal growth and brain development. When your child is 2, you can
probably make the switch to low-fat or nonfat milk, but talk with
your doctor before doing so.
Between 12 and 18 months of age is a good time for transition to
a cup. Instead of cutting out bottles all at once, you can
gradually eliminate them from the feeding schedule, starting with
mealtime. Offer whole milk in a cup after the child has begun the
meal. If you are breastfeeding, only offer milk in a cup and avoid
the bottle habit altogether.
Some kids don't like cows milk at first because it's
different from the breast milk or formula they're used to. If
that's the case, it's OK to mix whole milk with formula or
breast milk and gradually adjust the mixture so that it eventually
becomes 100% cow's milk.
It's important to watch out for iron deficiency after kids
reaches 1 year of age. It can affect their physical, mental, and
behavioral development, and also can lead to anemia.
To help prevent iron deficiency:
- Limit your child's milk intake to 16 to 24 full ounces
(480-720 milliliters) a day.
- Increase iron-rich foods in your child's diet, like
iron-fortified snacks, meat, poultry, fish, beans, and tofu.
- Continue serving iron-fortified cereal until your child is 18
to 24 months old.
Talk with your doctor if you're concerned that your child
drinks a lot of cow's milk or isn't getting enough iron, or
if you're thinking of giving your child a vitamin
Foods to Avoid
Although you can now start to offer some of the foods you've
been withholding (milk, citrus fruits, whole eggs), watch for
allergic reactions. Be sure to tell your doctor if a close family
member has a food allergy, and consider delaying introducing that
food and those commonly associated with food allergies, such as
peanuts and seafood. You may need to wait until your child is 2 or
3 years old to offer some foods, or the doctor may recommend
Avoid foods that could present choking hazards, like popcorn,
hard candies, hot dogs, raw vegetables and hard fruits, whole
grapes, raisins, and nuts. Supervise your child at all times when
How Much Should My Child Eat?
Offer your child three meals and two or three snacks a day, but
keep in mind that it's common for toddlers to skip meals.
Allowing kids to skip a meal is a difficult concept for many
parents, but kids should be allowed to respond to their own
internal cues for hunger and fullness. Don't push food on a
child who's not hungry, but kids shouldn't be allowed to
eat on demand all day long either.
Maintain a regular schedule of meals and snacks so your kids
will come to expect that food will be available at certain times of
the day. If you have any questions about how much your child should
eat, speak with your doctor.
Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: August 2008
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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