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Toddler nutrition needs

​Your toddler is developing at a rapid pace and this can make meals a challenge.

Good nutrition is an important part of your child's development.

The right nutrition that is age-appropriate benefits your child now and will help them throughout their life.

Good nutrition decisions begin right after birth and continue through adolescence.

Your Marshfield Clinic Pediatrician can help you make the best nutrition decisions for your child.

Helpful feeding information for your toddler

Feeding toddlers (ages 1 to 3) can often be challenging. That's because several developmental changes are happening at this time.

Toddlers are striving for independence and control. Their growth rate slows down and with this comes a decrease in appetite.

These changes can make mealtime difficult. It is important for parents to provide structure and set limits for the toddler. These suggestions can help manage mealtimes so that the toddler gets the nutrition he or she needs:

  • Avoid battles over food and meals.

  • 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. 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. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting juice to 4 to 6 ounces per day for children ages 1 to 6 years old.

  • Don't use dessert as a reward. Try serving it with the rest of the food.

  • 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 adding more difficult-to-chew foods.

    • Avoiding foods that are hard to chew and/or swallow, like 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 he or she is eating.

    • Keeping your child seated while eating.

Choose My Plate icon

Healthy food choices

The MyPlate icon 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.

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 age 2 and older.

The MyPlate icon is divided into 5 food group categories, emphasizing the nutritional intake of the following:

  • Grains. Foods that are made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley, or another cereal grain are grain products. Examples include whole-wheat, brown rice, and oatmeal. Aim for mostly whole-grains.

  • Vegetables. Vary your vegetables. Choose a variety of colorful vegetables. Include dark green, red, and orange vegetables, legumes (peas and beans), and starchy 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 whole, cut up, or pureed. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting juice to 4 to 6 ounces per day for children ages 1 to 6 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.

Oils are not a food group, yet some, like nut oils, contain essential nutrients and can be included in the diet. Limit animal fats. 

Include exercise and everyday physical activity with a healthy dietary plan.

Nutrition and activity tips

Here are some tips to follow:

  • Try to control when and where food is eaten by your children by providing regular daily meal times. Provide social interaction and demonstrate healthy eating behaviors.

  • Involve children in choosing and preparing foods and teach them to make healthy choices by helping them select foods based on their nutritional value.

  • Select foods with these nutrients when possible: calcium, magnesium, potassium, and fiber. 

  • Most Americans need to reduce the number of calories they consume. When it comes to weight control, calories do count. Controlling portion sizes and eating nonprocessed foods helps limit calorie intake and increase nutrients.

  • Parents are encouraged to follow the recommended serving sizes for children.

  • Parents are encouraged to limit children’s screen time to less than 2 hours daily. Instead, encourage activities that require more movement.

  • Children and adolescents need at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity on most days for good health and fitness. This is also for healthy weight during growth.

  • To prevent dehydration, encourage children to drink fluid regularly during physical activity and drink several glasses of water or other fluid after the physical activity is completed.

To find more information about the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015–2020 and to determine the appropriate dietary recommendations for your child’s age, sex, and physical activity level, visit the Online Resources page for the links to the ChooseMyPlate.gov and 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines sites. Please note that the MyPlate plan is designed for people older than age 2 who do not have chronic health conditions.

Always talk with your child’s healthcare provider regarding his or her healthy diet and exercise needs.

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What Do You Know About Child Development?

Test your knowledge of child development by taking this quiz.

1. When riding in a motor vehicle, how tall should a child be to sit in a regular seat and use an adult seat belt instead of a being strapped into a car safety seat or booster seat?
2. For which of these should you call your doctor instead of trying at-home treatment?
3. Two out of 3 teen girls don't get enough of which of these in their diet?
4. How much has the rate of obesity in children increased in the last 35 years?
5. Menstruation can begin at which of these ages in girls?
6. It's estimated that 3 to 7 percent of American school children have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Which of these famous people is thought to have had the condition?