I remember the day I started solid foods with my son, Andrew. It was both an exciting and anxiety-inducing milestone. Even though I am a dairy farmer, Registered Dietitian, and mom, I was still a bit nervous. The new Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) was released this year and for the first time, it includes dairy suggestions for children 0-2 years of age. Something that will be helpful for all the parents out there feeding their kids, especially toddler feeding.

Of course, as a dairy farmer I was thrilled that the guidelines include dairy for children ages 6-months through 2 years old! Dairy offers families nutritious, accessible, and affordable food options.

Here is how I use the DGA dairy recommendations to fit into Andrew’s meals and snack times.

USING DAIRY TO EXPLORE SOLID FOODS: 6 MONTHS TO 1 YEAR OLD

Look for signs that your baby is ready to start eating solid foods such as, sitting independently with head control and bringing hands to the mouth. For children 6 months to 2 years, dairy foods should be whole fat. Whole milk plain yogurt and cottage cheese are the perfect consistency to start exploring foods.

The simple combinations listed below made regular appearances during our meal and snack time (1-2 ounces of each, slowly increase as appropriate):

  • Cottage cheese with mashed raspberries, avocado, or beans (usually canned and rinsed)
  • Yogurt with applesauce, mashed bananas, pureed pears, or canned pumpkin
  • Yogurt pops: Freeze yogurt and fruit/vegetable purees in cubes for mesh teethers. You can also use straws to make popsicles, which were a part of our teething survival route.
  • Thin matchstick size pieces of cheese (great for hand motor skills).

toddler feeding time with cheese

USING DAIRY TO CREATE NUTRITIOUS HABITS: 1 TO 2 YEARS OLD

As your baby grows into a toddler, their taste, appetite and eating skills grow too! At age 1, the DGA encourages the introduction to whole fat cow’s milk. Dairy (approximately 2 cups/day) will help meet calcium, potassium, vitamin D and protein requirements.

My toddler isn’t an eager milk drinker just yet, so we add and pair dairy with dishes or other food groups. Here are some never fail dairy tips that my toddler loves:

  1. Grilled cheese, pizza, mac n’ cheese, and cheesy meatballs are some of our favorite main dishes usually paired with sliced vegetables.
  2. Replace recipes calling for water with equal parts whole milk or add yogurt or cheese for a nutritional boost (ex: soups, pancakes, muffins, hot chocolate).
  3. Some great snack combinations are, cheese slices with whole grain crackers, yogurt with sliced fruit, which can even be blended to make a smoothie, and yogurt ranch-style dip with bell pepper and tomato slices.
  4. 4 ounces of yogurt and 1/2 a banana as a bedtime snack. The protein and other nutrients will keep kids full all night.

Introducing dairy at a young age can establish lifetime eating habits that will help youngsters achieve their nutritional requirements for years to come. I hope by sharing these tips, families will discover dairy’s delicious options for all stage of food discovery and enjoy toddler feeding times!

*Please consult with your child’s health care provider before starting any solid foods.