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Nutrition-ages 2 to 4
Explore videos, tips and find new information about nutrition for younger kids.
Cooking with kids
Healthy meals and snacks
- Download the fruit kebab recipe
- See pita pizza recipe
MyPlate is a tool from the USDA that helps teach kids how to eat a balanced, healthy diet.
- Food groups in MyPlate include: vegetables, fruits, grains, proteins, and dairy.
At home, eat a variety of foods at all meals. Try to include at least 3 out of 5 food groups if you can't get all of the groups in. Starting with small changes can be helpful when trying to switch to a healthier lifestyle.
- If your kids have multiple servings of grains for lunch such as bread and pretzels, try swapping out one of the grain items for a fruit or vegetable. For example, give them carrots instead of pretzels.
- Add fresh fruit or a salad to dinner if you don't have another fruit or vegetable option such as canned or frozen.
Eating too much at snack time can spoil a child’s appetite for the next meal. A structured meal and snack schedule is helpful for kids because kids who graze all day have a difficult time figuring out when they are actually hungry.
Snacks should be nutritious. Offer a combination of fiber-rich options (whole grains, fruits and vegetables) and protein-rich options (lean meat, cheese, nuts or eggs) and offer kids foods that are low in added sugar and salt.
Healthy snack ideas include:
- Fresh fruit
- Low-fat string cheese
- Fruit smoothies made with Greek yogurt
- Whole grain dry cereal
Food introduction and trying new foods
New food introduction and food variety for toddlers
Toddlers are at a point of transition and are learning to be more independent with what they eat and drink. It’s important for them to explore new foods, tastes and textures. While introducing new foods, watch for signs of an allergy. Signs include a rash, upset stomach or breathing difficulties. If you have a concern, be sure to talk to you toddler’s healthcare provider.
Offer 3 meals and 2 to 3 snacks to your toddler per day, and avoid skipping meals. Have your child eat in a regular eating place with limited distractions (no toys or screens). Limit mealtimes to 20 to 30 minutes. If your child refuses a meal, avoid making them something different. Offer them a healthy, balanced snack in 2 to 3 hours.
Giving your toddler finger foods can help them to eat on their own, and be sure to cut food into bite sized pieces for them. Foods that can be choking concerns include:
- Nuts and raising
- Whole grapes
- Raw hard vegetables
- Hot dogs (they are okay if cute and quartered)
- Hard candies and jelly beans
Safe Kids has some great tips on how to keep your children safe and healthy at home. Healthy meals should include at least one grain, a protein, a fruit or vegetable and an age appropriate milk.
Feeding picky toddlers
It’s important to provide the types of foods that a growing toddler needs while still allowing your child the opportunity to decide what to eat. This can get tricky, as most toddlers can be described as picky eaters, but this behavior is normal and it won’t last forever.
Avoid bargaining with desserts – this doesn’t encourage healthy eating, and it can make treats seem more valuable than healthy foods. Along the same lines, threatening a punishment doesn’t encourage healthy eating either. Instead, try these:
- Pay attention to portions, especially if a food isn’t a favorite. A few tablespoons should be enough, and it won’t seem as overwhelming to a toddler.
- Don’t negotiate. It’s okay to encourage toddlers to try one bite, but presenting them healthy foods and letting them decide what to eat is better in the long term.
- Eat meals together. If your toddler sees the rest of the family eating healthy foods, they may be more inclined to eat them as well.
Resources and online activities
- Check out this fact sheet for information on feeding your toddler.
- Get your younger kids involved in the kitchen using this USDA fact sheet.
- Visit this Kids Health webpage to learn more about nutrition and fitness.
- Ellyn Sattner’s Division of responsibility in feeding provides some good information for feeding your children as they grow.
- Find out more about sugar from this fact sheet.