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Feeding patterns and diet - children 6 months to 2 years

An age-appropriate diet:

  • Gives your child proper nutrition
  • Is right for your child's state of development
  • Can help prevent childhood obesity

Alternative names

Diet - age appropriate

Recommendations

6 to 8 MONTHS

At this age, your baby will probably eat about 4 to 6 times per day, but will eat more at each feeding.

  • If you feed formula, your baby will eat about 6 to 8 ounces per feeding, but should not have more than 32 ounces in 24 hours.
  • You can start to introduce solid foods at age 6 months. However, most of your baby's calories should still come from breast milk or formula.
  • Breast milk isn't a good source of iron. So after 6 months, your baby will start to need more iron in her diet. Start solid feedings with iron-fortified baby rice cereal mixed with breast milk or formula. Mix it with enough milk so that the texture is very thin.
  • You can make cereal thicker as your baby learns to control it in her mouth.
  • Start by offering cereal 2 times per day in just a few spoonfuls.
  • You can also introduce iron-rich pureed meats, fruits, and vegetables. Try green peas, carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, applesauce, pears, bananas, and peaches.
  • Some dietitians recommend introducing a few vegetables before fruits. The sweetness of fruit may make some vegetables less appealing.
  • The amount your child eats will vary between 2 tablespoons and 2 cups of fruits and vegetables per day. How much your child eats depends on her size and how well she eats fruits and vegetables.

There are several ways you can tell that your baby is ready to eat solid foods.

  • Your baby's birth weight has doubled.
  • Your baby can control his head and neck movements.
  • Your baby can sit up with some support.
  • Your baby can show you he is full by turning his head away or by not opening his mouth.
  • Your baby begins showing interest in food when others are eating.

You should also know:

  • Never give honey to your baby. It may contain bacteria that can cause botulism, a rare but serious illness.
  • Do not give your baby cow's milk until she is 1 year old. Babies under age 1 have a difficult time digesting cow's milk.
  • Never put your child to bed with a bottle. This can cause tooth decay. If your baby wants to suck, give her a pacifier.
  • Use a small spoon when feeding your baby.
  • It's fine to start to give your baby water between feedings.
  • Don't give your baby cereal in a bottle unless your pediatrician or dietitian recommends it, for example, for reflux.
  • Only offer your child new foods when she is hungry.
  • Introduce new foods one at a time, waiting 2 to 3 days in between. That way you can watch for allergic reactions. Signs of an allergy include diarrhea, rash, or vomiting.
  • Avoid foods with added salt or sugar.
  • Feed your baby directly from the jar only if you use the entire jar contents. Otherwise, use a dish to prevent food-borne illness.
  • Opened containers of baby's food should be covered and stored in a refrigerator for no longer than 2 days.

8 to 12 MONTHS OF AGE

At this age, you can offer finger foods in small amounts. Your baby will probably let you know he is ready to start feeding himself by grabbing the food or spoon with his hand.

Good finger foods include:

  • Soft cooked vegetables
  • Washed and peeled fruits
  • Graham crackers
  • Melba toast
  • Noodles

You can also introduce teething foods, such as:

  • Toast strips
  • Unsalted crackers and bagels
  • Teething biscuits

Continue to offer your baby breast milk or formula 3 to 4 times per day at this age.

You should also know:

  • Avoid foods that may cause choking, such as apple chunks or slices, grapes, berries, raisins, dry flake cereals, hot dogs, sausages, peanut butter, popcorn, nuts, seeds, round candies, and raw vegetables.
  • You can give your child egg yolks 3 to 4 times per week. Some babies are sensitive to egg whites. So don't offer them until after age 1.
  • You can offer small amounts of cheese, cottage cheese, and yogurt, but no cow's milk.
  • By the age of 1, most children are off the bottle. If your child still uses a bottle, it should contain water only.

1 YEAR OF AGE

  • At this age, you may give your baby whole milk in place of breast milk or formula.
  • Most mothers in the U.S. wean their babies by this age. But it's also fine to continue to nurse if you and your baby want to.
  • Do not give your child low-fat milk (2%, 1%, or skim) until after age 2. Your baby needs the extra calories from fat to grow and develop.
  • At this age, your baby will get most of her nutrition from meats, fruits and vegetables, breads and grains, and dairy. You can make sure your baby gets all the vitamins and minerals she needs by offering a variety of foods.
  • Your child will start to crawl and walk and be much more active. She will eat smaller amounts at a time, but will eat more often (4 to 6 times a day). Having snacks on hand is a good idea.
  • At this age, her growing slows down. She won't double in size like she did when she was an infant.

You should also know:

  • If your child dislikes a new food, try giving it again later. Often it takes several tries for children to take to new foods.
  • Don't give your child sweets or sweetened beverages. They can spoil his appetite and cause tooth decay.
  • Avoid salt, strong spices, and caffeine products, including soft drinks, coffee, tea, and chocolate.
  • If your baby is fussy, he may need attention, rather than food.

OLDER CHILDREN

  • After age 2, your child's diet should be moderately low in fat. Just like with adults, a high-fat diet can lead to heart disease, obesity, and other health problems later in life.
  • Your child should eat a diet that contains a variety of foods from each of the food groups: breads and grains, meats, fruits and vegetables, and dairy.
  • If your water is not fluoridated, it's a good idea to use toothpaste or mouthwash with fluoride added.

All children need plenty of calcium to support their growing bones. But not all kids get enough. Good sources of calcium include:

  • Low-fat or nonfat milk, yogurt, and cheese
  • Broccoli, cooked greens
  • Canned salmon (with bones)

If your child eats a balanced, healthy diet, she shouldn't need a vitamin supplement. However, some kids can be picky eaters. Usually they still get all the nutrients they need. But if you are concerned, ask your doctor about giving your child a pediatric multivitamin.

When to call the doctor

Call your doctor if you're concerned because:

  • Your child is not eating enough
  • Your child is eating too much
  • Your child is gaining too much or too little weight
  • Your child has an allergic reaction to food

References

American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement: Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk. Pediatrics. 2012. 129: e827-e841.

Stettler N, Bhatia J, Parish A, Stallings VA. Feeding healthy infants, children, and adolescents. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 42.

Update Date: 8/22/2013

Updated by: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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