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Publication #FCS8889

Raising Healthy Children: Age Two1

Jamie C. Stolarz, Morgan P. Denhard, and Karla P. Shelnutt2

It's probably hard to believe that the baby you brought home from the hospital is already two years old. Welcome to another exciting stage of your child's development!

Use the information in this publication as a guide. Talk to your pediatrician if you have any questions or concerns. These are general guidelines; each child develops at his* own pace.

Nutrition

Is your two-year-old a picky eater? It can be frustrating, but try not to worry. Children usually need to be exposed to a food up to 12 times before accepting it (USDA, 2013a). Keep offering your child a new food every so often, and one day, he may decide he likes it! Food preferences are developed early in life. As a parent, you have the important role of introducing new foods to your child. Offer healthy fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, and protein foods with a variety of flavors and textures. Rarely give your children sweets and empty calories, such as soda and cookies.

The MyPlate recommendations for two-year-olds are below. It is important to not get too worried about your child meeting these amounts every day. A balanced diet can be achieved with foods spread throughout the day and week. It is your job to decide what, when, and where your child eats, and it is your child’s responsibility to decide how much and whether to eat (Ellyn Satter Institute, 2012).

Figure 1. 
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Table 1. 

USDA MyPlate recommendations for two-year-olds.

Fruits

1 cup

Vegetables

1 cup

Grains

3 oz equivalents

Protein Foods

2 oz equivalents

Dairy

2 cups

Source: “My Daily Food Plan,” USDA, n.d.

Choking Hazards

When feeding your child, choose foods that are bite-sized and that have a safe texture and shape to avoid problems with choking. Have your child eat while sitting down, and keep an eye on him when he is eating. According to the USDA (2013a), foods that are potential choking hazards include the following:

  • Popcorn

  • Hard candies

  • Nuts

  • Raw vegetables

  • Hard fruits

  • Raisins

  • Whole grapes

  • Hot dogs (unless they are cut into small slivers—not rounds)

  • Peanut butter (if served as a “glob” and not spread thinly)

Food Allergies

Food allergies are getting to be more common in young children. The foods below account for 90% of food allergies in children (Gupta et al., 2011):

  • Peanuts and tree nuts (such as pecans and walnuts)

  • Seafood

  • Milk

  • Eggs

  • Soy

  • Wheat

Contact your child's doctor if you notice signs of a food allergy. Common signs of food allergies include the following (Gupta et al., 2011):

  • Developing a skin condition

  • Wheezing

  • Vomiting

  • Excessive diarrhea

It is possible that your child may outgrow his food allergy, especially if it is to milk, eggs, or soy (Gupta et al., 2011).

Eating Habits

It's important to allow your child to choose how much to eat. Avoid requiring your child to finish his plate or to “take one more bite.” Instead, let your child learn to respond to his feelings of hunger and fullness (USDA, 2011). Young children have small stomachs, so offer them small amounts of food on their plate; let them ask for more if they are still hungry. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (2013) recommends using a tablespoon per year to estimate serving size. So, a two-year-old would be served 2 tablespoons of fruit.

It is common for toddlers to refuse to eat a meal or snack, and that's okay. Sometimes they just aren't hungry. They need to know that they can't beg for food right after refusing to eat, though. They will have to wait for the next meal or snack. Help your child know when to expect food by keeping a regular feeding schedule. Children who graze all day tend to lose their ability to sense hunger and fullness. Offering your child three meals and two to three healthy snacks every day is a great way to make sure he is getting enough food.

You will be excited to know that your child will soon begin feeding himself, too. Allow your child to practice using a small fork and spoon, but be sure to supervise him, and if he gets frustrated, step in and help.

Figure 2. 
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Juice

Fruit is a better option than juice for your child because it contains fiber (USDA, 2013b). Limit your child's daily juice intake to about 4 ounces of 100% fruit juice. Look on the label to make sure that the juice is pasteurized and contains 100% fruit juice. If your child is thirsty, remember that water is the best choice.

Milk and Dairy

Does your child drink milk or eat dairy foods? Milk and dairy foods are important sources of calcium, vitamin D, and several other nutrients throughout your child's life. Calcium and vitamin D are important for building strong bones. Calcium also is needed for building strong teeth and plays other important roles in the body. Your two-year-old needs about 2–2½ cups of milk a day to provide the amount of calcium he needs (USDA, 2013b). Too much milk can cause your child to eat less food and may prevent the absorption of iron, leading to iron deficiency (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2013).

Whole milk was great for your one-year-old, but now that your child is two years old, experts recommend switching from whole milk to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk (USDA, 2013b). This can be an important step in helping your child keep a healthy body weight.

Physical Activity

Playtime is fun, and it's good for your child! During your child's first few years of life, his brain is rapidly developing. Playing and interacting with others is important. Make sure to provide your child with opportunities to be active with friends.

Daily activity is an important part of development for young children. Experts recommend the following (KidsHealth.org, 2011):

30 Minutes of Structured Physical Activity

Examples include the following:

  • Walking

  • Playing at the playground

  • Attending a class that involves being active

60 Minutes of Unstructured Physical Activity

  • Exploring

  • Playing with toys

Figure 3. 
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Less Sedentary Time

  • No TV, video games, or computers

  • Except when sleepy, keep sedentary time to less than one hour

A Safe Play Environment

Providing a safe play environment means less worry for you and more fun for you and your child!

