The Trying Toddler Years: Barriers to Nutrition

  • For most parents, the toddler years mark the end of breast milk or formulas and the beginning of table foods. But that transition does not always go smoothly for parents or their little ones. Helping them understand supporting a balanced diet beyond infancy can benefit their continued development.

    Despite the important role of nutrition during the toddler stage, many toddlers may not be getting a balanced diet.1


    Percentage of Toddlers Aged 12-24 Months Not Consuming Specified Food at Least once per day

    Some toddlers may not get the amount of DHA many experts recommend in their daily diets

    DHA is an important building block of the brain. However, on average, toddlers get only ~25% of the amount of DHA many experts recommend on a daily basis. Since many of the foods toddlers prefer do not have DHA, it’s beneficial to complement a toddlers diet with brain-nourishing nutrients.2,3

    Average DHA Consumption Among Toddlers

    By age 3, the brain grows to 85% of its adult size, so help make sure parents provide their toddlers with good nutrition that includes nutrients like DHA.5

    Nutritional Needs Don’t Have to Suffer in the Hands of Finicky Eaters

    Toddlers are generally picky eaters, making it particularly challenging for parents to ensure their little ones are getting the nutrients they need as they transition to solid foods. There are some tricks that you can recommend to parents to help encourage a finicky toddler to try healthy foods.

    Recommend these simple swaps to help parents encourage healthy little eaters - keep in mind it may take 10-15 attempts before a toddler accepts a new food


    Won’t Eat Fruit?
    Recommend This: Blending a fruit smoothie using nonfat or low fat milk or yogurt; pieces of banana, berries, or other fruit; and crushed ice.

    Won’t Eat Citrus Fruit?
    Recommend This: Substituting strawberries, cantaloupe, watermelon, potatoes, or 4-6 fl oz vitamin-C enriched fruit juice per day (other sources of vitamin C).

    Won’t Eat Bananas?
    Recommend This: Making homemade banana pops, by peeling a banana, inserting a wooden stick, then freezing it.

    Won’t Drink Milk?
    Recommend This: Offering a children’s milk drink in a favorite flavor. These drinks offer important nutrients to help support healthy growth and development—such as DHA, iron, and calcium.

    Won’t Eat Beef?
    Recommend This: Offering fish, poultry, legumes, tofu, and peanut butter (other sources of protein).

    Won’t Eat Peanut Butter?
    Recommend This: Swapping in other nut butters (such as almond or cashew), sunflower seed butter, or a mix of these (remind parents to spread butter very thinly for a child younger than 2, as nut butters can be a choking hazard).

    Won’t Eat Whole Grain Bread?
    Recommend This: Giving their child high-fiber white bread, or whole wheat or rye crackers.

    Won’t Eat Spaghetti?
    Recommend This: Choosing a child-friendly pasta shape, such as bow ties, shells, and wagon wheels (opt for whole wheat pasta).

    Won’t Eat Plain Vegetables?
    Recommend This: Steaming veggies until soft yet firm, cutting them into easy-to-grasp shapes, letting them cool slightly, then serving with a low fat cheese sauce or low fat ranch dressing for dipping. Or stir-fry with a little soy sauce for flavoring; serve with brown rice.

    Won’t Eat Cauliflower?
    Recommend This: Mashing it up like mashed potatoes and adding low fat mozzarella or nonfat sour cream.

    Won’t Eat Green Leafy Vegetables?
    Recommend This: Using dark yellow and orange veggies, such as sweet potatoes, carrots, and squash (other sources of vitamin A).

    Won’t Eat Zucchini or Carrots?
    Recommend This: Grating and mixing into muffin batter, quick bread, meat loaf, or lasagna.

    References: 1. Siega-Riz AM et al. J Am Diet Assoc. 2010;110(suppl 12):S38-S51. 2. Walsh KR et al. Dietary Intake of Omega-3 Long-chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (n-3 LCPUFA) by US Toddlers. Faseb J. 2012;26:Abstract #811.6. 3. AFSSA (2010). Opinion of the French Food Safety Agency on the update of French population reference intakes (ANCs) for fatty acids. http://www.afssa.fr/Documents/ NUT2006sa0359EN.pdf. 4. EFSA (2010). Scientific Opinion on Dietary Reference Values for fats, including saturated fatty acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids, momounsaturated fatty acids, trans fatty acids, and cholesterol. EFSA Journal;8:1461. 5. Dobbing J et al. Arch Dis Child. 1973;48:757-767.