Nutrition Guide: Children age 2 and older
Print out the Nutrition Guide for easy nutritional reference specific to your child’s stage of development.
During the Toddler 2+ stage, your child is probably eating more of the foods that the rest of the family eats. Your growing toddler still needs help with controlling how much and what she eats. She also needs your help in exploring new foods and choosing nutritious foods for healthy growth and development. You can help your child have a healthy diet by setting a good example. That means providing a variety of nutritious foods for the whole family at meal and snack times. Keep introducing healthy foods even if your child initially refuses them. It can take about 10 tries before a child accepts a new food, so keep providing healthy options for her to choose from.
* Average estimated intake. Your growing toddler's needs may be greater or less than those stated; always follow your child's hunger and fullness cues.
One Toddler 2+ serving is equivalent to 1/2 cup fruit
Common nutrition needs and gaps
The Nestlé Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study (FITS) 2008 provided a first-of-its-kind nutrition snapshot of children ages 24-48 months, providing a snapshot of what older toddlers were really eating. On a given day, children ages 24-48 months are mirroring the unhealthy eating patterns often seen in older children and adults—too few fruits and vegetables, too little fiber, potassium, vitamin E, and too much saturated fat and sodium.
Nestlé FITS 2008 revealed the following needs and gaps in young children aged 24-48 months diets:
- Vegetables. Almost a third of the young children aged 24-48 months surveyed didn’t eat a single serving of vegetable in a day—and when they did, French fries were their first choice. A young child’s diet should include a variety of fruits and vegetables, with an emphasis on nutrient-rich, dark-green leafy and deep-yellow vegetables and colorful fruits. Fruits and vegetables have essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber. A diet that includes fruits and vegetables is important for healthy growth and development. If your older toddler doesn’t like certain fruits and vegetables, don’t give up! While you never want to force your child, continue to offer new varieties and foods along with familiar favorites. It may take several attempts, sometimes up to ten, for a child to accept new foods.
- Total fat. On a given day one third of young children aged 24-48 months are not consuming enough total fat in their diet. Unsaturated fats are important to a child’s overall growth and development. About 30 to 40 percent of a young children aged 24-48 months total calories should come from fat, preferably mono- and polyunsaturated fats like those found in vegetable oils. Fish, avocados and foods made with vegetable oils, such as canola and soybean oil, can help achieve the right balance of fat for toddlers 2+.
- Saturated fat. On a given day, 75% of young children aged 24-48 months are consuming too much saturated fat. Saturated fats are the fats found predominantly in milk, cheese, butter and meats and some baked goods. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend diets low in saturated fat (less than 10 percent of calories) for children over 2 years of age. Lowfat or fat free milk can be introduced after age 2. In addition, be sure to limit the amount of cheese and butter your child eats, serve lean meats, and choose dairy foods made with lowfat or fat free milk. For example, instead of butter, choose spreads made with healthy vegetable oils.
- Sodium. Seventy-one percent of two-year-olds and 84 percent of three-year-olds consume more sodium than recommended on a given day. Help your child enjoy the natural flavors of healthy foods by preparing meals and snacks without added salt and by reading labels on prepared foods to find lower sodium options. Serve your child healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low fat dairy.
- Vitamin E. More than half of growing toddlers (age two- to three- years) aren’t meeting the requirement for vitamin E on a given day. Vitamin E is an important antioxidant that protects cells in the body from damage. Foods that have vitamin E include healthy oils (such as soy or canola), avocados, and whole grains. In addition, foods that have vitamin E, such as GRADUATES® Animal Crackers can help toddlers 2+ meet their needs for this important vitamin.
- Potassium. Virtually no children one to three years old are meeting the recommended 3,000 milligrams of potassium on a given day. Potassium is an important mineral that helps muscles work properly. Foods that have potassium include bananas, yogurt, citrus fruits, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and winter squash.
- Fiber. Virtually no young children aged 24-48 months are meeting the recommended intake of 19 grams of fiber on a given day. Fiber is important for healthy digestion. Fiber is found in nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans.
Other nutrition concerns at the Toddler 2+ stage include:
A Healthy Weight. As your child grows, it’s important to continue to offer healthy foods and be a good role model by eating as you wish your child to. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 12.4% of children ages 2 to 5 are overweight. Encourage good habits by eating together at the dinner table and try to be a good role model. In addition to good eating habits, encourage plenty of active play. This along with a balanced diet can help provide the foundation for a healthy, active life. If you have any concerns about your child’s weight be sure to talk with your doctor.
Fullness cues. Growing toddlers need to learn how to recognize their fullness cues so that they will stop eating when full. Help them by serving small portions at first and give more if they are still hungry. Avoid making them eat when not hungry or clean their plate. Don’t use food as a reward or for consoling them.
Feeding your toddler 2+: How much is enough?
Older toddler serving sizes are smaller than those for adults. Here are tips on feeding your child.
- Provide three small meals and two to three snacks a day to help give her the energy and nutrition she needs.
- Always offer a smaller portion, and then if she's still hungry, give her more.
- Your child's appetite may vary. If you’ve offered at least one food that you know she likes and she chooses not to eat at that meal, that’s all right. She’ll make up for it at the next meal or the next day.
- Encourage food to be eaten at regular meals or snack time. Avoid providing foods for other reasons such as rewards—use praise instead!
Following your toddler 2+ appetite cues
An important way to tell whether your child is getting enough to eat is by following her hunger and fullness cues. Responding to these cues can help your child understand her own feelings of hunger and fullness.
|FEEDING SOLID FOODS
||FEEDING SOLID FOODS
|Expresses self with phrases or simple sentences
||Expresses self with phrases or simple sentences
|Seeks out specific foods
||Loses interest in eating
|May approach kitchen or dinner table on their own
||May walk away from dinner table when full
Start Healthy, Stay Healthy™ Menu Planner
The Start Healthy, Stay Healthy™ Menu Planner generates easy-to-follow menus based on the food groups and nutrients recommended by health professionals for children’s healthy growth and development. You can use the generated menus, or create your own—either way, the unique 5-Star Rating System** lets you know your menu falls within our recommended nutrition guidelines for your child’s stage.
Menu Planner for Toddler 2+
Start Healthy, Stay Healthy™ Nutrition System
The Start Healthy, Stay Healthy Nutrition System is an innovative approach which helps you choose the right nutrition for your baby based on her stage of development. Only Gerber offers a unique stage-based system with products, and feeding and nutrition guidance to support healthy growth and development and encourage healthy eating for your child from birth to 4 years.
Our nutrition experts want to make meal planning easier on you! They've developed healthy menus to help ensure that your toddler gets the nutrition he needs to grow healthy and strong.
Menu Planner for Toddler 2+
Learn more about products for this developmental stage.
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