Nutrition in Early Child Years (For Ages 1 to 3)

Children grow fast during the first five years. They need balanced diets to help them grow. Parents play a big role in shaping children’s eating habits. It is the parent or care givers responsibility to offer nutritious foods at meals and snack time.

Choose My Plate

How Can I Plan Healthy Menus?

Use the USDA's website to plan a healthy menu. You can get a customized plan for yourself or your child.

Should My Child Eat Three Meals a Day?

Your child should eat breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even snacks for a balanced diet. Children have lots of energy and need nutritious snacks to keep them going and growing. Breakfast is a "smart start" for your child every day.

Breakfast can even boost their brain power to succeed in school.  Studies show that children who eat breakfast have better concentration, work faster, make fewer mistakes, are more creative, and even score higher on tests.

What Can I Do To Help My Child Eat New Foods?

Children usually know how much food they need, but are not always good at choosing balanced meals. Children slowly learn to feed themselves and eat new foods, but you must take time to teach them. Here are some tips for introducing new foods:

  • Let children feed themselves using finger foods.
  • Soft foods are better since children under age 5 don’t have all of their teeth.
  • Cut food into small pieces until your child is 4 years old. Give him or her foods that are easy to pick up, like small pieces of meat, cheese, or fruit.
  • When your child starts to use a spoon, place foods in plastic dishes with high sides.
  • As your child learns to chew, begin to serve foods with new textures.
  • A young child may not like hot or cold food. Serve foods at room temperature.
  • Make your child’s meal fun to eat by serving naturally colorful foods.
  • If your child refuses something the first time, offer it again at a different meal.
  • Gradually introduce fiber by feeding your child a variety of fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, cereals, and other grain products.
  • Be sure to give your child enough fluids (especially water) to support a fiber rich diet.

How Can I Prevent Choking?

All young children gag and choke a little. That is one of the many reasons you need to stay with your child during mealtime.

Choking often happens when children lie down with food in their mouths or run while they are eating, Be sure your child sits down to eat.

Avoid hard foods like nuts, hard candy, tough meats, uncut raw carrots, raisins or popcorn. Cut round food like grapes the long way first, and then cut them into pieces. All food pieces should be smaller than a dime.


Revised March 2012

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