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Health & Parenting

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What and How Much to Feed Your Toddler

Experts explain how to provide toddlers with the nutritious food they need for their growing bodies.

Feeding Toddlers: Signs Your Toddler Is Ready to Self-Feed continued...

Children start to develop the pincer grasp around 9 months, the same time they're ready for a lidded sippy or straw cup filled with infant formula or breast milk.

Many toddlers can self-feed an entire meal at around a year old, while other toddlers may need help until 18 months or so, Altman tells WebMD.

"After age 2, most toddlers can use a regular cup without a lid without spilling, but if they enjoy a straw cup or a sippy cup, there's no harm in that," Altman says.

Once a child discovers he can get food into his own mouth, he may not want you to help so much anymore.

Toddler self-feeding gives a whole new meaning to the term mess hall, but it's worth it to let him try to get food into his mouth, says Elisa Zied, MS, RD, author of Feed Your Family Right! and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

"Self-feeding is an important developmental skill that parents should nurture," Zied says.

Allow children to self-feed as much as they can and want to, advises Altman, but if they aren't getting enough food, you can help, too.

Feeding Toddlers: Milk and Other Dairy Products for Toddlers

Dairy foods, particularly milk, are rich in bone-building calcium and vitamin D. There's no rush to serve a child milk, however.

"Wait until his first birthday to offer cow's milk," says Zied.

The reason? Unlike fortified infant formula, cow's milk is low in iron and may lead to iron deficiency that compromises a child's thinking capacity, energy levels, and growth. Breast milk is low in iron, but the iron is well-absorbed by the child's body.

Most toddlers begin by eating full-fat dairy foods for the calories, fat, and cholesterol necessary to fuel their growth and development. In some cases, your pediatrician or registered dietitian may recommend 2% reduced-fat milk, so ask what is right for your child.

By the age of 2, most toddlers can start transitioning to lower-fat dairy foods, such as 2% reduced-fat milk or 1% low-fat milk, Zied says.

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