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Feeding Your 1- to 2-Year-Old

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD

Toddlers this age are moving toward a diet more like your own. Keep introducing new flavors and textures. Food preferences are set early in life, so help your child develop a taste for healthy foods now.

Toddlers have little tummies, so serve foods that are packed with the nutrients they need to grow healthy and strong, and limit sweets and empty calories.

Your toddler will continue to explore self-feeding, first with fingers and then with utensils at around 15–18 months of age. Give your child lots of chances to practice these skills, but lend a hand when frustrations arise. As skills develop, step back and let your little one take over.

Toddlers also like to assert their independence, and the table is one place to give yours some sense of control. Remember: You decide what variety of healthy foods to offer at a meal and your child decides which of those foods to eat, how much to eat, and whether to eat at all.

What About Milk?

Milk is an important part of a toddler's diet because it provides calcium and vitamin D, which help build strong bones. Most kids under age 2 should drink whole milk for the dietary fats needed for normal growth and brain development. If a toddler is overweight or there is a family history of obesity, high cholesterol, or heart problems, your doctor might recommend switching to reduced fat (2%) milk.

When your child is 2, you can make the switch to low-fat or nonfat milk.

Between 12 and 18 months of age is a good time for transition to a cup. Instead of cutting out bottles all at once, slowly eliminate them from the feeding schedule, starting with mealtime. Offer whole milk in a cup after your child has begun the meal.

Some kids don't like cows milk at first because it's different from the breast milk or formula they're used to. If that's the case, it's OK to mix whole milk with formula or breast milk and gradually adjust the mixture so that it eventually becomes 100% cow's milk.

Why Is Iron Important?

It's important to watch out for iron deficiency after kids reach 1 year of age. It can affect their physical, mental, and behavioral development, and also can lead to anemia.

To help prevent iron deficiency:

  • Limit your child's milk intake to 16 ounces (480 milliliters) a day.
  • Include iron-rich foods in your child's diet, like meat, poultry, fish, beans, and iron-fortified foods.
  • Continue serving iron-fortified cereal until your child is eating a variety of iron-rich foods (at around 18–24 months old).

Talk with your doctor if your child drinks a lot of cow's milk or isn't getting enough iron-rich foods, or if you're thinking of giving your child a vitamin supplement.

What Foods Should We Avoid?

By now your child should be eating a variety of foods. Continue to watch for allergic reactions when introducing new foods. Kids are at higher risk for food allergies if they or a close family member have allergies or allergy-related conditions (like eczema or asthma).

Avoid foods that could cause choking, like popcorn, hard candies, hot dogs, raw vegetables and hard fruits, whole grapes, raisins, and nuts. Supervise your child at all times when eating.

How Much Should My Toddler Eat?

Offer your toddler three meals and two or three healthy snacks a day. But expect your toddler to sometimes skip meals. Letting kids skip a meal is hard for many parents, but kids should be allowed to respond to their own internal cues for hunger and fullness. Don't push food on a child who's not hungry.

Kids shouldn't be allowed to eat on demand all day long either. Keep a regular schedule of meals and snacks so your kids will know that food is available at certain times of the day.

If you have any questions about how much your child is eating or should eat, talk with your doctor.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: January 2018