An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Home : News : News
NEWS | March 11, 2024

National Nutrition Month: Healthy eating habits begin young

By 2nd Lt. Isis Bello Hernandez U.S. Army Baylor Master’s Program in Nutrition Student

The life of a toddler is all about learning about the world and exercising their independence, which can be a challenge for any parent. Parents must create stability and an environment that allows their children to explore and learn.

Family meals and snack time are two great options to help toddlers explore and learn about different foods. Parents and toddlers have different roles in establishing healthy eating habits.

Here are a few tips to promote food exploration and establish healthy eating habits at home.

Healthy Habits

Parents have a big role to play in teaching healthy eating habits to toddlers. Parents and toddlers can create healthy habits by sharing the responsibility of food and meals. Eating for toddlers includes a division of power. Parents direct what, when, and where toddlers eat, and toddlers manage how much and whether they will eat the foods offered, within reason. The eating patterns formed as a toddler will carry into childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.

Parent’s Responsibilities

Choosing foods that are offered: parents of toddlers are in charge of choosing foods. Parents complete the shopping and choose what foods are available in the house. It is important to bring in a variety of foods for your toddler to try.

Although all foods can fit, it is important to eat whole, unprocessed foods most of the time and leave less healthy “junk food” as an occasional treat during special occasions.

Deciding when and where food is offered: Parents are responsible for deciding when and where toddlers eat.

Toddlers have smaller stomachs than adults, so meal and snack timing is important. Scheduled meals can provide stability and structure to a toddler and help them start to understand their hunger cues. It is important for parents to establish a meal and snack schedule. Aiming for offering meals or snacks every 2-3 hours can keep the toddler on track.

Where toddlers eat is also important because toddlers are watching and learning about food, table manners and acceptable behavior at every meal or snack time.

Eating together as a family at an assigned location, like the dinner table, without distractions like TVs, phones, etc. is the best choice.

Toddlers are more likely to try new foods when it is a family experience. Many toddlers will copy what their parents and siblings eat, it is important for them to have good role models. Offering a variety of foods and showing your toddler it is ok to try new foods is key.

Toddler’s Responsibilities

As toddlers grow, they start to seek out independence and choice. They choose what toys and friends they play with.

It is important that toddlers start to choose what and how much food they eat during offered meals and snacks, within reason. This division of power allows toddlers to learn about their bodies hunger cues. It is important to encourage your toddler to plan how many bites they will try of new foods and give them time to explore new foods.

Understanding your toddler’s hunger and fullness cues and encouraging them to express them is important in establishing boundaries.

Some common hunger cues include:

  • Looking or pointing at food.
  • Opening their mouth when food is offered.
  • Getting excited when they see foods or snacks.

Some common fullness cues include:

  • Closes their mouth when you offer a spoon
  • Pushes food away
  • Turns their head away or looks away when food is offered

What foods should you offer your toddler?

Following the USDA MyPlate is an easy way to ensure toddlers receive a well-rounded diet, offer foods that include:

  • Whole grains: Offer 3 servings or approximately 3 ounces a day include items such as brown rice or whole-wheat bread and pasta or cereals.
  • Proteins: Offer 2 servings per day or approximately 2 ounces. Include seafood, meat, chicken, eggs, beans, nuts, seeds, and soy products, depending on personal preference.
  • Fruits: Offer 1 serving per day or approximately 1 cup. Some popular fruits include apples, oranges, and bananas but all fruits can fit, choose fruits colors in the rainbow.
  • Vegetables: Offer 1 serving per day or approximately 1 cup. Some popular vegetables include green beans, carrots, broccoli but all vegetables are important so just like the fruits choose vegetables in all the colors in the rainbow.
  • Dairy: Is important for strong bones and healthy teeth. Offer 2 servings or approximately 2 cups per day include items such as milk, yogurt, cottage cheese or other fortified alternatives.

Offering your toddler a variety of nutrient dense foods and giving them the power to explore the foods is a great way to develop healthy eating habits.

For more tips and recipes to help you meet your toddlers needs, check out at for family-friendly recipes.