What to feed your baby and toddler

One of the most common questions new parents have for pediatricians is, “What do I feed my baby?”

baby eats from spoon

Image courtesy Thinkstock

Understandably, parents want to make sure their children are not just eating enough, but also eating enough of the most nutritious foods that will help them grow and stay healthy.

The nutritional needs of a child change over time. Babies have a different set of nutritional guidelines from a 3-year-old.

So what guidance can I give you for helping your baby or toddler eat and stay healthy?

Birth – 4 months

Father feeds newborn from bottle

Image courtesy Thinkstock

Breast milk is best. If you cannot breast feed, then there are many healthy formulas that will nourish your baby very adequately the first year of their life.

It’s important to be sure that the formula is approved by the FDA. You should also be careful to follow the directions on the label for mixing the powder formula preparation properly.

Vitamin D drops such as Poly-Vi-sol or Tri-Vi-Sol should be used if your baby will be totally breastfed the first 6 months of their life. But once they are taking at least 32 ounces per day of formula, they no longer need this supplementation.

4 months – 12 months

In order to be ready for solid foods, your baby should be able to hold their head up and no longer have the “extrusion reflex,” which causes babies to push anything solid out of their mouths.

It is now recommended to start babies on appropriate solids between 4 and 6 months of age.

Solids will add nutrition to their diet, but they still need to continue to breast/formula feed until at least 12 months of age.

Currently there is no recommendation of what order to begin the food groups.  Pureed vegetables, fruit, cereals and meats are all appropriate.

Honey is the only food that babies under 12 months may not eat.

Be sure to only give one new food every two to three days so you can tell if that food is causing any looser stools or rashes. Contrary to popular belief, the earlier a baby gets foods such as peanuts, soy, wheat, the less likely they will be to develop allergies to these foods.

The first few feedings will be a learning experience for your baby and they may only take a few spoons of the solid. Do not worry, though. Eventually they catch on an eat more.

If your baby refuses the food, wait a few days and try again; some take longer than others to take to solids. Remember, they are still receiving adequate nutrition through the breast milk/formula you are feeding.

If you do not begin iron-containing solids in your exclusively breastfed infant by 4 to 6 months of age, they should be given 1mg/kg per day of iron supplementation (ask your pediatrician for dosages) until they are on such solids.

12 months – 36 months

Toddler feeds self from spoon

Image courtesy Thinkstock

After 12 months, most children do not need infant formula for adequate nutrition, but you can continue it or breastfeeding for as long as you want.

Weaning from the bottle to a sippy cup is also important at this age as baby’s teeth can get severe dental cavities from drinking anything with sugar in it, especially before or during sleeping time.

Any food that is nutritious that your baby can swallow without choking is fine to feed after one year of age. Offer your toddler meals that have a variety of food groups, such as

  • Whole grains (Breads and cereals)
  • Lean protein (Chicken, fish, beans)
  • Dairy (Yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese, milk)
  • Fruits (Whole is better)
  • Vegetables (Corn and potatoes are not vegetables.)

If there is resistance to new foods, you may fall into a rut and feed the same foods over and over again. Allow children to experiment with the new foods by presenting a tablespoon alongside their favorites. Avoid calling attention to the new food or trying to force them or bribe them into eating it.

If at first you do not succeed, try again.

Never give your child junk food just because that’s all they will eat. If hungry enough, most children will give in and eat nutritiously.

Between meal snacking is okay and normal — just be sure the snacks are healthy.

  • Cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Whole grain crackers
  • Smoothies
  • Dry cereals

With perseverance, patience and you as an example, your children should learn to eat healthily and benefit from these habits throughout their lifetimes.


Avatar About the Author

I enjoy children and love to work with them as they grow and mature. The relationships I form between my patients and their families make my career particularly rewarding. I practice medicine democratically, developing a partnership between physician, patient and family. Listening to my patients is my best asset.
Read more about me on my biography page.