What Should a 16 Month Old Eat?

by Penelope Longfellow

By 16 months of age, your child might be performing a new trick with food that borders on magical: self-feeding. Spoon management time for mom and dad decreases, and jars of gloppy baby food are becoming old hat. But keeping in mind your toddler's age and capabilities, what should she eat?

The Basics

The four major food groups are the same for grown-ups and children alike.

The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that toddlers should eat from the same basic food groups as adults: proteins, dairy, produce and grains. Just as adults ought to avoid the "candy bar" food group, so should your toddler. At 16 months of age, he is already learning what to eat over the course of his lifetime. Help him make good -- meaning healthy -- choices by serving around 1,000 quality calories per day.


Feed toddlers twice daily with nutrition in mind.

As your little one's stomach is approximately the size of her fist, it doesn't tend to hold a lot of food. Additionally, pot-banging and dirt-digging burn a lot of energy between meals, so she will likely require a snack twice daily. Refer back to the four major food groups for inspiration. Fresh or dried fruits provide a sweet but healthful treat, and steamed veggies can charm a child well before the dinner hour. Other basic, go-to toddler snacks are cheeses, yogurt, dry cereal and whole wheat bread.

Portion Size

A toddler's hand provides a measure for his portion sizes.

While adults and toddlers share an interest in food groups, portions will be much smaller for your 16 month old. The AAP recommends that toddler servings be about one-quarter the size of an adult portion. This measurement translates to around 1 or 2 tablespoons for fruits and vegetables, and a palm-sized serving -- his palm, not your palm -- for proteins. Additionally, though you'll want to maintain a feel for cumulative caloric intake, remember that toddlers can and will be inconsistent with their appetites. Expect long stretches of meal boycotting, followed by guarding the kitchen sink, lest it be consumed by your child.

What Shouldn't a 16 Month Old Eat?

Save hard foods, like popcorn, for when your child is over age 4.

When serving meals and snacks to your toddler, recall the character Goldilocks, who maintained strict standards for size, softness and temperature. In the case of your 16 month old, however, you will be addressing not only her preferences, but her safety as well. Cut foods into bite-size pieces to avoid choking hazards. Cook hard, raw foods until they can be chewed with ease. Make sure hot foods have cooled down before serving to avoid burns to little hands and mouths. If you have additional questions or concerns regarding your toddler's diet, including allergies, consult her physician.

About the Author

Penelope Longfellow has been writing professionally since 2001. She holds a graduate certificate in writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, as well as an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Longfellow's work has appeared at Change.org and in "Cape Fear Parent" magazine.

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