Toddler Food Guidelines

  • Medical Author:
    John Mersch, MD, FAAP

    Dr. Mersch received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California, San Diego, and prior to entering the University Of Southern California School Of Medicine, was a graduate student (attaining PhD candidate status) in Experimental Pathology at USC. He attended internship and residency at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Quick GuideYour Toddler: Typical Second-Year Milestones With Pictures

Your Toddler: Typical Second-Year Milestones With Pictures

What should my toddler be eating?

A healthy diet contains four basic elements: carbohydrates, protein, fat, and minerals (for example, iron and calcium) and vitamins. The USDA has recently revised the food pyramid to reflect the most current consensus regarding infant, child, and adult nutrition. Carbohydrate sources include grains, vegetables, and fruits. Protein sources include meats (beef, pork, poultry, and fish), tofu and lentils, eggs, and milk/dairy products. While fats are important for general health (especially for brain and nervous system development for children <2 years of age), an emphasis on monounsaturated fats is recommended. Similarly, excessive intake of saturated fats and trans fats should be avoided.

How do I ensure that my toddler is getting enough vitamins and minerals?

Parents must accept a fundamental point. Their job is to provide a healthy diet and lead by example. Their child's job is to eat when hungry. If a toddler is not hungry or believes he can "hold out" and get treats, he will refuse to eat. The good news is that almost no child will let himself go hungry, much less "starve." Toddlers are in a continuous battle for independence, whether it is mastering language and motor skills or determining what will enter their mouth. Being very observant, they quickly realize that eating is the only facet of their daily activities over which they have 100% control -- and they will not surrender that control to anyone! Pediatric registered dieticians suggest evaluating your child's nutritional intake on a weekly (not daily) basis. Several long-term studies have demonstrated that, when offered a quality diet, toddlers will consume appropriate portions of the foods necessary for good health. A major advertising campaign for the toddler food dollar exists -- take out/fast food intake has been rising steadily over the recent years. Marketing has been a success. A 2-year-old child can identify 20 logos, many of which are food related: golden arches, fried chicken buckets, and others constantly shower children with enticements of fun foods and games and are often co-marketed with the latest movie. At the end of the day, if a parent is concerned their child isn't getting enough vitamins and minerals, taking a daily multivitamin is a reasonable option. Such a supplement does not, however, provide the necessary carbohydrates, protein, or fats necessary for a healthy child.

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