What Should My Toddler Eat?

When I’m food shopping for my toddler, are there certain ingredients I should avoid? Certain nutrients I should look for?
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ByElizabeth Pantley
Parenting Expert
Updated
Mar 2020
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You want your child to eat healthy veggies, fruits, grains and protein. You don’t want him to eat a ton of chemicals. So look for “real” food whenever possible, and try to stay as close to the original version of the food as possible. An apple, for example, is always a better choice than fancy flavored (or colored) applesauce and a much better choice than an apple flavored roll-up.

Whenever possible, stay away from ingredients you can’t pronounce; stick to simple things instead. Avoid items that have “sugar” or “high fructose corn syrup” near the top of the ingredient list; your child doesn’t need sweeteners to be a major portion of his diet. Try to stay away from a lot of artificial colors and dyes too. Some believe that artificial color may be linked to poor behavior and increased ADHD symptoms in kids. The Food and Drug Administration isn’t convinced though, and the science behind that claim is less than airtight. Still, it doesn’t hurt to stay away from artificially colored or flavored food. It’s best if your child learns to love food in its natural state anyhow — develop those healthy eating habits early!

One thing you want to see on ingredient lists as often as possible: “whole grain.” At least half of the grains your child consumes each day should be whole grain. “Iron” is good too; toddlers need seven milligrams of iron per day, and kids who are transitioning from iron-fortified formula to cow’s milk often don’t get enough iron.

Most toddlers will eat between 1,000 to 1,400 calories per day, but you don’t have to count.

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