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Dietary recommendations for toddlers, preschool, and school-age children

Teresa K Duryea, MD
Section Editors
Jan E Drutz, MD
Kathleen J Motil, MD, PhD
Deputy Editor
Mary M Torchia, MD


The nutritional requirements, feeding development, and dietary guidelines for toddlers (12 to 24 months), preschool, and school-age children will be discussed here. Nutritional needs of infants are discussed separately. (See "Introducing solid foods and vitamin and mineral supplementation during infancy".)


Achieving independence and mastery of feeding skills is an important developmental task of early childhood [1,2]. Allowing the child to feed him or herself promotes and reinforces self-regulation of intake.

Key issues for toddlers and preschool children include making the transition to cup and utensil feeding, fluctuations in appetite, achieving adequate iron and zinc intake, avoiding overconsumption of juice and sweetened beverages, and developing routines for healthy eating and activity [1,3,4]. Key issues for school-age children include adequate intake of fruits, vegetables, calcium, vitamin D, and fiber; avoidance of energy-rich/nutrient-poor snacks (eg, salty snacks, cookies, sweetened beverages) and overconsumption of sugar-sweetened foods and beverages; and development of a healthy body image [1,5].

Children who have developmental delays may not master feeding skills in a timely fashion. Parents should understand that the prolonged use of a bottle or the persistence of finger feeding may be necessary to insure adequate dietary energy and nutrient intake.

Toddlers — During the second year of life, through the progressive acquisition of motor skills and eruption of the full complement of deciduous teeth, children learn to feed themselves independently and make the transition to a modified adult diet [1]. Dietary preferences and patterns continue to be established [2].

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Jul 11, 2017.
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