The Juicy Facts
Juice is perceived as healthy, and it is -- to a point. Beverages containing 100% fruit juice supply several nutrients, including healthy plant compounds called phytonutrients. Juice is not a necessary part of a child's diet, however.
The AAP suggests waiting until at least age 6 months to introduce juice to infants, and limiting juice to 6 ounces (3/4 cup) per day until age 6. Because juice is sweet and refreshing, children may come to favor it over breast milk or infant formula, which are far more nutritious.
"Plus, drinking juice can provide lots of unnecessary calories," says Tanner-Blasiar.
Food for Older Toddlers
After he or she reaches age 2, your child can have the same foods the rest of the family eats.
"It's fine for children to eat what the family eats, but you must make it healthy," says Tanner-Blasiar.
Offer your toddler meals that include a variety of healthy foods, such as whole grains, lean protein, reduced-fat dairy foods, fruits, and vegetables cut up well so your child can chew and swallow them safely. Now's the time to phase out some fat; serving reduced-fat dairy foods is one easy way.
"Fat isn't inherently bad," says Alice Lichtenstein, DSc, director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at Tufts University School of Medicine. "It's just that children don't need as many calories at this age."
Lichtenstein says that offering children a balanced diet with a minimum of saturated fat (found primarily in fatty animal foods) and partially hydrogenated fat (from processed foods) helps them develop the eating habits necessary to avoid chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer later on.
Older toddlers are generally resistant to new foods -- including meats, fruits, and vegetables -- so you may fall into a rut of feeding your child the same meals over and over. Allow children to become familiar with novel foods by presenting a teaspoon or two alongside their favorites. Avoid calling attention to the new food. If at first you don't succeed, persevere.
"Research shows it can take up to 20 exposures to a new food before your child tries it," Tanner-Blasiar says.
Toddlers have tiny tummies, so they eat small meals. Children may also skimp on eating when they're tired or ill. Healthy snacks can make up for sparse meals, as long as what you offer is nutritious. Between-meal snack foods should be extensions of the meal. Here are some healthy examples of nutrient-rich snacks for toddlers:
- Whole grain crackers
- Chopped hard-boiled eggs and scrambled eggs
- Dry cereal
- Well-cooked vegetables, such as sliced, peeled, sweet potatoes.