Feeding Guide: 1-3 Years

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What can my 1-3 year old eat and drink?

A 1 year old can eat almost everything that the family is eating, as long as it won’t cause choking. Children will likely get their molars at 18-24 months to also help with chewing.

  • Child can now have cow’s milk. See the below section on cow’s milk. 
  • Child can drink from a cup. See Weaning: Breastfed Baby and Weaning: Formula-Fed Baby for more information on weaning from the bottle.
  • Continue to breastfeed! Breastfeeding continues to provide valuable nutrition past 12 months. The longer an infant is breastfed, the greater the protection from certain illnesses and long-term diseases. The more months or years a woman breastfeeds (combined breastfeeding of all her children), the greater the benefits to her health as well. Mom is encouraged to breastfeed if mutually desired by mom and baby. If your toddler is nursing, about 3-5 feedings in a day is normal. Breastfeeding is great for snacks and late night or early morning feedings.
  • Child can now safely have honey.
  • Child continues learning to use a spoon on their own.
Feeding Guide: 1-3 years old
Food Groups Child-Size Serving Examples* Servings Per Day

Grains

Offer at least half the grains whole grain or fortified with iron and B-vitamins. (whole grain, whole wheat flour, whole oats, whole corn should be listed first in the ingredient list.) These foods will give your child energy needed for growth and development and are a good source of fiber.

½ oz serving

½ slice bread = ½ oz

½ muffin, bagel, biscuit (small) = 1 oz

½ hot dog or hamburger buns = 1 oz

¼ cup ready-to-eat cereal = ½ oz

¼ cup cooked cereal = ½ oz

¼ cup pasta or rice = ½ oz

4-6 crackers = 1 oz

½ 6-inch tortilla = 1 oz

2 ½ – 5 oz. per day

Vegetables

Vegetables provide your child with a good source of vitamin A every day. These foods will help your child develop good eyesight and keep skin and hair healthy. Vary the types of vegetables throughout the week.

¼ cup serving

¼ cup

Cooked, raw, whole, 100% juice

1-1 ½ cup per day

Fruits

Fruits provide your child with a good source of vitamin C every day. These foods will help your child’s body absorb iron and help prevent infections. Do not offer more than six ounces of 100% juice a day. Juices can be diluted with water. Focus on whole fruits more often than other types.

¼ cup serving

¼ piece soft fruit

⅓ cup canned, drained = ⅓ cup

3 oz 100% juice = ⅓ cup

1-1 ½ cup per day

Protein

These foods are a good source of protein and iron. Protein helps build and repair body tissues like skin, bone, hair, blood, and muscle. Iron rich foods help your child have healthy, strong blood.

1 oz serving

2 Tbsp lean meat, poultry, fish = 1 oz

1 Egg = 1 oz

¼ cup cooked dry beans = 1 oz

1 Tbsp peanut butter = 1 oz
*apply peanut butter thinly to reduce choking risk

2-4 oz. per day

Dairy

Dairy foods keep bones and teeth strong. Whole milk until age two may help ensure the child gets enough calories and essential nutrients for proper growth, including fatty acids important in brain development. Your WIC health professional can guide you on what type of milk is best for your child. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the use of whole milk rather than reduced fat milk, i.e. 2%, 1%, or skim, for this age group.

½ cup serving

½ cup whole milk = ½ cup (4 oz)

½ cup yogurt = ½ cup (4 oz)

1 ½ oz natural cheese (9-volt battery size) = 1 cup milk

1 slice cheese = ½ cup (4 oz)

½ cup cottage cheese = ¼ cup milk (2 oz)

2-2 ½ cups per day

Water

Toddlers should be offered water throughout the day. Water intake will vary as milk intake decreases. 1-3 year olds should consume 1.3 Liters (L) of total water per day. This includes about 3.75 cups (0.9 L) as total beverages, including drinking water.

*Serving Size Hand Symbols for the Average Adult

Sources:
• Nutrition Care Manual: Suggested Portion Sizes for Toddlers.
• Grains group recommendation came from a combination of DGA’s 12-23 months and Nutrition Care Manual Suggested Portions for Toddlers.
https://www.eatright.org/food/nutrition/dietary-guidelines-and-myplate/kids-and-portion-control

Cup Use

Children should wean from the bottle when they turn 1. See Weaning: Breastfed Baby and Weaning: Formula-Fed Baby for more information.

By offering liquids in a cup instead of a bottle you avoid baby bottle tooth decay.

  • Tooth decay can happen when children’s teeth are exposed to the natural sugars found in milk, formula, fruit juice and other sweetened liquids for long periods of time. This can also happen if a sippy cup is carried around and used all day.
  • Expect messes and spills. Young children are just learning to feed themselves and it takes time to get good at it.
  • Cow’s milk and juice should always be offered in a cup.

Appetite

Because growth slows down after the first birthday, your child’s appetite may slow down too. A child may eat more on some days than on others.

 Parents are the best judges of what a child should eat. Children are the best judges of how much they should eat. Explore healthy eating tips for parents.

