A Blog from Your Kaiser Permanente Pediatricians in Northern California

Toddler girl eating

Feeding a Toddler? Here are some FAQs

Babies are often so easy – give them their milk and they’re happy. But toddlers? They’ve got a mind of their own and can be hard to feed! I get lots of questions from parents about feeding their toddler. Here’s a few of my usual answers.

How much milk should a toddler or preschooler drink?

Toddlers should drink no more than 16 ounces daily. Milk is a poor source of iron, and if a child drinks too much, they can become anemic. Also, if your kiddo fills up on too much milk they’ll be less likely to eat the other healthy foods you offer!

Can I give them alternative milks, such as soy or nut milk?

Yes. The best choices are:

  • Unsweetened (no sugar added)
  • Fortified with calcium and vitamin D
  • High in protein

Should I give whole milk, low-fat, or nonfat?

  • At 12 to 24 months, whole milk is recommended.
  • At 2 to 5 years, whole, low-fat or nonfat milk are all acceptable. If you have concerns about your child’s weight, talk with your pediatrician about how this may influence the milk you choose.

Can other dairy products substitute for milk?

Yes! Milk is an easy source of protein and calcium but isn’t required if your child eats these types of foods:

  • Yogurt and cheese
  • Tofu made with calcium
  • Calcium-fortified cereals
  • Leafy greens, broccoli
  • Almond butter, sesame seeds, tahini

What are some good options for protein besides meat?

  • Beans, lentils (on their own or in burritos, soups, pastas)
  • Hummus or other bean dip
  • Eggs
  • Tofu
  • Tuna, or other fish
  • Smooth nut butters (spread thin to avoid choking hazard)
  • Greek yogurt
  • Cheese
  • Quinoa, buckwheat

What should I do if my child refuses to try new foods?

Picky eating is so common at this age! Here’s some ideas to help:

  • Know that picky eating is usually a phase. Food jags (refusing or insisting on certain foods repeatedly) are common and usually temporary. Have faith that this will improve over time. In the meantime, think about your kid’s nutrition averaged over a week to get a picture of their nutritional intake. Maybe they just eat whole wheat bread today, peaches tomorrow, and carrots the next day. That’s not so bad! If extreme pickiness lasts for months, talk with your pediatrician.
  • Try removing their favorite or habit foods from your house – it’s hard to eat what isn’t there! Or allow small amounts of the foods only at certain times.
  • Keep introducing new foods. It may take many attempts for your child to begin to like it. New foods, flavors, and textures may need to be introduced 15 to 20 times before a child learns to enjoy it. Kids can learn to like new foods when they see, smell, and taste them over and over again.
  • Stick to a 3-meal and 2-snack schedule and don’t give in to those favorite habit foods between meals.
  • Understand that a child’s eating habits are influenced by their individual temperament. Some children are naturally more resistant to new foods or less interested in eating in general. Others may pass through challenging periods at different stages of their development. Try not to blame yourself, and know that as children grow, their tastes and appetites will grow too.

What are some examples of healthy snacks?

Think of snacks as a chance to sneak in nutritious food. You might try:

  • Fresh fruit
  • Vegetables with dip
  • Cooked pasta
  • Half sandwiches on soft, whole-grain bread
  • Shredded cheese
  • Hummus or other bean dips
  • Nut butters
  • Low-sugar, whole-grain cereals

What should my toddler drink?

What a kid drinks is so important! Mostly stick with water and some milk and serve them in cups – not bottles:

  • Offer water throughout the day. Toddlers need about 2 cups of water per day (more if it’s hot outside).
  • Limit milk to no more than 16 ounces a day. Too much milk can cause low iron in the blood (anemia).
  • Avoid or limit juice. It’s not recommended. If you do serve juice, limit it to 4 ounces or less a day and be sure it’s 100 percent fruit juice (no sugar added).
  • Don’t give your child sugar-sweetened drinks. This includes soda, fruit drinks, flavored milk, teas, and energy drinks.

What foods should we avoid?

  • Avoid foods that could cause choking, including whole nuts, grapes, hot dogs, popcorn, chunks of meat and vegetables, thick or chunky peanut butter, and hard candy.
  • Limit sweets, chips, and fast food, which aren’t good for your child and can lead to unhealthy weight gain.
  • Avoid candy, gummy vitamins, fruit leather, and other foods that stick to teeth. They can cause cavities.

For more ideas and advice, talk with your pediatrician. They can give you answers and support or refer you to talk with a health educator or nutritionist.

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