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Good Nutrition Starts Early

Key Points

  • Children need fruits and vegetables daily for healthy growth and brain development.
  • Early eating experiences can affect how we eat as we get older.
  • See tips on how to introduce young children to healthy foods, including a variety of fruits and vegetables.
Mother and son preparing vegetables in home kitchen.

Introduce fruits and vegetables

Children need fruits and vegetables daily for healthy growth and brain development. Early eating experiences can also affect how we eat as we get older. This is why it's so important to introduce young children to healthy foods, including a variety of fruits and vegetables.

To help children grow strong, include fruit and vegetables with their meals and snacks. Fresh, frozen, or canned options are all OK. With canned vegetables, look for products with low sodium. With canned or frozen fruits, choose ones with little or no added sugars.

Prepare and store fruit and vegetables in single-serving containers. Then you'll have a healthy snack ready when children are hungry.

How many fruits and vegetables children need depends on their age and how active they are. Use this chart as a general guideline, and use MyPlate Plan for more specific recommendations.

Daily consumption recommendations by age

12 to 23 months
  • 1/2 to 1 cup of fruit
  • 2/3 to 1 cup of vegetables
2 to 4 years
  • 1 to 1 ½ cups of fruit
  • 1 to 2 cups of vegetables
4 to 8 years
  • 1 to 2 cups of fruit
  • 1 ½ to 2 ½ cups of vegetables.

Some changes in how food is prepared can make fruits and vegetables even healthier. For example, rather than serving children a cereal bar containing fruit, offer them a few slices of whole fruit with unsweetened granola. Another example is to shift from fried vegetables to roasted vegetables.

Serve a rainbow of color

Include a variety of fruits and vegetables to make a rainbow of different colored foods on your child's plate. Examples include:

  • Fruits: bananas, strawberries, pears, oranges, melons, or avocados.
  • Vegetables: cooked spinach, carrots, peas, sweet potatoes, or beets.
  • Whole grains: whole grain breads, crackers, or pastas.
  • Meats: lean beef, lamb, chicken, deboned fish, or turkey (soft, small pieces for children 6 to 12 months).
  • Dairy: pasteurized yogurts or cheeses.
A banana and tomato with the words "Playful Activities for picky eaters."
Playful activities can help picky eaters try new tastes and textures.

Try these playful activity cards to keep your picky eater engaged and open to new tastes and textures.

Share these foods first

When children are about 6 months old, you can start introducing them to foods and drinks other than breast milk and infant formula. For most children, you don't need to introduce foods in a specific order.

By the time children are 7 or 8 months old, they can eat a variety of foods from different food groups. Your child needs a variety of vitamins and minerals to grow healthy and strong.

Avoid giving certain foods and drinks to children younger than 12 months.

Consider drinks too!

When your child is 6 to 12 months old, you can offer:

  • Water (4 to 6 ounces per day).
  • Breast milk (if you are still breastfeeding) or infant formula.

Once your child is 12 months old, you can begin offering fortified cow's milk.

If you want to serve your children fruit juice, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends waiting until they are 1 year old. For children older than 1, serve only 100% fruit juice. Also limit each serving to the recommended amount.

Beverages with no added sugars are the best choice. These include water and unsweetened, fat-free or low-fat milk. Low-lactose or lactose-free milk and unsweetened, fortified soy beverages are also healthy choices.

Be their role model

Once children are 12 months or older, they will eat more of the foods that you eat. Healthy eating patterns set a good example for your children. Healthy eating patterns focus on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat or fat-free dairy. It's also important to limit foods that are high in sodium and added sugars.

Unsweetened beverages are the best choice for adults too. See how to Rethink Your Drink. Also, MyPlate can help you choose healthy foods and drinks for your family.