Being a toddler is all about exploring and discovering new things, like new foods. Between the ages of one and three, your toddler is already figuring out what flavors and textures they like.
One of the best things you can do is offer them a variety of foods from every food group with different tastes, textures and colors to helping them develop healthy eating habits early on.
The idea of trying to figure out what to feed your toddler can be a little bit daunting, not to mention knowing how much to give them, and what not to give them. Here’s a quick guide to get you started.
The Nutrition Toddlers Need
As your child goes from crawling to walking to running, they’ll need nutritious solid foods to sustain their newfound level of activity. And good nutrition does more than just help them sustain energy (as if they need more of that!). It also gives them what they need to grow physically and mentally.
After they turn one year old, your toddler can generally eat just about anything they’re not allergic to. It helps to make it kid-friendly by pureeing it, mashing it, or cutting it into small pieces.
That said, it’s best to avoid chunkier solid foods for now. These include whole grapes, hot dogs, big pieces of meat, candy and cough drops and small, hard foods like nuts, seeds, popcorn, chips, pretzels, raw carrots and raisins.
So, what are the best nutritious foods for toddlers?
Toddler Food Ideas
Here’s a list of the best foods for toddlers. It’s best to start with what your toddler needs nutrition-wise and work your way forward.
Your toddler needs at least three ounces of grains a day. The following food options are one ounce each: one slice of bread, one cup of cereal, half a cup of cooked rice, pasta or cereal.
Your toddler needs at least one cup of vegetables a day. The following food options are one cup each: one cup of raw or cooked vegetables or vegetable juice, two cups of raw leafy greens.
Your toddler needs at least one cup of fruit a day. The following food options are one cup each: one cup of fruit or 100 percent fruit juice, half a cup of dried fruit.
Your toddler needs at least two cups of dairy a day. The following food options are one cup each: one cup of milk or yogurt, one and a half ounces of natural cheese, two ounces of processed cheese.
Your toddler needs at least two ounces of protein a day. The following food options are one ounce each: one ounce of meat, poultry or fish, ¼ cup of cooked dry beans, one egg, a tablespoon of peanut butter, half an ounce of nuts or seeds.
Knowing what you need to feed your toddler is one thing. Figuring out how to get them to eat it is another. Here are some tips for getting your toddler to love eating the foods that are good for them.
- Be a good role model and set an example for your toddler by eating a healthy diet yourself. Our kids want to do what they see us doing. So when your child sees you eating a thoughtful, healthy diet, they’ll see you as an example to follow.
- Never force your child to eat if they’re not hungry. One of the most important things you can teach your toddler is how to recognize when they feel full and when they feel hungry. By forcing them to eat “three more bites” before they can go play, you’re forcing them to ignore those signals. This can set them up for overeating later in life. Just save the food they don’t eat for later.
- Play the long game. Toddlers may need to try a new food 10 or more times before they’ll accept it.
- Don’t be a short-order cook, making one meal for the family and another for your toddler. Require your toddler to eat what everyone else is having, with some compromises worked in.
- Don’t force your child to eat food they don’t like. Give them a few options to choose from.
- Try not to use food as a reward. This can set them up for unhealthy habits later in life.
- Use kid-sized plates to keep their portions manageable.
- Get your children involved in making the food. When they feel like they have some input regarding their meals, they’re more likely to eat it.
- Let them get hungry. It can be hard to say no when your child asks for snacks all day long. However, a hungry kid is more likely to eat whatever you put in front of them. So if you’re noticing your toddler isn’t eating as much at dinner, adjust their snack schedule so they’ll be hungrier come dinner time.
- Remember that how much they want to eat can fluctuate, and that’s okay. Some days your kid won’t be able to get enough of the food you put in front of them, and some days it might seem like they’re hardly eating at all. This is normal for toddlers.
- Don’t buy things you don’t want your toddler to eat. It seems simple, but if you’re used to having treats like cookies, chips and soda in the house, it can be more hassle than it’s worth keeping them away from your toddler. If your child can see that there’s no junk food in the pantry, they’ll be less likely to ask for it.
As you continue to introduce your toddler to a wide variety of healthy foods, most of the food might end up on the floor, in their hair, or in your hair. But with time, that food will start making it into their mouth more often than not, and they will begin to develop a taste for what they like. Patience and consistency are key, so don’t give up and you’ll soon be on your way to raising a healthy and happy human.