The toddler years bring lots of trial and error when it comes to trying new foods. The best way to get your toddler to try new foods is to be persistent and offer variety. Keep exposing your little one to familiar and new flavors to encourage a broad flavor palate. Toddlers tend to do best when they receive a variety of foods, especially fruits and veggies!
Toddlers have small tummies that can only hold a small amount of food. At the same time, they have high nutrient needs for growth and development, so they need to eat often. A good guideline to keep in mind is to start with a protein source (including legumes), add a fruit or vegetable (or both), and fill in the gaps with whole grains and dairy.
Mix and match these ideas for healthy meals and snacks:
- Fruit. Options include apples, peaches, pears; banana; quarter sizer grapes, and soft pieces of melon. Canned and frozen fruit are good choices as well—make sure your non-fresh picks don’t contain added sugar. Plain yogurt and low-fat cream cheese make toddler-friendly fruit dips.
- Veggies. Try cooked peppers, carrots, broccoli, spinach and cauliflower. Prepare and serve veggies in various ways: steamed and slow-cooked are good choices. Veggies tend to be bitter and have a learned flavor preference, so expose your toddler to them early and often. Hard, raw vegetables and fruit can be a choking risk and should be avoided in children under three years old. Hummus, low-fat cheese, guacamole and salsa make fun veggie dips.
- Dairy. Dairy is a key healthy food for toddlers, providing calcium and vitamin D to help build strong bones. Dairy foods that are good for toddlers include milk, full-fat plain yogurt, low-sugar drinkable yogurt, cottage cheese, and shredded or grated cheese. Calcium-fortified soymilk is also part of this group.
- Protein. Proteins are a rich source of iron, which is critical for keeping red blood cells operating at full capacity. Since toddlers no longer drink iron-fortified formula, they’re at risk for iron deficiency, making eating protein important. Meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, and soy products like tofu are all proteins. Legumes, including peas, beans, lentils, and soy are also great protein sources.
- Grains. Whole-grain bread, pasta, oatmeal, waffles, and low-sugar cereal are all nutritious options for your toddler. Try serving brown rice cakes or whole-grain toast with nut butter, melted cheese, hummus, or mashed avocado.
Your curious toddler will also enjoy meals and snacks presented in a fun way. Use your imagination: Turn the contents of their plate into a smiley face, use cookie cutters to make cat-shaped sandwiches, create a graham cracker “pizza” with yogurt and fruit, or make a funny face with fruits or veggies on top of a bagel or cracker.