toddler eating

Toddler Food Choices: A Look at the Landscape

Today’s toddler foods give parents more healthy, delicious, and convenient options than ever before. See how brands are innovating in toddler nutrition products—from global flavors to veggie-forward—and what’s ahead.

Highlights: 

  • According to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines 2020-2025, nearly 90% of toddlers 12-23 months fall short of the recommended daily vegetable intake. 
  • Toddler-ready meals are becoming a big hit with parents who seek convenience and healthy nutrition. 
  • We expect to see more products that follow adult food trends but in milder tasting versions, as well as the use of superfoods in the toddler nutrition landscape. 

The Growth of Toddler Nutrition Products

Nutrition in the first three years of life plays a critical role in children’s development and future health. This can also be a challenging period for caregivers who may be unsure of the right foods for their toddlers, lack the time to prepare healthy meals, or are faced with picky eaters. A growing number of brands are stepping up to offer parents convenient solutions that are exciting, flavorful, and nutritionally sound.

Getting the Nutrients Right

Since growth slows down for toddlers, keeping calories in check is essential. Portion sizes should be small and nutrient-dense, with a focus on whole grains, proteins, and vegetables. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines 2020-2025 reports that nearly 90% of toddlers 12-23 months fall short of the recommended 2/3 to 1 cup of veggies per day. Intakes are lowest for dark leafy greens—perhaps no surprise since children tend to reject bitter-tasting foods. 

Due to the critical role of iron in brain development, fortified infant cereals are recommended, especially those with whole grains, which provide fiber. The Guidelines also recommend no added sugars before age 2 and limited added sugars thereafter. In addition, peanuts should be introduced early to reduce the risk of developing allergies. 

mom feeding toddler

Providing a wide variety of foods and repeated exposure are ways to increase the acceptance of healthy foods by toddlers, which is key to learning healthy eating habits early on. Taken together, it’s a tall order for toddler nutrition brands, but many are finding ways to deliver.

Innovative Toddler Foods in the Market

Ready meals for toddlers are becoming a big hit with parents seeking convenience and healthy nutrition. These products resonate with parents as real food they could have made in their own kitchen. They’re also available in a variety of global flavors and veggie-forward options, which is especially appealing to Millennial parents.

Mamamade offers 100% organic, allergen-free, plant-based ready meals for toddlers in options such as Spiced Veg & Lentil Medley and Kale Pesto Pasta. Lil’ Gourmets’ fresh, refrigerated, ready meals each provide 1 serving of veggies or beans per cup and contain no added sugar or salt. Their products, which include Pumpkin + Bean Shawarma and Corn + Bean Gazpacho, are designed to “help kids fall in love with vegetables and diverse foods for life.” 

green pasta

Some toddler-ready meals are shipped direct-to-consumer, while others are available through on-demand, grocery delivery services. However, for a shelf-stable, supermarket option, parents can look to Ella’s Kitchen. Best known for its fruit and veggie puree pouches, the brand has expanded to include meal pouches such as Totally Cool Caribbean Chicken with Mangoes and Full of Sunshine Thai Curry with Lots of Veg.

Fortified infant cereals are also advancing to address today’s needs. Gerber’s Cereal for Baby Powerblend line includes oats blended with legumes, veggies, and fruits like Probiotic Oatmeal, Lentil, Carrots & Apples. Gerber’s innovations in snacks and beverages include BabyPops Puffed Corn & Oat Snack with peanut flour (to support early allergen introduction) and Oat Milk Smoothie with no added sweeteners for toddlers.

What’s Ahead in Toddler Foods

Looking ahead at the toddler nutrition landscape, we can expect more products with adventurous flavors that follow adult food trends but in milder tasting versions. Brands will also incorporate more trending ingredients—particularly superfoods—like Once Upon a Farm is doing with spinach, quinoa, chia seeds, and coconut butter.

Veggies will continue to be emphasized in toddler foods, with perhaps more innovation around using dark leafy greens in meals and snacks. Fortifications for toddler foods may also evolve. While parents have high awareness of certain nutrients such as iron, calcium, vitamin C, and vitamin D, brands may take the opportunity to promote the benefits of essential but lesser-known nutrients like choline, lutein, and lactoferrin.

For whatever comes next, Glanbia Nutritionals' ingredients for early life nutrition can support your product development journey. We offer bioactives, proteins, plant-based ingredients, micronutrients, and custom premix solutions to help ensure your youngest consumers are off to a healthy start. Collaborate with us.

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