  • Toddlers have small stomachs, about the size of their fist. They cannot eat very much at one time. This is why it is important that you give them three meals and 2-3 nutritious snacks each day. 
  • Remember that serving sizes for a 1 year old are different than serving sizes for adults.

Cow’s Milk

Do not start cow’s milk before 12 months. Switch to whole milk at age 1.

  •  If breastfeeding, you can provide a combination of breastmilk and whole milk throughout the day. An infant on formula does not need to be kept on formula past 12 months unless they are growing very slowly, are very small, or have a milk allergy.
  • 1 to 2-year-olds should have on average 16 oz. of milk daily, this includes breastmilk.
  • Cow’s milk should be offered in a cup. Only formula should be given in a bottle. This will make weaning much easier soon after their first birthday.
  • Keep your child on whole milk until they are 2. This will ensure they are getting enough calories and essential nutrients, like fatty acids for brain development and baby’s nerves, muscles, and skin.
  • At 24 months switch to low fat or skim milk instead of whole milk as the extra fat is less essential for growth and development after age 2.
  • 1 to 2-year-olds should have on average 16 oz. of milk or four child-size servings of dairy foods daily.

Juice

Fruit juice tastes great, but it has lots of sugar. It can leave little kids too full for healthier foods and harm their teeth. 

  • WIC recommends NOT giving juice to infants less than 12 months old.
  • If juice is offered to a child over 12 months, always provide 100% juice and limit your child to half a cup a day (4 ounces). 
  • Try mixing with water so the child drinks less.
  • Keep in mind that even 100% juice does not offer the important fiber that fresh and frozen fruits offer. There is no nutrition benefit of 100% fruit juice over whole fruit.

Sweetened Drinks

All kids 5 and under should avoid drinking flavored milks, toddler formulas, plant-based/non-dairy milks (except for children with milk allergies), caffeinated beverages, sugar-sweetened dinks, and low-calorie sweetened beverages.

These beverages can be big sources of added sugars in young children’s diets and provide no unique nutritional value.

Meat

It is not uncommon for toddlers to dislike meat. Try offering ground meat, moistening with meat juice, cutting into tiny pieces, or mixing with other foods.

Remember it doesn’t take much for your 1 and 2 year old to get the protein they need. 2 tablespoons of meat equals about 1 oz of protein and they only need 2 oz total in a day!

If your child is still not interested, try these foods to help them get the iron they need:

  • Well-cooked, mashed dry beans, such as those used in refried beans, chili or baked beans
  • Prune juice
  • Iron fortified cereal
  • Green peas, mashed
  • Tofu
  • Enriched grains (breads and noodles)
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Give your child high vitamin C foods like oranges, sliced strawberries, or tomatoes with high-iron foods. Vitamin C foods help the body get the iron from these foods.

Fish

Fish is an important part of a healthy eating pattern for young children to promote growth and development. Fish provides:

  • Protein
  • Healthy omega-3 fats (called DHA and EPA)
  • More vitamin B12 and vitamin D than any other type of food
  • Iron and other minerals like selenium, zinc, and iodine

Serve fish to children 1-2 times per week from a variety of fish. On average, a serving size is about:

  • 1 ounce for children ages 2-3 years, 
  • 2 ounces for children ages 4-7 years, 
  • 3 ounces for children ages 8-10 years and 
  • 4 ounces for children 11 years and older

Many types of fish are both nutritious and lower in mercury. Use this guide to determine the best choices of fish to offer your family and those to avoid.

Snacks

Snacks make up an important part of a child’s nutrition. Young children are growing rapidly and need small frequent meals and snacks. In planning snacks, you need to select nutritious foods to help promote this rapid growth.

Plan Snacks. Schedule them around the normal events of the day and offer at least 2 hours before a meal so that your child is hungry at meal time. Children should learn to get hungry, instead of feeling full all the time. Serve water between meals to quench your child’s thirst.

Include a variety of food. Selections can be made from any of the food groups. Foods in the fats, oils and sugars group provide many calories but few nutrients. Foods from this group should be used only occasionally.

Healthy snack ideas

  • Fruits: fresh, frozen, canned or dried fruit like bananas, peaches, oranges, cantaloupe, watermelon, honeydew, berries, avocados, fruit smoothies, unsweetened applesauce
  • Vegetables: any soft, cooked vegetables, 100% tomato or vegetable juice 
  • Dairy (milk products): plain yogurt, cottage cheese, cheese cubes, string cheese
  • Protein: hard boiled eggs, tuna chunks, cheese cubes, Greek yogurt
  • Grains: whole grain crackers, cereal, bread, tortillas

Snacks to avoid

  • Chips, fries, doughnuts, pastries, cakes, cookies, candy, pie, sweetened cereal, fruit snacks, high sodium lunch meats like bologna, pop and sweetened drinks

Snack variety

  • Offer your child small amounts of different kinds of food. 
  • Make food interesting – offer bright colored food and different shapes at each meal

See Picky Eating if your child is having a hard time trying and liking new foods.

Sources: CDC, Healthy Eating Research, USDA Infant Nutrition and Feeding – A Guide for Use in WIC

This post was last updated on March 31st, 2021 at 3:53 PM

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