Switching To Solids: Tips For Transitioning Toddlers from Formula & Milk



A baby’s nutritional needs change as they grow, as does the way they eat—how often, which foods and more. But one thing that doesn’t change is the importance of nutrition. As your child transitions into a toddler, nutrition is essential to their development and should remain a top priority.

In fact, the first 1000 days of a baby’s life (from conception through 2 years of age) are paramount in their development, as 85% of brain growth happens within your toddler's first three years. That’s why it’s important to keep even the pickiest toddler well-nourished throughout the transition to toddlerhood.

Introduction to complementary foods begins at about 6 months of age. As infants, babies consume breast milk or formula that contains important nutrients they need, such as DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid), iron, and vitamins D & E. By their first birthday, they should be transitioned away from formula or breastmilk as the main source of nutrition to eating solid foods, but it’s still important to make sure they are still getting the critical nutrients for development that breastmilk and formula was providing.  

When making the transition, parents may struggle with getting their child to consume a well-rounded diet. This is because toddlers tend to be picky eaters who eat foods in small volumes. Additionally, they generally aren’t eating the foods that are high in the nutrients they need such as Vitamins D and E, zinc, fiber and iron produced by foods such as leafy greens like spinach and kale, dark red and yellow vegetables, meat, salmon and eggs. In fact, 30% of toddlers don’t eat enough vegetables during this critical time. Thus, many toddlers are lacking in the key nutrients they need for growth and development.

So how can parents make sure their child receives the nutrition needed for proper brain growth and development? These tips can help parents ensure they are providing their child with the nutrients needed.

Avoid the Food Fight. Don’t force your toddler to eat: Picky eating is very common in toddlers and can be a normal stage of development. Generally it is a mild issue that will pass in time. During this time, a toddler’s growth and appetite has slowed. They are developing food preferences and may refuse to eat certain foods, even if they loved it yesterday. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests parents offer a variety of healthy food choices, eat meals together with no media or distractions, and continue to offer those refused foods. Did you know it can take up to 10 offers before a child accepts a food?  Responsibility for feeding is divided. Parents are responsible for food choices and the toddler decides whether to eat it.

Boost food sources that are rich in the nutrients your toddler needs: There are several nutrients that toddlers need to help with their development, such as:

  • DHA (Docosahexanoic Acid): An important omega-3 fatty acid and a building block of the brain, DHA is important for the brain’s healthy structure and function. It’s found in breastmilk and formula, but parents can continue to provide this in their toddler’s diet through cut up cooked egg yolks and fatty fish like salmon or tuna.
  • Iron: Another vital nutrient, iron affects social, emotional, cognitive and behavioral outcomes. More importantly, if children don’t get enough iron in the first 1000 days, they often can’t catch up. Parents can provide iron to their toddlers through foods like red meats and salmon.
  • Vitamins D and E: These are other important nutrients needed for growth and development. Vitamin D can be found in dairy products such as milk and yogurt. Vitamin E can be found in red sweet peppers, broccoli and spinach.

Consider weaning by introducing toddler nutrition drinks: The transition from infant formula or breast milk to cow's milk can lead to an 80% drop in DHA consumption among other nutrient deficiencies, resulting in toddlers not receiving all the nutrients needed to support their physical, emotional and cognitive development. If variety in your toddler’s diet is a challenge, try adding a toddler nutritional drink, like Enfagrow Toddler Next Step, which can provide vital nutrients like DHA, iron, calcium, vitamin D and zinc. Toddler nutritional drinks are an easy way to supplement a toddler’s diet.     

The transition from baby formula or breastmilk can be challenging, but these tips can help support a smooth transition for both the parents and child. If you have any concerns, don’t hesitate to check with your health care provider or a registered nutritionist.

Christina J. Valentine, MD, MS, RD, FAAP is a Physician- Scientist focused on maternal / infant diet strategies to attenuate inflammation and improve outcomes.  Dr. Valentine is an active neonatologist in Columbus, Ohio and is an Associate Visiting Professor at the University of Cincinnati (UC), where she is the Principal Investigator evaluating maternal docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) supplementation in early pregnancy to reduce early preterm birth. She is also currently the Medical Director for RB North America where she is involved with Research and Development.