Nutrition For The Toddler

Toddlers between the ages of two and four have typically graduated to a diet of solid foods. Their swallowing reflex is intact, they can chew and they can select from a variety of foods made available to them. During this critical stage of growth and development, adequate nutrition is particularly important.

Providing Adequate Nutrition for Toddlers

As they are growing rapidly, toddlers can tolerate more nutritional variety than babies. This is also an age of exploration when it comes to food, so the toddler should be presented with as many healthy options as possible. The color wheel should be the guide at this stage, and so should the child’s newfound dexterity and ability to maneuver food into his mouth using both his hands and utensils. You should make healthy toddler food of every texture and color available during this time. This will help introduce your child to new foods, and ensure that he’s getting the nutritious foods he needs.

Toddlers are also learning a great deal about choice and control during this stage of growth, and many of these lessons–and the dramas that accompany them–take place at the table. As with many other areas of life, when it comes to nutrition for toddlers, it’s best to allow children to make independent decisions within clearly defined limits.

Nutrition for Toddlers: Challenges

As much as you can, establish meal and snack times for toddlers at regular hours of the day. If a child misses or refuses a meal, food should be made available only at the next mealtime. Constant access to drinks like milk or fruit juice should also be avoided, since this can lead to excessive calorie intake and possible tooth decay. Unhealthy habits and patterns established during this time could lead to obesity and diabetes later in life.

Many parents wonder if they are feeding their child enough. As in babyhood, it is rarely necessary to force a child to eat. And if a meal is skipped, the toddler will usually make up for it at the next specified meal time with no lasting effects. At this age, toddler food concerns should not necessarily be about the quantity–since toddlers recognize and act on hunger and fullness–but about quality. Make sure the food options you offer to your child are healthy.

Toddlers’ Nutrition: Choking Hazards

Choking is often a concern during the toddler stage. Toddler food should be offered in small, manageable pieces, and an adult should always observe children while they are eating. It’s best to avoid the following foods, since they are recognized as serious choking hazards:

  • Chewing gum
  • Chunks of cheese and meat, especially hot dogs
  • Hard or sticky candy
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Popcorn
  • Whole grapes.

Nutrition and Lifelong Healthy Habits

Toddlers are just beginning to form relationships with food, and until this age, they don’t usually have specific likes or dislikes; preferences and aversions first develop during the toddler years. Ideally, the goal for a parent or caregiver should be to encourage exploration within clear boundaries, and to cultivate a long-term preference for healthy foods.

Resources (2010). Toddler nutrition. Retrieved August 21, 2010, from (2010). Nutrition guide for toddlers. Retrieved August 21, 2010, from