Nutrition Series: Toddlers & Preschoolers

By Mariely Lopez, A Nutrition Communication Undergraduate at Arizona State University

Part three of a four-part series. 

Part one: Preconception

Part two: Pregnancy

Toddlers and Preschoolers are often hard to please especially when it comes to introducing them to new foods. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests that in children between the ages of two to 11 years need to reach ideal physical and intellectual maturity by managing a healthy weight, enjoying food, and reducing the risk of chronic disease through appropriate eating customs and physical activity. It’s easier said than done.

For most of us, children are picky eaters and often times it can be difficult to make sure they are getting all of the required recommended intakes of essential nutrients such as iron, fiber, fat, and calcium. So, here are the reasons why these nutrients are essential for growing children and how you can introduce them to each one.

Portrait of baby girl holding spoon in mouth


Iron is necessary in order to prevent iron-deficiency anemia. The role that iron plays in our body is important because it aids blood cells carrying oxygen to the body and it is also plays an important role in brain and muscle function. Iron-deficiency anemia is prevalent among children, which is important to make sure your toddler and/or preschooler gets enough iron through different foods2.

Foods that ensure iron in the diet: Ground and/or chopped lean meats are a great source of iron for children because it makes it easy for children to chew. Peas and dried beans would also be a great source of iron along with “toddler” milk and/or iron-fortified formulas. However, if your child is already eating a variety of foods and if their milk consumption is less than 24-ounces of milk per day then they most likely do not require formulated beverages because they are obtaining their iron through a variety of foods1.


Fiber plays multiple roles in a child’s life as well as adults. Fiber has been associated with the prevention of a number of different chronic diseases such as the following:


  • Heart Disease
  • Certain Cancers
  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension


It has not been determined if consumption of fiber at a young age can prevent the listed chronic disease when they become adults but it has been proven that fiber can prevent them as a whole, which is why we must teach children early on the importance of fiber and how it is essential for their health, now, and in the future. We want to teach children healthy eating habits and consuming fiber is one of them. Fiber has been proven to prevent constipation.

Foods that ensure iron in the diet: It is important to get children into healthy eating habits but, we must also keep in mind that having too much fiber in a toddlers diet can be disadvantageous and in turn affect their growth; that’s why it is important to know that the recommended fiber intake for toddlers is 19 g/day and for preschoolers it is 25 g/day, which can be met by introducing them to fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, and cereals1.


Typically, fat recommendations can be met if your child’s diet consists of fruits and vegetables, dairy products (2 years and older), whole-grain cereals, beans and peas, and lean meats. Foods that contain saturated and/or trans fats are ones we need to look out for and limit their intake on them.

Foods that ensure iron in the diet: Fat is essential for your child’s energy needs, however, the types of fat that are required are fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins, which are vitamin A, D, and K; these types of fats can be found in peanut, corn, and canola oil, along with whole eggs, sun exposure, vitamin D fortified, and whole eggs, and in plant and animal foods.


As children begin to grow they become curious of their surroundings and in turn grow the need to want to explore new things. In order to accommodate their curious minds and physical ability to explore new areas it’s important that their calcium needs are met. Calcium is a major contributor during childhood because it affects peak bone mass later as they enter their teen years. Having a high bone peak mass helps in the long run when it comes to fractures and protection against osteoporosis.

Foods that ensure iron in the diet: The recommended intake of calcium for children 1 to 3 years of age is 700 mg/day and for children 4 to 8 years of age it is 1000 mg/day1. Dairy products would be considered a great calcium source along with canned fish, kale, bok choy, and calcium-fortified orange juice.

Introducing Toddlers & Preschoolers to New Foods

Introducing toddlers and preschoolers to new foods can be a difficult task to take on. However, there are ways to get your child to eat new foods.

  1. One way to incorporate a healthy food into your child’s diet is by serving the new food with a food that they are familiar with; by doing this your child will familiarize themselves with the new food and be more prone to try it.
  2. Another way to get our child to try new foods is if you try it with them and encourage them to do the same. Your child looks up to you and if they see you eating healthy and a variety of different foods then it is more likely for them to do the same as well.
  3. A third way to get your child to eat different foods is by allowing them to pick the new food. Lay out new foods like fruits and have them pick it out; if they pick it out themselves they are more likely to eat it as well.
  4. Arizona Farm Bureau’s Government Relations Manager, Ana Kennedy, relates a story about her half-sister: “My half-sister used to grate all sorts of vegetables to mix in with various meals she prepared for her two boys. These boys are now grown men with their own families and during a recent visit with my sister she said one of her boys said, ‘Mom, we are all grown-up now; you don’t have to keep grating up the vegetables!’”
  5. The last way to get your child involved is by allowing them to get involved in the kitchen with you. Simple tasks like rinsing lettuce to prepare a salad can make a huge impact on whether or not they will eat the new foods being introduced to them. The more variety of foods your child consumes the more likely they are to meet the required dietary guidelines.

The healthy foods you introduce to your child today will make a lifetime of difference. If you eat healthy, they’ll eat healthy. Go to Fill Your Plate to discover a variety of healthy recipes for your family to try.

Brown, Judith E., and Janet S. Isaacs. Nutrition through the Life Cycle. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, CENGAGE Learning, 2011. Print.

“Iron-Deficiency Anemia.” KidsHealth – the Web’s Most Visited Site about Children’s Health. The Nemours Foundation. Web. Apr. 2016. <>.


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