Optimizing toddler nutrition 

Case in point, continued: In addition, Ryan’s mother is concerned about his slow physical development and asks the clinician how she can tell whether her son is obtaining all of the nutrients he requires.-

The transition from infancy to toddlerhood is a time of important changes in eating habits and nutrition.3In moving from a dependent, milk-based diet to one that includes meats, fish, vegetables, fruits, and starchy foods, toddlers typically seek independence by developing skills to feed themselves and increasing their control over food choices.3 

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It is a critical time of growth and learning with increased energy and nutrient requirements; in addition, toddlers develop food and taste preferences as well as eating habits that may have a lifelong impact on their health.3,20

Nutritional deficiencies are common during this period, whether due to the toddler’s food preferences or the feeding practices employed by parents or caregivers.3,21,22Inadequate levels of iron, vitamins, calcium, fats, and minerals are increasingly prevalent.3,21 

The Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study (FITS) 200822found that although the duration of breastfeeding was longer and the introduction of complementary foods delayed compared with the findings of FITS 2002, the typical toddler diet remained deficient in important nutrients.23,24 

On any given day, as many as 30% of toddlers do not consume a single serving of vegetables, up to 20% eat French fries, nearly 30% ingest hot dogs or other processed meats, and up to 80% consume desserts or sweetened beverages (Figure 1).24Overall, toddlers’ diets are high in saturated fat, sodium, and sugar, and deficient in iron and important vitamins.21,23

Figure 1. Mean percentage of toddlers aged 12 to 24 months consuming different types of foods at least once in a 24-hour period.24

Figure 1

Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency seen in children.21Because of the availability of iron-fortified infant formula, this condition is relatively rare among infants in the United States. However, about 8% of children aged 1 to 3 years are iron-deficient.3,21