Toddler Food Guide: When to Introduce New Foods

Certain foods have the potential to cause allergies and choking hazards, so be careful when giving them to your little ones as they age.
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Introducing your child to new foods can seem risky, but rest assured that most foods are toddler-safe. "Toddlers can eat all the foods from all the basic food groups: fruits; veggies; dairy, meat, fish, and beans; and healthy fats," says Parents advisor Elisa Zied, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N., and author of Feed Your Family Right! But a few foods are best introduced when toddlers reach certain stages of development. Find out what these exceptions are and when they are best incorporated in your child's diet.

What to Introduce When

WHOLE MILK

When to introduce it: 12 Months

Babies benefit from the nutrients in breast milk or formula during their first year, but transitioning to whole milk after your toddler's first birthday passes supplies him with healthy fats that are important for development. Limit servings of milk and milk products to half a cup at a time, so toddlers won't fill up on liquids.

HONEY

When to introduce it: 12 Months

Keep your child away from this sweet stuff until he is at least 1 year old. "Honey is not recommended for infants," Zied says. "For those under the age of 12 months, it can cause botulism -- a (toxic) illness that can potentially be fatal." Honey's sticky texture also makes it a choking hazard for toddlers, so never serve a spoonful. Instead, bake honey into dishes or drizzle 1/4 to 1/2 tablespoon on toddler-size foods as a natural sweetener.

RAISINS

When to introduce them: 18 Months

Raisins tend to clump together, making them a choking hazard for toddlers, who have smaller airways. Allow your child to eat raisins starting at 18 months, and only if they are served one at a time and in small portions, about 2 tablespoons or less.

CRUNCHY VEGETABLES

When to introduce them: 18 Months

As your toddler's teeth start to come in, she can start eating harder foods such as chopped or thinly sliced vegetables. A good rule of thumb is to dice crunchy veggies, like carrots and green peppers, to the size of frozen peas. First servings should be about 1 to 2 tablespoons and increase by 1 tablespoon for each year of your child's age.

REDUCED-FAT MILK

When to introduce it: 24 Months

Toddlers can switch from whole milk to reduced-fat milk as their growth rate starts to slow down, at around age 2. "They don't need as much fat as they did when they were younger," Zied says. But if there is a history of obesity, high cholesterol, or heart disease in the family, ask your pediatrician about switching to reduced-fat milk earlier than 24 months.

Other Foods You Should Be Careful With

Toddlers should be gradually eased into eating harder, more textured food over time, but some foods can still pose a serious choking risk even for skilled eaters. "It's a gray area. You have to know your child; watching your child is key," says Sarah Krieger, R.D.N., a nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Here are some foods that parents should delay introducing or prepare in a way that's more manageable for small mouths.

Hard or Chewy Foods

Because toddlers could choke on any food, always supervise them while they eat, encourage them to chew slowly, and make sure they sit at a table. The foods below are best avoided until your child is age 4 or older.

- Popcorn
- Nuts
- Hard candy
- Chewing gum
- Marshmallows

Safely Prepared Round Foods

It's best to slice round foods into pieces 1/4-inch or smaller before serving.

- Grapes
- Cherry tomatoes
- Olives

Safely Prepared Hard-to-Chew Foods

- Hot dogs (slice lengthwise and crosswise before serving)
- Meat and poultry (cook until very soft and dice before serving)
- Nut butters (serve only as a very thin layer spread on foods that toddlers can already tolerate)
- Celery (chop into 1/4-inch pieces before serving)
- String cheese (cut into cubes before serving)

Common Foods That Cause Allergies

Doctor recommendations for introducing high-allergen foods to children have changed. The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends that infants eat these foods as early as 4 to 6 months if there is no family history of food allergies. (It's still best to continue avoiding foods that cause choking hazards, like nuts.) Before introducing any of the foods below to your toddler, consult your pediatrician because a family history of allergies may increase risk of allergy for your child.

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the most common high-allergen foods are:

- Milk
- Eggs
- Wheat
- Corn
- Peanuts
- Soy
- Tree Nuts
- Seeds
- Shellfish
- Fish

Watch out for allergies to other foods, too. "Anybody can develop an allergy to any given food at any given time," Krieger warns. It's best to introduce new foods to a child's diet one at a time, every few days. Isolating the introduction of new foods makes it easy to track the source of an allergic reaction, if one occurs. Remember that every child is different, so always consult your pediatrician or a registered dietitian to determine what's best for your toddler.

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