Your 1-year-old is changing, growing, and discovering at a whirlwind pace. Making sure they’re getting the foods they need may be a concern.
Inconsistent food choices and a fickle appetite are par for the course at this age. As frustrating as it might be, this is entirely normal as your toddler establishes independence and learns to discern their body’s fullness and hunger cues.
By the time they reach 12 months, toddlers need about 1,000 calories, 700 mg of calcium, 600 IU of vitamin D, and 7 mg of iron each day to support proper growth, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (1).
With so much going on, you might be wondering how to best feed your 1-year-old without spending all day in the kitchen or chasing after them.
Here are 12 healthy and practical foods for 1-year-olds.
Around this time your 1-year-old starts to develop their pincer grasp, which involves pinching and maneuvering food with their fingertips, as they endeavor to self-feed. This is a great time to introduce finger-friendly foods.
Softer, fresh fruits are wonderful options for this transitional time and beyond. They not only deliver needed nutrients and a host of beneficial plant chemicals but also help cement healthy eating habits (2).
Slice bananas, clementines, strawberries, peaches, or mango, and slowly introduce them to your child. Avoid large pieces of fruit, as they may pose a choking hazard. Cut grapes into halves or quarters and never feed these to your child whole.
If your child doesn’t immediately take to the new fruit, don’t stress. In fact, studies show a child typically needs to be exposed to a new food 6–15 times before accepting it into their diet (3).
Soft fresh fruits can also be easily made into a smoothie or make an excellent snack when you’re on the go.
However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, make sure your child eats any cut-up fruit within 2 hours after being out of the fridge. If you’re outside and it’s over 90°F (32°C), that time shrinks to within 1 hour (4).
Soft, bite-sized bits of fruit are excellent choices, especially as your child experiments with self-feeding. Be sure they eat any cut-up fruit that’s been out of the fridge within 2 hours, or within 1 hour if you’re in hot temperatures.
As your child may be slowly weaning off breast milk or formula, it’s a good time to introduce cow’s milk.
Milk and yogurt are great sources of protein and bone-building calcium, which also benefits their developing teeth. One glass (244 ml) of whole milk offers 39% of the Daily Value (DV) for calcium that your 1-year-old needs each day, as well as 8 grams of protein (5).
While you may continue to offer breast milk until 2 years of age or longer, whole fat dairy milk or yogurt may also be introduced at mealtimes or as a snack. Yogurt can be topped with diced fresh fruit or a drizzle of honey.
Honey can be introduced now at this age, but be sure to never feed it to a child under 12 months of age. Doing so can put them at risk of botulism, a serious infection (6).
Though dairy is generally safe at this age, be sure to watch for signs of a casein allergy.
Casein is a protein in milk. It’s different from lactose, which is a sugar found in milk that many adults don’t digest well (7).
A casein allergy manifests in about 2–3% of children under the age of 3, although more than 80% outgrow it. It seems to be most prevalent in children who were introduced to cow’s milk in infancy when breastfeeding was not an option (7, 8).
Be sure to introduce new foods, including milk and dairy products, to your child slowly. In fact, it’s a good idea to do so one food at a time and wait 3–5 days between the introduction of another new food to see how their body reacts (7).
Symptoms of casein allergy include wheezing, hives, vomiting, and diarrhea. If your child experiences these or other reactions when you are introducing them to a new food, stop feeding them this food and speak to their healthcare provider (7, 9).
Also, consult your child’s pediatrician before giving them plant-based milk alternatives, as these are generally not recommended for toddlers due to their lack of essential nutrients for growth.
Whole milk and yogurt are great options as your child weans off formula or breast milk. These provide protein and support bone growth. You can offer them at mealtimes or as snacks.
Little ones won’t master the jaw-grinding motion, which helps with proper chewing, until they’re about 4 years old. In the meantime, their food must be mashed or cut up into small, easy-to-chew pieces (10).
Oatmeal is a wonderful option as your child makes this transition into chewing. It’s easy to swallow and boasts an impressive nutritional profile with a hearty heap of protein, carbs, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats (11).
While premixed packages are tempting, opt for your own homemade blend when possible to limit their intake of added sugar. If you’re strapped for time, consider making overnight oats by simply soaking them in the fridge overnight.
Mixing your oats with milk instead of water will also pack a bit more nutrients into your child’s bowl. Serve these topped with diced strawberries, bananas, or your child’s favorite raw fruit.
Oatmeal is a nutritional powerhouse and offers an easy-to-swallow texture, which is helpful as your child develops the skills for proper chewing. Opt for homemade oatmeal over packets to limit added sugar, or try overnight oats.
Whole grain pancakes deliver gut-friendly prebiotics, which help feed beneficial gut bacteria. They’re also finger-friendly when cut into bite-sized pieces (14).
Whip these up or buy a mix with 100% whole grains. After sizzling them on a skillet or griddle, top them with freshly sliced soft fruits, applesauce, or a drizzle of honey.
You can even smear a very thin layer of creamy nut butter to add extra protein. Although, given that tree nuts are a common allergen, be sure to introduce this food into their diet slowly.
Whole grain pancakes are a practical and healthy choice for your 1-year-old. Whip up your own mix or buy a premade 100% whole grain mix. Top them with your child’s favorite soft fruit, a thin layer of nut butter, or a drizzle of honey.
Eggs are a powerhouse food for kids and adults alike.
Scramble them or serve them hard-boiled and peeled. Be sure to cut either of these into bite-sized pieces, especially as your toddler endeavors to self-feed.
Note that eggs are among the eight most common allergy-causing foods for children. Most children outgrow the allergy, but it’s important to watch for symptoms, which can include hives, nasal congestion, digestive issues, coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath.
