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: 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.
Milk is particularly beneficial because it provides vitamin D. Children of all ages need 400 international units (IU) of vitamin D daily, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
Toddlers require 16 ounces of milk or another calcium-containing product every day. It is possible to have too much of a good thing, however.
Like any beverage, filling up on milk leaves less room for foods, including iron-rich choices such as lean beef, chicken, and pork.
Feeding Toddlers: How Much Juice?
Strictly speaking, children do not need juice. The AAP recommends limiting fruit juice intake to 6 ounces a day or less until 6 years of age.
"It's better to get your child accustomed to the taste of water than juice at a young age," Altman says.
It's not that fruit juice is bad. It's an important source of several vitamins and minerals that fuel growth, including vitamin C. Fortified juices offer additional nutrients, such as calcium and vitamin D, too.
The problem is, drinking [fruit] juice, even when it's diluted, may give kids a taste for sweets, Altman says. Drinking fruit juice at a young age could encourage the consumption of the "liquid calories" that some experts have fingered as a contributor to childhood obesity. And excessive fruit juice intake may cause cavities.
Altman suggests sticking with whole fruit for toddlers. "I don't know very many toddlers who don't like fruit," she says.
Feeding Toddlers: What About Multivitamins?
A multivitamin/multimineral supplement (multi) designed for toddlers won't hurt and may even help a child's diet, Zied tells WebMD. Opt for a liquid formulation until the age of 2 and then discuss a chewable with your pediatrician.
"Toddlers are erratic eaters, and some may go days or even weeks coming up short for one or more nutrients," she says.
Dietary supplements provide some insurance against a toddler's unpredictable eating, but they are just that -- supplements, not substitutes for a balanced diet. Multis fall short for many nutrients toddlers need every day, including calcium.