In this article, I will share with you my list of healthy foods for toddlers to eat. I have created this list after months of research and testing different options with the help of my kids. For my three-year-old daughter, I wanted healthier food which could also be appealing for kids.
Are you tired of cooking frozen pizza, getting into fights over veggies, and feeling like a short order cook for the family? I know it’s hard to serve healthy food for toddlers to eat, but it’s something you have to do. Here are some ideas on how you can improve your child’s diet.
Healthy Food For Toddlers To Eat
Your Care Instructions
At age 2 or 3, children begin to prefer certain foods, dislike other foods, and have a lot of variation in how hungry they are for different meals each day.
Don’t expect your child to eat the same amount of food at every meal and snack each day. With toddlers, you can usually leave it to them to eat the right amount at each meal, as long as you make only healthy foods available. You decide what, when, and where your child eats. Your child decides how much or even whether to eat.
As you introduce your toddler to new foods, you encourage a love of variety, texture, and taste. This is important, because the more adventurous your child feels about foods, the more balanced and nutritious his or her diet will be.
Follow-up care is a key part of your child’s treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if your child is having problems. It’s also a good idea to know your child’s test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.
How Can You Care For Your Child At Home?
Encourage Healthy Choices
- Offer lots of vegetables and fruits every day.
- Buy healthy snacks that your child likes, and keep them within easy reach.
- Be a good role model. Let your child see you eat the healthy foods you want your child to eat. When you eat out, order salad instead of fries for your side dish.
- Encourage your child to drink water when your child is thirsty.
- Find at least one food from each food group that your child likes. Make sure it is available most of the time.
Make A Healthy Routine
- Be sure your child eats a healthy breakfast. If you are in a hurry, try cereal with milk and fruit, nonfat or low-fat yogurt, or whole-grain toast.
- Make a regular snack and meal schedule. Most children do well with three meals and two or three snacks a day.
- Eat as a family as often as possible. Keep family meals pleasant and positive.
- Make fast food an occasional event. When you order, do not “supersize.”
Avoid Problems With Eating
- Be patient when offering a new food. Children may need many tries before they accept a new food.
- Try not to manage your child’s eating with comments such as “Clean your plate” or “One more bite.” Children can tell when they are full.
- Do not use food as a reward for good behavior.
- Let hunger, not rules or pleading or bargaining, determine what and how much your child eats (within the limits of what you make available).
What To Feed Your Child
Your child can eat anything, so give her some of all the food your family eats and make every bite count. Each meal needs to be packed with nutritious food.
Be sure she has a portion of animal foods (milk, dairy, eggs, meat, fish and poultry) each day, plus legumes (like chickpeas, lentils or peas) – or nuts, and orange or green vegetables and fruits. Add a little oil or fat to her food for energy.
Be sure your child’s snacks are healthy, such as fresh fruit.
How Much Food And How Often
Your child can take between three quarters to one cup of food three to four times a day, plus one to two snacks between meals.
If you’re not breastfeeding, he’ll need to eat more often. At 1 year, about the time he’s starting to walk, your child’s feeding schedule should include four to five meals a day, plus two healthy snacks. Milk products are a very important part of your child’s diet – give him one or two cups of milk a day.
Foods To Avoid
Avoid junk food and soft drinks. Factory-made snacks like crisps, cookies, cakes, soda and candy are unhealthy. They have high amounts of sugar, salt, fat and chemicals, and take up space in your child’s stomach that should be filled with nutritious foods.
Having his own bowl of food will help your child learn to feed himself. Start as soon as he wants. Give him all the food he needs and plenty of time to eat.
At first, he’ll be slow and messy. Help him so that he gets most of the food in his mouth (instead of on himself or the floor!). Encourage him to finish it and make sure he has had enough.
Give your child lots of love and encouragement to eat during meal times.
Sit in front of him and make eye contact. Interact with your child, smile at him, talk to him and praise him for eating.
Make the meal a happy time!
What To Do When Your Child Refuses To Eat Solid Foods
Make sure she is hungry at mealtimes and has not just had a snack. Although breastfeeding continues to be healthy for your child, breastfeed her only after her meal. At this age, she should eat solid food first.
Give your child healthy food that she likes or mix the food she likes with food she doesn’t like as much. Try different food combinations and textures.
If she still refuses, don’t force or pressure her to eat, and don’t be tempted to give her junk food instead.
Be calm and accepting. Give your child positive attention when she does eat, but don’t make it a problem when she doesn’t eat. Just take the food away, cover it, and offer it to her again a bit later.
Foundation Foods To Raise Healthy Eating Kids
Let’s take a look at what makes each foundation food so special. For specifics on what age to introduce, how to prepare, and how much to feed at each age, check out What to Feed Your Baby_ A Pediatrician’s Guide to the Essential Foods to Guarantee a Veggie-Loving, No-Fuss, Healthy-Eating Kid.
