Nutritional requirements change considerably after an infant's first year. The rapid growth since birth has slowed down but on average, children will still add 4-7 lbs in body weight and 2-4 inches in height during this second year.
The biggest difference is that growth becomes much more erratic – quick growth spurts followed by periods of little change – accompanied by similar patterns in appetite.
Children also begin to interact much more intentionally with their environment. They have moved on from simple sucking and rooting reflexes and are much more capable of self-feeding. They develop likes and dislikes and use food to satisfy their hunger more than to practice motor skills.
For parents, this can be an exciting and frustrating year. While you get to introduce them to so many kinds of food, they also might start getting more and more picky about what they eat.
Energy and Nutrient Requirements
Children have lots more growing to do in their second year. They are also becoming super active and need to keep fueling their bodies while they are running around. Now that they are getting all (or most) of their nutrition from solids, it's really important they eat lots of nutrient-dense food to support the growth of their bones, muscles, teeth, etc.
You can find meal plans here for 1-year-olds to take the thinking out of food prep and ensure your child gets everything they need, but read on for an overview of the important things to consider.
After reaching one year of age children macronutrient requirements begin to resemble those of adults. Carbohydrates remain the main source of energy and their main sources should be fruits, vegetables, whole-grain foods, and lentils. For 1-year-olds fat should be consumed via whole milk, dairy products, fish, vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds. Protein requirements are the lowest, being satisfied with lean meat, fish, lentils and dairy products.
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Vitamins and Minerals
Healthy growth relies on getting a full suite of micronutrients. Eating enough vitamins and minerals helps literally all functions of the body to operate efficiently. For your 1-year-old, ensuring they have strong bones, a strong immune system, and healthy digestion will make your life easier too!
The most common nutrient deficiency in 1-year-old children is in iron. The rapid growth in children under 2 is accompanied by significant increases in iron-rich hemoglobin in the blood. Without healthy levels, blood flow, the immune system, and even brain performance can be affected.
Iron-rich foods include meat and fish as well as beans, pulses, and dark green leafy vegetables for vegetarians/vegans. To maximize iron absorption, iron-rich foods are best served with food high in vitamin C (like cabbage, tomatoes, broccoli etc). There are also numerous iron-fortified foods available such as cereals and nut butter.
Arguably the second most important mineral for 1-year-olds is calcium. Calcium absorption relies on sufficient availability of vitamin D and phosphorus and is essential to keep children's bones strong as they grow.
Dairy products are the most common sources of calcium so extra care is needed for children on restricted diets to ensure they are getting enough. Many foods can be found fortified with calcium though so these are good substitutes for dairy.
Otherwise, beans, pulses and dark green leafy vegetables are good calcium sources.
Vitamin D deficiency (often a cause of rickets) causes weak bones and can stunt growth. Vitamin D is typically the only supplement recommended for healthy babies as it's harder to get from natural foods. While the body can produce its own vitamin D with sufficient exposure to sunlight, it's also better for 1-year-olds not to get too much sun as their skin is sensitive!
Without supplementation, deficiencies are relatively common. However, you can also buy vitamin D fortified-foods, while some foods naturally contain higher amounts (e.g. salmon, sardines, tuna, shrimp, egg yolks and mushrooms).
Zinc is another common deficiency for 1-year-olds as the best sources of zinc are fish and seafood which often do not make up a large part of young children's daily diets. It's also an essential nutrient, and a deficiency can stunt growth and lead to poor appetite creating even more nutritional problems later on.
Some other foods that contain zinc and whose regular intake can help prevent zinc deficiencies include meat, lentils, chickpeas, nuts, and seeds.
General Advice to Avoid Deficiencies
Unsurprisingly, the best way to avoid deficiencies is simply to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet including foods from every food group, while supplementing vitamin D.
However, if a diet is restrictive in any way then it becomes more important to plan a careful diet and to speak to your pediatrician.
- Eat lots of seasonal fresh fruit and vegetables
- Eat grains and legumes daily
- Aim for 2-3 meals of fish/seafood per week
- Aim for 3-4 meals of lean meat per week
- Include "healthy" fats such as plant oils
- Eat at least one source of calcium/day: milk and dairy products (or fortified non-dairy products)
- Feel free to drink cow's milk
- Consume too much sugar – try to limit fruit juices, carbonated beverages, candy, sweetened cereals
- Consume high amounts of saturated and trans-fats (e.g. chips, processed meats)
- Worry about honey – it's fine after the child reaches 1 year
As your child is eating more and more, it's important to consider what influences the food they eat and their broader relationship with it. A few factors that are worth considering include:
- Example setting
- Other care providers
- Media messages
It goes without saying that 1-year-olds don't have the capability to choose balanced, nutritious foods for themselves. But children are masters of observation. Everything they see begins to inform their behavior. So the choices we make for ourselves, and the eating habits of the people around us, therefore, impact those of our children.
As parents, we can easily set examples of healthy eating habits for our children to copy. This is true for both the foods we eat but also the way we treat mealtimes.
It's also helpful to 1-year-olds for meals to not be rushed, in an atmosphere which isn't hectic, so there's sufficient time set aside to eat and engage in family conversations.
Ultimately it's our responsibility to choose what food we give our children, and when, but we should leave it to them to choose whether to eat and how much.
Other Care Providers
It's more and more common for children to spend large amounts of time in daycare or kindergartens where you don't have the ability to oversee everything they eat.
While many of them will feed your child whatever it is that you've provided, it's unavoidable for them to see everyone else's food and to want to try other things. So long as they are still eating healthy foods, that shouldn't cause any issues, but it's worth talking to the carers to discuss how they manage mealtimes.
Food is relentlessly marketed to children on any medium available. And unfortunately, no one is paying to push fresh fruit and vegetables so the majority of marketed foods are candy, sweets, soft drinks, and fast food.
This shouldn't be too much of an issue for 1-year-olds who may not be spending a lot of time watching TV, but it's still worth staying aware of what your child sees and when as clear links have been shown between this kind of marketing and obesity later in life.
Illnesses and diseases generally cause a decreased appetite at a time when nutritional and hydration requirements may actually be higher. At these times, if possible, it's best to stick to regular meal times to maintain some kind of routine and relying on foods you know your child loves to eat. You can't force your child to eat if they don't want to, but you can at least make it as attractive as possible!
Food for Thought
Overall, during this year, your child will become much more comfortable eating food of all shapes and sizes. They will start to develop a rich personality which comes with a strong sense of what they do and don't like.
While this can make some meals a little frustrating, it can also make things easier as you'll get used to what your child likes and how much they might eat. You can use this year as a chance to get to know your child in new ways through food, while experiencing the joy of introducing them to the meals that will become a staple throughout their childhood.
- Lucas BL, Feucht SA. Nutrition in Childhood. In: Mahan LK, Escott-Stump, S. Krause’s Food & Nutrition Therapy. International Edition, 12e. 2008. pg. 222-245.
- Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board (2002) Dietary reference intakes for energy, carbohydrates, fiber, fat, fatty acids, cholesterol, protein, and amino acids (macronutrients). Washington, DC. National Academies Press.
- Satter E. (2000) Child of Mine – Feeding with love and good sense, revised. Palo Alto, California. Bull Publishing Co.
- American Dietetic Association (2006) Position of the American Dietetic Association: Child and adolescent food and nutrition programs. J Am Diet Assoc. 106:1467-1475.
- Dietz WH, Gortmaker SL. (2001) Preventing obesity in children and adolescents. Annu Rev Public Health. 22:337-353.