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6 Don’ts for Toddler Nutrition

6 don’ts for toddler nutrition

1. Avoid feeding your toddler these foods

We are learning more and more that the nutritional choices parents make for their toddlers can affect their children’s health outcomes later in life: the salty or sugary foods they learn to love now may lead to long-term health issues, like obesity and diabetes. Although there are plenty of great, healthy options for you to build your child’s diet, there are some definite items to avoid that contain few or no nutrients and can cause major health issues for your child as he or she grows.

2. Soda

Not only does the sugar in soda likely send your child into a state of hyperactivity, it means that these drinks are packed with calories and void of nutritional benefit. In fact, if your child grows up drinking soda into adulthood, studies indicate that he or she may experience poor bone health. If you need a visual, one 12-ounce soda contains a similar amount of sugar to three bowls of ice cream, or about 10 teaspoons!

3. Processed meats

Cold cuts and other types of processed meats, such as bacon, ham, salami, corned beef, and some sausages can be a tempting option for an easy source of protein. However, the “protein” from these sources comes at a high cost because these meats are pumped full of nitrates to prevent bacteria from growing in them and make their color more appealing. Not only have nitrates been linked to increased risks for colon cancer, they have also been connected to coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes — definitely not the health outcomes you envision for your child’s adult life. For families who can’t forego these meats, find organic, grass-fed or free range options to alleviate some of these negative qualities.

4. Hot dogs

Many adults today have fond memories of hot dogs as a treat they got at the state fair or baseball game, if not as a regular part of life, but they shouldn’t make the same choices for their little ones. Much like other processed meats, hot dogs are full of nitrates, as well as fat and sodium, not to mention the fact that they are a major choking hazard. A better option for children today would be turkey dogs that are appropriately cut up (into coin size pieces and then in half) for your little one’s safety.

5. Juice

Giving your child fruit juice is not the same as giving your child a piece of fruit. Many juices have added sugar in the form of high fructose corn syrup and none of the fiber that comes from actual fruit. Not only do doctors recommend avoiding juice for the first year of your child’s life, they also warn that parents limit toddler consumption to no more than 4 ounces per day. Too much juice not only means that your child is taking in excess sugar, which is linked to numerous health problems, it may also cause diarrhea or even weight gain in children at risk for obesity. If your child insists on more juice than is recommended, try watering it down by half to dilute the sugar concentration.

6. Prepackaged, processed meals

A snack pack with cold cuts and crackers or a frozen dinner may seem like easy meal options when you are short on time, but prepackaged, processed meals are full of sodium. If your child eats excess amounts of sodium into adulthood, he or she may be at an increased risk for stroke, heart attack, and cardiovascular disease.

7. Choking hazards

More for safety than nutritional reasons, foods like candies, nuts, popcorn, gummy candies, chewing gum, and marshmallows should be avoided. Although some of those foods obviously contain excess sugar, another important concern is that they are all choking hazards, like hot dogs. It may be possible to break these items down into manageable pieces for your child, but anytime you offer one of these treats, you should exercise caution.


  • American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (AJCN)
  • Association between long-term consumption of soft drinks and variables of bone modeling and remodeling in a sample of healthy German children and adolescents.
    Micha R, Wallace SK, Mozaffarian D
  • Red and processed meat consumption and risk of incident coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes mellitus: a systematic review and meta-analysis
  • Circulation
  • 2010 Jun 1;121(21):2271-83.
    Faith MS, Dennison BA, Edmunds LS, Stratton HH
  • Fruit juice intake predicts increased adiposity gain in children from low-income families: weight status-by-environment interaction
  • Pediatrics
  • 2006 Nov;118(5):2066-75.
    Daniels LA, Mallan KM, Nicholson JM, Battistutta D, Magarey A
  • Outcomes of an early feeding practices intervention to prevent childhood obesity
  • Pediatrics
  • 2013 Jul;132(1):e109-18.

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