What Should a One Year Old Eat?

Cute toddler girl eating spaghetti in a white kitchen
A young girl is feeding herself. (Image: FamVeld/iStock/Getty Images)

Age 12 to 24 months is a time of significant nutritional change for a toddler. Your 1-year-old is making the transition from a liquid and semisolid diet to more substantial foods. It's important to encourage your child to try new foods and to allow him to experiment with textures. Give your toddler soft, plastic utensils and allow him to feed himself to develop hand-eye coordination. Talk to your physician if you have any concerns about your 1-year-old's diet.

The Breakdown

As a general rule, children ages 12 to 24 months will need 1,000 to 1,400 calories per day. To simplify healthy eating, the U.S. Department of Agriculture devised a simple graphic called MyPlate. Visually divide your child's plate in half. Fill one side with produce -- with slightly more vegetables than fruits -- and the remaining two quarters with whole grains and lean protein. Serve a glass of milk or some other form of dairy on the side.The American Heart Association is more specific in its guidelines and recommends 2 ounces of whole grains, 1.5 ounces of lean meat or beans, 1 cup of fruit, three-quarters of a cup of vegetables and 2 cups of milk or a dairy equivalent per day for a 1-year-old.

Picky and Persnickety

Toddlers are notorious for their picky eating habits. If your 1-year-old turns up his nose at green beans, don't despair. He may simply be trying to take control and exert his independence. The Kids Health website recommends serving small portions of healthy foods at every meal. Let your child choose what he'll eat, but don't make something different just for him. Keep in mind that toddlers tend to balance their diets over the course of a week. Your 1-year-old may eat everything in sight one day and practically nothing the next.

Importance of Calcium

Although the World Health Organization recommends extended breast-feeding up to 2 years of age and beyond, it's also important for your toddler to drink cow's milk. Milk and other dairy products are an essential source of calcium and vitamin D, which promote strong skeletal growth. One-year-olds should drink whole milk because they need extra fat for neurological development. If your child dislikes the taste of milk, try mixing it with breast milk or formula. If your child can't have dairy, offer plenty of calcium-rich foods such as soy milk, tofu, fortified orange juice, salmon and dark, leafy greens.

Age-Related Nutrition Considerations

Toddlers need 700 milligrams of calcium and 600 international units of vitamin D per day for healthy bone growth. Milk and dairy are the most obvious sources of these nutrients, but your child can have too much of a good thing. Drinking an excess of cow's milk puts your child at risk for iron-deficient anemia because he may fill up on liquids and because milk can inhibit iron absorption. Limit your child to 16 to 24 ounces of milk per day and offer plenty of iron-rich foods such as tofu, meat, grains, and poultry at every meal.

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