When your toddler starts on finger foods, you can ease into feeding them the same foods you eat at mealtime. If you introduce foods in a gentle, age-appropriate way, your days of preparing separate meals for your child will soon be a thing of the past. Barring too much salt, spice, or things they haven’t eaten before, after a year old your child may be able to eat anything you have on your plate, as long as it’s cut to the right size. Check with your doctor first.
With the days of fortified baby formula behind you, pack the most nutrient power into what you offer your baby, with special emphasis on developing the brain, body, and organs.
Here are seven foods to integrate into your toddler’s diet that will help them—and you—eat healthier and more efficiently:
- Hard-boiled eggs: Eggs have lots of vitamin D, which helps your body absorb calcium, along with about 6 grams of protein per egg. And eggs are a natural fit for toddlers: They’re inexpensive, easy to make, versatile, and portable when hard-boiled. Plus, they’re a good alternative to meat, which can present texture issues and be hard for toddlers to chew.
- Walnut, almond, and cashew nut butters: Nuts are packed with protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for building a strong brain, better eyesight, and a healthy heart. They also help the body absorb nutrients. The human body can’t manufacture omega-3s, so it’s extra important to get them where you can. However, served whole, nuts can be a choking hazard. Natural nut butters—made without added sugar and salt—can be spread on a cracker, baked into muffins, or pureed into a smoothie.
- Homemade chicken soup: Nutritionally, chicken soup is all good things rolled into one, delivering a healthy dose of vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber, and hydration. It’s also a solid family favorite. Make an extra-large batch and freeze leftover broth into individual servings in ice cube trays. Freeze the vegetables and the deboned, cut-up chicken separately, and you can assemble a single serving in minutes right from the freezer.
- Avocados: Avocados are packed with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and heart-healthy monounsaturated fats (MUFAs). MUFAs may lower total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol levels but not high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good” cholesterol levels.
You can cut an avocado into snack-sized chunks, blend it with banana into a smoothie, or cook it into scrambled eggs. For a combined snack and motor activity, peel and quarter an avocado. Add a dash of lime or lemon juice to keep it from browning. Put one quarter in a snack-sized baggie (reserve the rest for a different day or use). Seal the baggie and hand it to your child to mash, then serve it with a spoon.
- Hummus and bean dips: Black beans, red beans, and chickpeas are packed with fiber. Bean dips and hummus make it fun for kids to dip and eat their vegetables and adding that fiber is extra important for toddlers as they enter the potty training stages. During potty training, kids often withhold their bowel movements. Add the fact that kids don’t drink enough water, and constipation becomes a big issue.
- Frozen vegetables: The USDA recommends five to nine daily servings of fruits and vegetables for everyone, including toddlers. Frozen vegetables are picked at the peak of freshness—fresh vegetables are picked early and left to ripen as they’re trucked with ethylene gas in transit. And when you’re buying organic, frozen gives even more value: Fresh organic vegetables go bad more quickly than nonorganic ones because they don’t use preservative chemicals. Organic frozen vegetables are packed fresh and stay fresh, allowing you to use only what you need and keep the rest frozen. Whether you are serving your toddler their vegetables fresh or frozen, note that hard vegetables like carrots can present a choking hazard unless they are cooked or at least softened.
Tip: Next time you need to cool off hot soup or pasta before serving, add a handful of frozen peas or corn instead of ice cubes.
- Water instead of juice: Staying hydrated is important for proper organ function, including digestion, circulation, and brain activity. In June of 2017, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement on feeding juice to infants and toddlers: “After 1 year of age, fruit juice may be used as part of a meal or snack. It should not be sipped throughout the day or used as a means to calm an upset child.” Fruit juice, while OK in moderation, lacks the fiber of whole fruit and is full of empty calories and sugar.
Read on for a few more tips on healthy eating for toddlers:
- Think in terms of snacks. Tiny toddler tummies can’t handle three big meals a day. They rely on smaller meals and snacks to get in all the nutrients and calories they need throughout the day.
- Keep in mind that many foods like nuts, eggs, and fish are potential allergens for young children, and you should always use caution when introducing new foods into your toddler’s diet.
- The USDA adds this important caution about foods you offer your toddler: “Due to the risk of choking, it is best to avoid feeding infants certain foods, including, but not limited to, hard pieces of raw fruit, any raw vegetable, and whole, uncut cherry or grape tomatoes, grapes, berries, cherries, or melon balls.”
- For more guidelines on toddler feeding tips, visit the New York State Department of Health’s guidelines on choking prevention for children.