At age 1, your little one has traded babbles for words, bottles for cups, and gummy grins for toothy smiles. During the first year of life, they grew at full speed, but now at 12 to 24 months, their growth has slowed, so their nutrition needs are slightly different. Instead of relying primarily on breastmilk or iron-fortified formula to supply them with nutrients, they are transitioning to a diet that looks more like the rest of the family’s.

It’s probably clear that these munchkins have high nutrient needs to support their developing brains and bodies, but what may not be so clear is what and how to feed them well. That’s where this guide to feeding young toddlers comes in! Here’s exactly how to feed babies between 12 and 24 months—complete with a sample menu for 1-year-olds!

Tips for Feeding 1-Year-Olds

Create positive environment.

Your toddler's appetite can change on a dime—and one day they seem to survive on air alone, while the next day, their belly is a bottomless pit. Rest assured, as puzzling and frustrating as these behaviors may be, they are totally normal! You can take the stress off yourself and make mealtimes more positive by considering Ellyn Satter’s approach to feeding young kiddos. Satter says a parent’s job is to choose when and where to offer nutritious foods, and a child’s job is determining whether to eat and how much. No one likes to be forced to eat, right? Your child is better able to develop a healthy relationship with food by following their innate hunger and fullness cues without external pressures to eat.

Offer balanced meals and snacks.

Nourishing meals for toddlers feature protein, healthy fats, fruits, vegetables, dairy, and grains. Many of these groups offer essential nutrients toddlers need, including iron for brain development, Vitamin A for eyesight, and zinc for growth and immune health. Every food provides an array of nutrients that play crucial roles all over your tot’s body.

A helpful rule of thumb is to include three food groups at meals and two at snacks to give toddlers a variety of nutrients they can. Here are the key food groups to offer:

Encourage self-feeding and food exploration.

Toddlers try hard to be independent at this age and may start pushing you away so they can try doing things on their own. It’s no different with feeding, and most toddlers demand active participation at mealtimes. That’s a good thing! Self-feeding skills may be linked to improved cognitive performance, according to one 2019 study. Here are some skills they may be developing now:

  • 1-year-olds may be able to pick up small pieces of food, use an open cup with both hands and eats a greater variety of foods with the rest of the family.
  • 2-year-olds may be able to feed themselves finger foods, hold a cup with one hand, use a spoon, and learn to use a fork.

It’s no surprise mealtimes can be stressful (and messy), but these years don't last long! Your tot enjoys sensory exploration through food and gets exposure to different tastes, textures, and touches with their hands and mouth. This process is good and can be helpful in their development, and it gives them hands-on experiences with new foods to lessen picky eating. And if your little one throws food, there are practical ways to put an end to the meal madness (here’s how to handle food throwing!).

Model healthy eating.

Many parents agonize over their toddlers eating enough fruits and vegetables, especially when picky eating begins to rear its head around 24 months. But, here’s the thing, most adults aren’t eating enough fruits and vegetables, according to the CDC! Toddlers get increasingly interested in eating what parents have, so modeling healthy behaviors, such as eating nutrient-dense foods, will encourage your little to do the same!

Keep added sugars and sodium to a minimum.

Toddlers' tummies tend to fill up quickly, which means every bite counts! While it’s not uncommon for cookies, juice boxes, and popsicles to be rampant in social circles around these ages, it’s essential to offer high-nutrient foods the majority of the time. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans say that taste preferences begin in kiddos under 2, and they may develop strong preferences for overly sweet foods. You can reduce added sugar intake by offering milk and water as all-the-time beverages and serving juice as a sometimes beverage  and only offering 100% juice. 

Salty snacks, commercial foods, and processed meats are high carriers of sodium, another ingredient to go light on. Offering whole foods as often as possible and seasoning with garlic and herbs help lower sodium intake. 

Offer appropriate servings and multiple eating opportunities.

Remember, a toddler’s serving size is a lot less than yours! And by piling their plate too high, you run the risk of overwhelming your little eater. Here are some examples of toddler serving sizes:

  • Protein: 2 tablespoons or 1 ounce of chicken, fish, or meat; 2-3 tablespoons of beans
  • Vegetables: 1 tablespoon for each year of age 
  • Fruits: 1/2 piece of fresh, 1/4 cooked or canned, 1/4-1/2 cup 100% juice
  • Dairy: 1/2 cup milk, 1/3 cup yogurt, 1/2 cheese cube
  • Grains: 1/4-1/2 slice bread, ⅓ cup pasta or rice, 1/4 cup cereal

Sample Menu for 1-Year-Olds

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, toddlers should have three meals and two snacks daily. Here’s a sample menu for toddlers.

Sample Breakfast for 1-Year-Olds:

  • 1/2 cup of milk
  • 1/2 cup of iron-fortified cereal
  • 1/2 cup raspberries
  • 1/2 slice whole grain toast with ½ teaspoon peanut butter

Sample Morning Snack for 1-Year-Olds:

  • 1/2 banana
  • 1/3 cup yogurt
  • 1/2 cup water

Sample Lunch for 1-Year-Olds:

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 wrap (1/2 wheat tortilla, 1 ounce chicken, 1/2 slice Colby Jack cheese, lettuce
  • 1-2 tablespoons steamed carrot sticks

Sample Afternoon Snack for 1-Year-Olds:

  • 1 small oatmeal cookie
  • 1/2 pear, sliced
  • 1/2 cup milk

Sample Dinner for 1-Year-Olds:

  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1-2 tablespoons steamed green beans
  • 1/3 cup whole wheat pasta
  • 2 oz meatballs, chopped
  • 1/8 cup pesto 

More on Feeding Babies and Toddlers:

About Gabrielle McPherson

Gabrielle McPherson, MS, RDN, LDN is registered dietitian in Missouri who specializes in community and pediatric nutrition. Gaby is passionate about encouraging families to eat well in simple, practical ways that are realistic...and delicious! When not working, Gaby loves cooking, baking, and making messes and memories with her sous-chef/preschooler Charlotte.

View more posts tagged, feeding

Have questions about a Happiest Baby product? Our consultants would be happy to help! Submit your questions here.

Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.