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Feeding and Nutrition: Your Two-Year-Old

By age two, your toddler should be eating three healthy meals a day, plus one or two snacks. He can eat the same food as the rest of the family. With his improved language and social skills, he’ll become an active participant at mealtimes if given the chance to eat with everyone else. Do not fixate on amounts and do not make mealtimes a battle. Do, however, pay attention to adopting healthy eating habits and making healthy food choices as a family. Sitting as a family at mealtime is the beginning of a good habit, too!

Fortunately, your child’s feeding skills have become relatively “civilized” by now. At age two, he can use a spoon, drink from a cup with just one hand, and feed himself a wide variety of finger foods. But while he can eat properly, he’s still learning to chew and swallow efficiently, and may gulp his food when he’s in a hurry to get on with playing. For that reason, the risk of choking is high, so avoid the following foods, which could be swallowed whole and block the windpipe.

  • hot dogs (unless sliced lengthwise, then across)
  • whole raw carrots
  • spoonfuls of peanut butter
  • nuts (especially peanuts)
  • raw cherries with pits
  • round, hard candies or gum
  • raw celery
  • whole grapes
  • marshmallows

Ideally, make sure your child eats from each of the basic four food groups each day:

  1. Meat, fish, poultry, eggs
  2. Milk, cheese, and other dairy products 
  3. Fruits and vegetables
  4. Cereals, potatoes, rice, flour products

Don’t be alarmed, however, if he doesn’t always meet this ideal. Many toddlers resist eating certain foods, or for long periods insist on eating only one or two favorite foods. The more you struggle with your child over his eating preferences, the more determined he’ll be to defy you. As we suggested earlier, if you offer him a variety of foods and leave the choices to him, he’ll eventually consume a balanced diet on his own. He may be more interested in healthful foods if he can feed them to himself. So, whenever possible, offer him finger foods (i.e., fresh fruits or raw vegetables other than carrots and celery) instead of cooked ones that require a fork or spoon to eat.

Dietary Supplements

Vitamin supplements are rarely necessary for toddlers who eat a varied diet. However, supplemental iron may be needed if your child eats very little meat, iron-fortified cereal, or vegetables rich in iron. Large quantities of milk (more than 32 ounces [960 ml] per day) also may interfere with the proper absorption of iron, thus increasing the risk of iron deficiency. Your child should drink 16 ounces (480 ml) of low-fat or nonfat milk each day. This will provide most of the calcium he needs for bone growth and still not interfere with his appetite for other foods, particularly those that provide iron.

A vitamin D supplement of 400 IU per day is important for children who are not regularly exposed to sunlight, are consuming less than 32 ounces per day of vitamin D–fortified milk, or do not take a daily multivitamin supplement containing at least 400 IU of vitamin D. This amount of vitamin D can prevent rickets.

Last Updated
Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5 (Copyright © 2009 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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