A: The best way to encourage any child—especially a toddler—to eat certain foods is to expose her to those foods, and offer them in age-appropriate portions. Offering new foods alongside other, more familiar foods that your child enjoys may also encourage her to try and enjoy such foods.
A typical 2-1/2 year old requires about 1,000 calories per day from a variety of fruits, vegetables (including legumes), grains, dairy foods, and protein foods according to the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Meat is considered a “protein food” (other foods in this category include seafood, poultry, eggs, nuts, seeds, and soy products; beans and peas can also count as protein foods.) The new Guidelines recommend 2-ounce equivalents of protein foods daily for 2 to 3 year olds. (A 1-ounce equivalent equals 1 ounce of meat, poultry or fish; 1 egg; 1 tablespoon of peanut butter; ½ ounce of nuts or seeds; and ¼ cup of beans.) 10 ounces of meat, poultry, and eggs; 3 ounces of seafood; and 1/2 ounce of nuts, seeds, and soy products are recommended weekly*.
While an occasional hot dog can fit into your child’s diet, more often than not, try to choose leaner, lower fat meats. You can offer lean sirloin or skinless chicken breast alongside or mixed together with more familiar foods like macaroni and cheese (made with whole wheat pasta mixed with some shredded cheddar cheese), or make chili with some beans and ground sirloin or chicken breast. It’s also a good idea to mix up flavors and nutrients in your child’s diet by also offering other items in the “protein foods” group such as eggs, or soy foods like tofu.
*If you have a family history of allergies, the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology recommends waiting until a child is 3 years of age (or 36 months) or older before introducing peanuts (including peanut butter), tree nuts, fish, and seafood.