Infant & Toddler Nutrition Needs

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  • 0:02 Infant Nutrition
  • 3:08 Toddler Nutrition
  • 5:46 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Donna Ricketts

Donna Ricketts is a health educator with 15 years of professional experience designing health and wellness programs for adults and children.

In this lesson, you will learn about the nutritional needs of infants and toddlers. You will also learn about healthy food choices and foods that should be avoided for both infants and toddlers.

Infant Nutrition

The first three years of a child's life are perfect opportunities for forming lifelong, healthy eating habits. For parents, knowing what to feed their baby or toddler can be a mystery, but it need not be. Infants', zero to one year of age, and toddlers', one to three years of age, nutritional needs vary and a clear understanding of both are equally important for their growing bodies.

Infants' nutritional needs are met completely through breast milk or an iron-fortified infant formula until they are about six months old. A mother's milk is the ideal nutrition and is sufficient to support growth and development during infancy. If a mother decides to wean her baby before 12 months of age, an iron-fortified formula should be introduced.

Babies should not be given cow milk for the first year because their little bodies can't digest the protein found in cow's milk and the same goes for soymilk. In addition, both cow milk and soymilk may not have all the nutrients babies need and could contain minerals in amounts that could be harmful to infants.

Around six months of age your baby may start showing signs of readiness for solid food. Here are some clues to watch for:

  • Can hold head up
  • Sits well in a highchair
  • Makes chewing motions
  • Shows interest in food
  • Can close mouth around a spoon
  • Is teething

Between six and 12 months of age, infants will start to experiment with new tastes and textures from healthy solid food, but breast milk should still be an important source of nutrition. Babies should be fed slowly and patiently, with encouragement to try new foods, but without force. Introducing new foods one at a time, with at least three days in between, will enable parents to identify any foods that cause allergic reactions for their baby.

For most infants, you can start with any pureed solid food. Pureed solid food is cooked food, like vegetables or meat, that has been smashed, blended, or pressed into a thick creamy paste or liquid. Good foods for infants to start with include an iron-fortified, single-grain infant cereal, followed by pureed meats or poultry, vegetables, such as sweet potatoes and green beans, and fruits, like applesauce and mashed bananas. Here are some foods that are not safe to give infants:

  • Eggs
  • Honey
  • Peanuts
  • Other tree nuts

Toddler Nutrition

Transitioning from infancy to toddlerhood means that table food starts to replace breast milk or formula. To ensure continuous healthy growth and development, toddlers must consume adequate amounts of high-quality forms of protein, essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. Parents should choose a variety of foods from the five major food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy.

Toddlers need less food because they don't grow as fast. They are far more active than infants so it is recommended that they consume between 1,000 and 1,200 calories a day, depending on their age, size, and physical activity level. Most toddlers are considered active.

Young children should stick to water and plain milk instead of sugary drinks. Toddlers can become very picky and erratic eaters, changing what they like from day to day. It's normal behavior, and it's best not to make it a big deal. Offer a selection of softer, healthy foods to start, for example, cooked vegetables, yogurt, and bananas, working up to thicker foods. Keep trying new foods; it might take some time for a child to learn to like them.

Here are some foods toddlers should not eat because of choking hazards:

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