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Nutrition for 2-year-olds

Your toddler needs a variety of healthy foods. Here's what you can do to keep pace with your little one's needs.

In the past year you've probably watched as your little one's eating skills slowly evolved. Now, at age 2, your child's nutrition needs are changing as well. In the next year, your role in laying a foundation of healthy eating habits continues.

What's changing

You might notice that your toddler seems to be eating less than you'd expect. Kids often need fewer calories at this time because they're growing more slowly than before, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

Also, your child may be ready for foods with less fat, such as low-fat or fat-free milk. Kids under 2 years old need the extra fat calories to grow and to help their brains develop. Since these changes are taking place less rapidly now, fat can play less of a role in your child's diet, the AAP notes.

What's not changing

Just as before, you can help your child get enough of the right nutrients for growth and development and energy by offering a range of healthy choices from all the different food groups.

According to the AAP, you'll want to serve three meals every day, plus one or two snacks, from these groups:

  • Bread, cereal, rice and pasta.
  • Vegetables and fruits.
  • Milk, cheese and other dairy products.
  • Lean meats, skinless poultry, beans, fish and eggs.

No one food contains all the right nutrients. So think variety, even within the food groups. For example, have dark green veggies one night, beans another night and potatoes the next.

To help your child eat well and to start building healthy food habits, try these tips from the AAP and other experts:

Leave nothing out. It's OK if your child doesn't eat from all of the food groups every day. Just make sure that no one food group is completely avoided for long. At each meal, offer three or four healthy choices. Be sure to include foods your child enjoys.

Serve the right size. Toddlers don't need the same portions you eat. As a general guide, try offering one tablespoon-size serving of each food for each year of your child's life.

Remember, kids eat when they are hungry and stop when they're full.

Encourage new foods, but be patient. Helping your child try new foods is one way to help ensure a nutritious variety. But you may have to offer your child a new food 10 or more times before it's accepted.

Set an example. Since kids learn by watching adults, make sure to choose healthy foods for yourself.

Eat as a family. Not only do mealtimes provide a chance to teach healthy eating habits—they're also a chance to connect with your child and everyone else in the family.

And, now that your toddler has improved language and social skills, he or she can actively join the banter around the table.

So turn off the TV. Enjoy the food and each other's company.

Prevent choking. By now your child might be pretty good at using a spoon and drinking from a cup with one hand. In the next year, you also might see your toddler improve at using a fork with fewer food spills.

But even though your child has better eating skills, choking is still a concern. Foods such as peanuts, whole grapes, chunks of meat or peanut butter, and whole, raw carrots should be avoided, the AAP says. Any round, firm foods you do serve should be chopped into small pieces.

When you need help

Should you have questions or concerns about nutrition, your child's doctor or a registered dietitian can help with answers and advice.

reviewed 2/5/2020

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