Choosing the right foods for a 1-year-old can help them embrace new flavors and see meals as fun.
No single meal plan is right for all children, but these guidelines can help with feeding a toddler.
Toddlers can eat the same foods that their family members eat, though it may be necessary to modify some foods to make them easier and safer to eat.
Children may need to try a food many times before they like it. Parents and caregivers should never force a food, and never punish children, but continue offering a wide variety of nourishing options.
Some toddler-friendly foods to consider include:
- Fruits: Avocados, bananas, oranges, berries, mangoes, and other fruits are great choices. It is important to cut berries, grapes, or hard fruits into small pieces.
- Vegetables: Toddlers can enjoy all of the same vegetables as adults, so parents and caregivers can introduce new ones on an ongoing basis. Some toddlers enjoy baby food purees that include both vegetables and fruits, providing a sweet taste.
- Protein: Toddlers can eat bits of meat in baby-sized bites. They may also enjoy other proteins, such as lentils, beans, or tofu.
- Grains: Grains such as oatmeal offer healthful fiber that can prevent constipation.
There is no need to disguise food, add sugar to it, or try to make it taste better in other ways. Children learn to eat the things that parents or caregivers give them.
Toddlers respond to texture and shape changes. If a child dislikes a specific fruit, try cutting it into different shapes, arranging it into a smiley face, or offering it in a smoothie. Make food fun and creative, and do not try to control how much the child eats.
Eat together at mealtimes, and offer the toddler the same foods as the rest of the family rather than creating special toddler meals. Offer the child something that they like and be willing to give them a second portion if they indicate that they want more.
Where possible, it is best to develop an eating schedule and stick with it. Although toddlers should not have unhealthful snacks, such as cookies, with no nutritional value, they may need several healthful snacks throughout the day, particularly during a growth spurt.
The schedule only applies to foods, as it is important to give children water whenever they indicate that they want some.
Between the ages of 1 and 2 years, toddlers can begin enjoying the same foods as their parents or caregivers, as long as the food is in a child-friendly form.
Young children face a very high risk of choking on certain foods. Choking is a leading cause of childhood injury and death. Parents and caregivers can reduce the risk of choking by:
- Being mindful of dense foods that change shape: Peanut butter, squeezy cheese, and similar foods can block the airway. Avoid giving them on a spoon or in large globs. Some people prefer to thin these foods with water or spread a small amount over a cracker.
- Giving peanuts in smaller pieces: Doctors used to think that parents and caregivers should delay giving babies peanuts, but research now shows that the early introduction of peanuts reduces the risk of allergies. Cut peanuts into small pieces or blend them into peanut butter.
- Cutting small, round foods: Blueberries, grapes, and similarly sized foods present a significant choking hazard. Cut them into very small pieces — for example, divide a large grape into eighths. The same is true of canteloupe or other dense melon-type fruits.
- Avoiding choking hazards that offer no nutritional value: Popcorn and some other snacks, such as tortilla chips, present a high risk of choking. As they also offer few health benefits, it is best to avoid them.
It is also advisable to monitor children while they eat, discourage them from eating while playing, and remind them not to talk and eat at the same time. In addition, never allow a child to eat alone or in the backseat of a car, as choking is usually silent.
Sweet beverages, such as sodas and sugary juices, encourage tooth decay. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) note that there is no reason to give healthy children juice. If parents or caregivers want to give juice, the AAP recommend no more than 4 ounces of juice per day.
However, babies and toddlers should always have access to water.
There is no need to feed children differently, just because they are sick. If the child’s appetite is unaffected, and they are not vomiting, it is fine to continue giving them their usual meals. However, some children regress when they are sick.
Toddlers who are still breastfeeding may want to breastfeed more. Those who have just switched to solid foods may want purees or baby food instead. Encourage the child to listen to their body, then offer them healthful foods based on their needs. For example, a child who does not want to chew food can still get excellent nourishment from a fruit smoothie.
When a child cannot keep down food or does not want to eat, it is essential to continue giving them water. If a child has diarrhea or a very high fever or is vomiting frequently, ask a doctor about giving them an electrolyte drink to replace lost fluids and prevent dehydration.
Some doctors recommend sticking to a very bland diet for a few hours after a child has had diarrhea or been vomiting. People can use the acronym BRAT to remember suitable foods:
Most toddlers need 1,000–1,400 calories per day. Larger and more active children may need slightly more.
Parents and caregivers should not worry about trying to provide perfect portion sizes. Instead, they can offer a wide array of healthful foods and allow the child to decide what to eat. Many toddlers achieve balance over time by eating large meals one day and almost nothing the next.
Toddlers should eat every 2 to 3 hours, or five to six times per day. A sample daily schedule might look like this:
- one-half of a cup of oatmeal and one-half of a cup of fruit, such as sliced blueberries or bananas
- fruit smoothie containing avocado, frozen berries, and banana
- cottage cheese
- scrambled eggs
Mid-morning snack options
- fruit and vegetable smoothie containing kale, apple, mango, banana, and carrot
- hummus or nut butters with dippable fruit or soft crackers
- sliced chicken or cheese and a fruit salad
- tuna and crackers
- lentil soup
- peanut butter sandwich with fruit on the side
- Greek yogurt with fruit
Postnap snack options
- frozen fruit smoothie “popsicle,” consisting of apple, mango, banana, and orange frozen in a popsicle mold
- cottage cheese with sliced avocado
- a few pieces of cheese
- mild salsa with pita bread
- cooked quinoa, lentils, or beans
- tofu stir-fry
- tender chopped hamburger with beans or macaroni and cheese on the side (or black bean burger for a plant-based option)
- grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup
- vegetable soup and an egg omelet
- cooked vegetables and ground beef or other chopped tender meats
Toddlers who eat dinner several hours before bedtime may also need a pre-bedtime snack.
Some 1-year-olds still drink breast milk. All major public health agencies say that it is fine to continue giving breast milk for as long as the breastfeeding adult and child mutually desire. Breast milk provides nutrition, so breastfed 1-year-olds may eat slightly less than those who have already weaned.
Once the child is ready to wean, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advise replacing breast milk with milk rather than with formula.
Every toddler is different. Some have barely started eating solids at 1 year of age, while others enjoy a wide range of complex flavors. However, children will eventually start trying new foods.
The job of parents and caregivers is to introduce new foods and turn meals into a pleasurable experience.
It might be helpful to discuss nutritional goals with a pediatrician or dietitian.