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The Right Stuff

Despite parents' worries, children will select a diet that's good for them if they are given the right foods to choose from. How you've handled food up to now will influence how your toddler reacts to new foods. Try to introduce them in a matter-of-fact way. Offer small amounts of a variety of foods to help your toddler understand the concept of choice.

To make sure your child receives needed nutrients, plan meals around the five major food groups, those you've seen so often in the food pyramid: the bread, cereal, rice, and pasta group; fruits; vegetables; meat and fish; and dairy products.

We spoke with Ann Shaw, Ph.D., a research nutritionist with the Human Nutrition Information Services (the agency that created the new food pyramid) to adapt the number of servings in each food group, as well as the serving sizes, for children ages 2 to 5. In general, children need about the same number of servings in each group as adults do, but their recommended serving sizes are approximately one-third smaller.

When your child is younger than 2, her nutritional requirements and the amount of food she needs are somewhat different, so rely on your pediatrician's advice. All children under 2, for example, have a need for fat, which should not be limited in their diets. The most important thing you can do for your "under 2" is serve a wide variety of foods from each of the five food groups.

For all young children, Shaw says, snacks should play an important role in fulfilling nutritional needs. Toddlers tend to have small appetites and may not be able to consume a full serving at one time. Also, large portions are often overwhelming, so start out with small portions. Your child can always ask for seconds.

We also talked to five dietitians and asked for tips to ease the transition from infant feeding to the wider world of toddler nutrition. They've come up with some practical - and creative - advice that underscores the importance of your role in setting your kids up for a lifelong commitment to good nutrition.

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