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Nutrition for 1-year-olds

Introducing a variety of healthy foods helps meet your child's nutritional needs. Plus, it sets the stage for healthy eating habits later in life.

Much has changed during your baby's first year. And mealtime is no exception. Those round-the-clock feedings are now a memory. They've been replaced by more regular, if somewhat messy, meals and experiments in "real" food.

To meet the nutritional needs of your fast-growing child, keep these key points in mind.

Right from the start

What you do now will set the stage for a lifetime of eating habits for your child.

This is a great time to introduce all kinds of healthy foods. Your child needs that variety. It will provide the nutrients required for healthy growth and development.

During the coming months, there are some essential nutrients you may want to pay special attention to, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:

  • Fat, fiber and protein provide for energy and growth, among other things. (In fact, you should not restrict your child's fat intake until age 2 years. It's important for healthy brain development.) Some good sources of fat include whole milk, cheese and vegetable oils. Protein is found in meat and poultry, eggs and beans. Good sources of fiber include fruits and veggies, whole grains and beans.
  • Iron and zinc are key to healthy blood and a healthy immune system. Look for these in meats and fortified cereals.
  • Vitamins A, C and E are needed for healthy growth and eyesight. Many fruits and vegetables provide these nutrients.
  • Calcium helps build strong teeth and bones. Dairy foods such as whole milk and yogurt are excellent sources. So are calcium-fortified foods and juices.

How much, how often

Between ages 1 and 2 years, a child needs about 1,000 calories per day. Toddler tummies are pretty tiny. So you'll likely need to spread those calories over three small meals and two or three snacks per day.

Plan to offer three or four healthy options at each meal or snack. And, over the course of the day, be sure to include foods from each of the different food groups:

  • Bread, cereal, rice and pasta.
  • Vegetables and fruit.
  • Milk, yogurt and cheese.
  • Meat, poultry, fish, dry beans and eggs.

Remember to keep the servings toddler-sized. That's about a tablespoon per year of age for each food you are serving.

Supplements needed?

If your child is eating well and eating a variety of foods, he or she probably won't need to take extra vitamins and minerals, according to the AAP. However, some children may benefit from taking a supplement. Among them are very picky eaters and children from strict vegetarian families. Talk to your child's doctor if you think your child might need a supplement.

One nutrient that you may have to boost is iron. Toddlers need lots of it, since they are growing so quickly. A lack of iron can lead to anemia. This can cause mental, motor or behavioral problems, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.

You can help your child get plenty of iron by:

  • Limiting the amount of whole cow's milk your child drinks to 16 ounces per day. Milk is an important source of calcium. But drinking a lot of it may leave no room in your child's diet for other foods, including those rich in iron.
  • Offering your child a variety of iron-rich foods. These include meat, chicken, fish, whole grains, enriched bread and cereal, and beans.
  • Making sure your child gets plenty of vitamin C along with the iron-rich foods. Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron. It's found in fruits and veggies such as red bell peppers, strawberries and oranges. Orange juice, kiwi and broccoli are good sources too.

Your child's doctor can provide more information about iron. Be sure to ask whether your child should be checked to see if he or she is getting enough.

Reviewed 9/30/2022

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