Healthy Eating for Babies and Toddlers
Feeding Your Baby
Babies are born knowing how much to eat – when they are hungry and when they are full. But they are totally dependent upon their parents and caregivers to provide for their nutritional needs.
By now, you have probably established a regular feeding routine. Breast milk is the best food for your baby and has all the nutrition your baby needs for the first 6 months of life.
- Continue to breastfeed your baby "on demand," as often as he or she shows signs of wanting to eat.
- Breast milk is the best food for your baby and has all the nutrition your baby needs for the first 6 months of life.
- If your baby is nursing exclusively (no formula), give infant vitamin drops containing vitamin D every day. Continue to give these drops until your baby is no longer nursing.
- Formula provides complete nutrition, if you are unable to breastfeed or choose not to breastfeed.
- Microwaving heats the bottle unevenly. Instead, heat the bottle in hot water.
- Once your baby weighs more than 12 pounds (usually between 2 and 4 months of age), most formula-fed babies do not need to be fed in the middle of the night.
Let your baby lead
Whether your baby drinks breast milk, formula, or both, it's important to watch your baby for signals of hunger more closely than you watch the clock. Try to:
- Watch for signs, or cues, that your baby is hungry. Similarly, be alert to signs that he or she has had enough. Your baby will let you know when she wants more and when she's all done. Your job is to pay attention to her signals.
- Do not force your baby to finish a bottle or to empty both breasts. Your baby is the best judge of how much to eat. Each baby is different, and the amount your baby needs changes from day to day.
Try not to be in a rush to introduce solid foods to your baby's diet. Your baby doesn't need any extra food or liquids other than breast milk or formula for the first 6 months of life. Many parents have questions about when to start and what to offer.
- Your baby may show signs of being ready to start solids, such as showing an interest in your food and sitting up well, any time between 4 and 8 months.
- Babies develop at different rates, and offering anything other than breast milk or formula too soon can be harmful. Talk with us about what's right for your baby if you are unsure.
- When your baby is ready to begin eating solid foods, it doesn't mean you should stop breastfeeding. Continue to nurse as long as you and baby enjoy it. Breast milk provides beneficial nutrients that will help supplement a solid food diet, and breastfeeding provides special time for moms and babies.
- Use a clean rubber-tipped spoon to offer your baby smooth single-ingredient foods. Simple rice cereal mixed with breast milk or formula is one option. Avoid putting your baby's spoon in your mouth or sharing your utensils. Your saliva has germs that can increase the risk of early cavities in your baby's developing teeth.
Our "Feeding Your Baby" guide offers more specific tips on starting solid food and provides suggestions for nutritious first foods. Many parents find it helpful to post the chart on the refrigerator.
Feeding Your Toddler
Toddlers are active, curious, and fun. They are learning about new foods, practicing skills and eating habits, and developing their own preferences.
During the second year, you will notice your child becoming more independent and saying "no" to many things. Sometimes, this includes different types of foods.
Many parents have questions about the best ways to get their child to eat or what foods to serve. Try to think of this time as a learning experience for both of you. With time, patience, and good role modeling from you, your child can grow into a healthy eater.
You might try this approach, which can encourage a healthy feeding relationship:
- You provide healthy food and decide when and where to eat. Parents and caregivers are in charge of serving 3 healthy meals and 2 nutritious snacks each day. You also decide when and where your child eats. Eat meals together as a family as often as possible, with the TV off.
- Your child decides whether to eat and how much to eat. Trust your child to decide whether or not she or he is hungry. Let your child decide how much to eat and whether or not to eat something. Children's appetites naturally go up and down. Some days your child may not eat much. At other times, he may eat a lot. The amount of food a child eats varies from meal to meal and day to day.
We recommend the following top tips:
- Use the food pyramid as a guide to planning healthy, balanced meals. Feed toddlers like the rest of the family. They can eat most of the foods you eat, as long as these are soft and/or cut into small pieces that are easy to handle.
- Serve your child 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Even if your child doesn't like them at first, keep offering.
- Avoid foods that could cause choking: whole nuts, grapes, hot dogs, popcorn, chunks of meat and vegetables, peanut butter, and hard candies.
- Limit juice, candy, and fast food. This helps prevent tooth decay and extra weight gain. Research shows that many infants and toddlers are already getting too many calories and eating unhealthy foods such as pizza, soda, and french fries.
Normal toddler eating patterns
During their second year, children grow more slowly than babies and may not have as much of an appetite. Your child is becoming more independent and saying "no" to many things, including food. It's important to be aware of the following:
- Some toddlers are not interested in trying new foods. This is normal but can be frustrating.
- Your child will learn to like new foods when they see, smell, and (hopefully) taste them over and over again. Be patient.
- Most parents give up offering a new food if their child rejects it several times, but researchers have found that it can take a dozen times before a child will accept a new food.
- Let your child see you enjoying new, healthy foods. You can also praise your child for trying new foods.
- Present 2 healthy choices whenever possible to avoid arguing over food.
- Serve healthy meals and snacks at regular times so your child does not get too hungry in between.
- Avoid telling your child to "clean the plate." Young children are smart eaters. They will eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full.
- Try not to bribe or reward your child with food. Give hugs and attention instead.
The only drinks your child needs are water (as much as he or she wants) and milk: a total of 2 cups (16 ounces) each day.
- If you have a family history of heart disease or obesity, your child may benefit from reduced fat (2 percent) milk instead of whole milk starting at 1 year. We do not usually recommend switching to nonfat milk until after age 2. Your pediatrician can recommend the best type of milk for your child.
- Children do not need juice. If you do serve juice, limit it to no more than 4 oz. (about a half cup) per day. Serve juice in a cup, not a bottle, and read the label to make sure it says "100 percent juice." Otherwise, your child is getting lots of extra sugar and empty calories. For this same reason, do not give your child soda.
- Don't let your child walk around with juice in a cup or bottle. This will help you monitor your child's juice consumption and help prevent tooth decay as well.
Finally, you are your child's most important role model. If you are interested in working on your own eating habits or losing weight, we have a variety of resources to help support your efforts. Talk with one of our Wellness Coaches to learn more and get started on your road to better health.
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This information is not intended to diagnose health problems or to take the place of specific medical advice or care you receive from your physician or other health care professional. If you have persistent health problems, or if you have additional questions, please consult with your doctor. If you have questions or need more information about your medication, please speak to your pharmacist. Kaiser Permanente does not endorse the medications or products mentioned. Any trade names listed are for easy identification only.