Time to Recharge

With all this activity, your two-year-old needs plenty of rest. At this age, your child needs about 13 hours of sleep, including one two-hour nap (University of Michigan Health System, 2010).

Development

At the age of two, your child is probably doing many new things. Emotional displays are also more common at this age.

Emotional Development

You can expect your two-year-old to experience frustration. Don't worry, this is common. You can help prevent tantrums by addressing your child's frustrations or removing the source of the frustration.

According to Mayo Clinic (2012), some strategies that can be useful in preventing tantrums include the following:

  • Offering choices to your child when possible.

  • Gently letting your child know before it is time to switch activities.

  • Establishing routines, including ones for naptime and bedtime.

  • Planning ahead; if your child throws tantrums when he is hungry, bring healthy snacks with you.

  • Avoiding situations likely to cause tantrums.

  • Distracting your child if a tantrum is about to occur.

  • Praising your child's good behavior.

  • Avoiding activities outside the home during naptime.

If your child has a tantrum anyway, remove him from the situation, and stay calm. The Mayo Clinic (2012) recommends ignoring tantrums so that you can teach your child the proper way to explain his frustrations or needs. Giving into your child’s demands will teach him that tantrums are effective.

Developmental Milestones

There are certain developmental milestones for two-year-olds. Compare your two-year-old’s development to the activities listed below. Contact your pediatrician if you aren’t sure whether your child is reaching milestones.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2012) most two-year-olds can do the following:

  • Stand on tiptoe

  • Kick and throw a ball

  • Run and climb

  • Walk up and down the stairs

Most two-year-olds can also do these (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012):

  • Follow simple directions

  • Put 2–4 words together to form a sentence

  • Name pictures in a book

  • Build towers with 4 or more blocks

  • Play simple make-believe games

  • Begin to sort shapes and colors

  • Finish familiar sentences and rhymes

  • Repeat words overheard in conversation

  • Know the names of people and body parts

Here are some fun things your two year-old may enjoy doing:

  • Using crayons

  • Playing with dough

  • Building with blocks

  • Making easy puzzles

Figure 4. 
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For more information about child development, contact one of the following reliable sources in your county:

Your Two-Year-Old

Table 2. 

Your child's height

 

Your child's weight

 

You can check your child's height and weight percentiles by looking at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Growth Charts at http://www.cdc.gov/GrowthCharts/. Charts are provided by gender and provide percentile curves of different body measurements such as height and weight that are used by health care professionals to track growth. Ask your pediatrician to provide an explanation about what the numbers mean for your child.

*Although we refer to a male child in this document, the recommendations apply to all children.

Recommended Websites

References

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. (2013). Size-wise nutrition for toddlers. Retrieved from http://www.eatright.org/kids/article.aspx?id=6442459365

American Academy of Pediatrics. (2013). Feeding and nutrition: Your two-year-old. Retrieved from http://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/toddler/nutrition/pages/Feeding-and-Nutrition-Your-Two-Year-Old.aspx

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012). Learn the signs. Act early: Important milestones – Your child at two years. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/milestones/milestones-2yr.html

Ellyn Satter Institute. (2012). Ellyn Satter's division of responsibility in feeding. Retrieved from http://www.ellynsatter.com/ellyn-satters-division-of-responsibility-in-feeding-i-80.html

Gupta, R. S., Springston, E. E., Warrier, M. R., Smith, B., Kumar, R., Pongracic, J., & Holl, J. L. (2011). The prevalence, severity, and distribution of childhood food allergy in the United States. Pediatrics, 128(1), e9–e17.

KidsHealth.org. (2011). Fitness and your 2- to 3-year-old. Retrieved from http://kidshealth.org/parent/nutrition_center/staying_fit/fitness_2_3.html

Mayo Clinic. (2012). Temper tantrums in toddlers: How to keep the peace. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/tantrum/HQ01622

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). (n.d.) My daily food plan. Retrieved from http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/downloads/results/MyDailyFoodPlan_1000.pdf

USDA. (2011). Phrases that help and hinder. Retrieved from http://www.choosemyplate.gov/preschoolers/healthy-habits/HelpAndHinderPhrases.pdf

USDA. (2013a). Picky eating: Help them try new foods. Retrieved from http://www.choosemyplate.gov/preschoolers/picky-eaters/new-foods.html

USDA. (2013b). Daily food plan for preschoolers: Learn about beverages. Retrieved from http://www.choosemyplate.gov/preschoolers/daily-food-plans/about-beverages.html

University of Michigan Health System. (2010). Sleep problems: Your child. Retrieved from http://www.med.umich.edu/yourchild/topics/sleep.htm#teach

Footnotes

1.

This document is FCS8889, one of a series of the Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, UF/IFAS Extension. First published: January 2010. Latest revision: July 2013. Please visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

2.

Jamie C. Stolarz, MS, RD, former dietetic intern, Morgan P. Denhard, BS, dietetic intern, Master of Science-Dietetic Internship Program, Food Science and Human Nutrition Department, and Karla P. Shelnutt, PhD, RD, assistant professor, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL, 32611.


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.