Eggs are the perfect one-ingredient food. Easy to prepare, they are a convenient and healthy source of protein, fat, and other nutrients such as biotin and iron, which are important for growth and a healthy body. Eggs are a top source of protein for children, so introduce them early and frequently to your infant’s diet. Research shows that eating a protein-rich breakfast can help older children too. Kids who eat protein in the morning learn and behave better during the day.
Yes, you can feed your infant a whole egg (or rather, some portion of an egg that contains yolk plus white) starting around six months. If you introduce eggs early and serve them often, your child will like them. Then you’ll always have a very healthy morning (or anytime) option. Involve your older child in the kitchen by letting her crack or whisk eggs in a big bowl.
Prunes are fun fiber fruits that help prevent and treat constipation. Prunes also have tons of important vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants—all this in a tiny, tasty, low-calorie package. An apple a day is important, but a prune a day works wonders to prevent constipation and keep young bodies healthy in the first place.
Offer infants pureed prunes regularly on their own or mixed into oatmeal and other foods. Older toddlers and children can try whole prunes (also called dried plums), but cut them into small pieces. Teach older toddlers that prunes (or dried plums) are yummy giant raisins—kids love that! Look for the prunes sold in cute single-serve packages so fingers won’t get sticky.
Did you know that avocados are actually fruits? They are high in potassium, fiber, and healthy monounsaturated fat, which is good for hearts of all ages. Don’t be discouraged if your infant doesn’t immediately take to mashed avocado. Some foods must be introduced a dozen times before a child will like them. Take photos of that funny face as your infant spits the avocado out—and then keep trying. Most infants and kids will eventually enjoy avocados.
Many health-conscious moms offer avocado as their baby’s first food. Whether you introduce it first or farther down the line, puree or fork-mash it for lumpier texture. As your infant grows, she will find small pieces of avocado fun to pick up and smash, and preschoolers can join their parents in enjoying guacamole.
Fish is a great natural source of protein. It also contains vitamin D—a vitamin that most kids (and adults too!) need more of. Vitamin D is important for building bones, preventing illness, and lowering the risk of certain diseases, including cancer. The oils in fatty fish such as salmon are high in omega-3 fatty acids, especially EPA and DHA, which are great for brain and eye development and thus are especially important for pregnant women, infants, and young children.
Some adults dislike fish because, having never had it when they were little, they are unfamiliar with its taste and smell. Being introduced to fish early (any time after six months of age, and remembering to check that there are no bones), your children will grow to enjoy fish and the important nutrition it provides throughout their life.
Dairy products are healthy for children and packed with a powerful punch of nine essential nutrients that most kids don’t get enough of—calcium, potassium, phosphorus, protein, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin B12, riboflavin, and niacin. In fact, milk is the best source of vitamin D for kids.
Although babies under one year of age should not drink regular cow’s milk, yogurt and cheese can and should be introduced around six months of age. Greek yogurt is a great choice at any age because it is packed with more protein per serving than regular yogurt.
After one year, offer whole or reduced-fat cow’s milk; toddlers need the nutrients and fat for brain development. Even if you are still nursing, offer sips of cow’s milk to get your toddler used to the taste. For young ones over age two, nonfat or low-fat milk is best, since these offer the same nutrition but with less fat (milk fat being something that even skinny kids no longer need).
Nuts and Nut Butters
Nuts and nut butter are delicious, healthy, and convenient. Nutrient-wise, they offer vegetarian protein, vitamin E, and healthy monounsaturated fats. Nuts and nut butter are an easy way to add healthy protein to any meal, even breakfast!
Starting around six months of age, you can mix one teaspoon of creamy peanut butter into one ounce of baby oatmeal and add more liquid to thin the consistency. Offer older infants and toddlers a super-thin layer of creamy nut butter to lick off your finger or on whole-grain bread. Eventually your preschooler will be better able to handle chewing crunchy nut butters and small pieces of raw nuts—a great snack or portable protein to carry with you anywhere.
Some parents worry that kids will become allergic if they eat nuts too early, but research has shown that introducing nut products early does not put your child at risk of becoming allergic. In fact, early and frequent introduction may decrease the chances of later developing an allergy, so I recommend that parents introduce this important food early on.
Chicken And/Or Beans/Lentils (Vegetarian Option)
Chicken and beans are healthy sources of protein and easy finger food for older infants and toddlers. The key is getting your children used to eating plain chicken at a young age. Countless children will consume chicken only if it’s breaded, fried, and in a familiar nugget shape. Chicken can taste great on its own, so get your kids used to grilled, baked, broiled, barbecued, poached, and sautéed preparations.
Infants need a source of iron and zinc around six months of age, and chicken is a great one. It can be pureed with a veggie to make a nutritious baby food, or cut into tiny pieces for little fingers to self-feed. At restaurants, just order a side of grilled chicken from the adult menu and cut a small portion into tiny pieces for your child.