Eggs can but rarely cause anaphylaxis, a severe life threatening reaction that can constrict airways or cause lightheadedness or loss of consciousness. Speak with a pediatrician if you are concerned about an egg allergy (19).
Eggs are excellent for toddlers and adults alike. They’re particularly supportive of eye health and proper brain development. Plus, they boast an impressive nutritional profile and can be part of a healthy meal or snack.
Tofu is a great source of iron, calcium, and protein — with firm tofu boasting the greatest concentrations (20).
Served sweet or savory, tofu is wonderfully versatile. Silken tofu can be blended into smoothies or mashed into bananas, avocado, or cottage cheese. Its flavor is neutral, so all this will do is provide some hearty nutrition.
Toss cubed firm tofu into soups, or stir-fry it with your favorite gentle seasonings. You can also break firm tofu up with your hands and scramble it with your favorite soft vegetables, such as diced bell peppers, tomatoes, and onions.
If your child has a diagnosed soy allergy, you want to avoid tofu. If this allergy runs in your family, you should speak with your pediatrician.
Tofu, whether silken or firm, is packed with iron, calcium, and protein. It is wonderfully versatile and can accompany sweet or savory dishes. Add silken tofu to smoothies or scramble firm tofu with soft veggies.
Begin by feeding them puréed chicken, turkey, or soft cuts of meat. Poach the protein first, then add milk, broth, or yogurt to soften this mix in the blender or food processor. As they get more comfortable with self-feeding, sauté ground meat or cut it into small, bite-sized pieces.
Avoid any tough or stringy cuts of meat, as these might be too difficult for your child to chew or swallow. Also, steer clear of spicy or strong seasonings, which might upset their gentle stomachs.
Softer cuts of meat like chicken or turkey can be a fountain of protein for your growing tot. Feed them puréed poached meats. As they get better at chewing, sauté ground or small bite-sized pieces. Avoid strong flavors.
Avocados are a fantastic food to feed your 1-year-old. Their creamy texture is especially helpful during this transitional period, while their impressive nutritional profile supports your child’s growth (22).
What’s more, 30–40% of your toddler’s calories should come from fat, according to the American Heart Association (23).
Cube or mash them and smear them on whole grain toast or a cracker. Experiment with blending avocado with other soft-textured fruits and vegetables, such as cooked butternut squash or sweet potato.
Avocados pack healthy fats and fiber while providing an ideal transitional texture for your toddler. Cube or mash them or blend them with other favorite fruits and veggies.
As your tyke weans off breast milk or formula, they need to hydrate. Water is an optimal choice. Fill up their sippy cups and replenish as often as they need.
Your 1-year-old should be getting at least one 8-ounce glass (237 ml) of water a day. They may need more if they’re active, ill, or in hot temperatures. Also, they will need more as they get older (25).
When in doubt, check their diapers — they should be urinating at least every 6 hours.
Water should be provided as your tyke weans off breast milk or formula. At this age, they should get at least 1 cup (237 ml) each day.
Steaming vegetables, such as broccoli, peas, and carrots, is an excellent way to introduce your child to this important food group.
Venture out with other veggies, including steamed parsnips, sweet potatoes, and butternut squash, too. Serve these with a lemony yogurt dip or hummus.
You’ll want to hold off on serving any of these raw, as they’re still too tough to chew.
Steaming veggies softens them to an ideal texture for your growing tot. Broccoli, carrots, and peas are great choices, but feel free to venture out.
Half a cup (130 grams) of mashed beans provides nearly 39% of the DV for iron for your child (29).
Serving these alongside a food high in vitamin C, such as broccoli, diced tomatoes, or mashed sweet potatoes, will help them absorb iron much more efficiently (31).
This iron and vitamin C combo is especially important if your toddler doesn’t eat meat, as the body absorbs heme iron from animal sources more efficiently than nonheme iron from plant sources (31, 32).
Mashed beans boast impressive nutrients, including iron. This is especially important for your child’s health and helps keep their blood cells healthy. Eat beans with vitamin-C-rich foods to help boost iron absorption.
Spread hummus on some whole grain crackers or serve it alongside your child’s favorite protein source, a piece of cheese, or steamed veggie.
There are great store-bought options, but if you’re feeling inspired, this is an easy one to whip up. Simply combine a bit of garlic, sesame butter (tahini), chickpeas, and olive oil in a food processor until smooth.
Still, keep in mind that sesame seeds, which are used to make sesame butter, are among the top 10 most common food allergens, accounting for 17% of food allergies in children. Only 20–30% of affected kids outgrow it (34).
For this reason, be sure to introduce this and other sesame-containing foods to your child in very small amounts and watch for common reactions like hives and vomiting (34).
Hummus is a great food to introduce at this age, as it provides a bounty of protein, healthy fats, and other nutrients.
A lot is going on with your 1-year-old. They’re experimenting with feeding themselves, learning to sense hunger and fullness, and asserting their independence, among several other developmental milestones.
As you navigate this period of growth and change, there are many practical and healthy food choices, including fresh, soft fruits, steamed veggies, tofu, and eggs.
The key points are selecting foods that are easy-to-chew, soft, and highly nutritious.
It’s a good idea to introduce new foods in small amounts and one at a time. With each new food, watch for adverse reactions, and stop feeding them this food if you observe signs of intolerance or allergy.
However, if you suspect it’s simply a matter of taste, or if your child doesn’t immediately take to these or other new foods, keep trying. It might take 6–15 exposures to a new food for your child to accept it into their diet.
Don’t stress if their appetite is fickle or their food choices vary like the wind — this is all part of their process.