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7 Things to Look for in a Toddler Formula

By Sara Vance, Nutritionist and Author of The Perfect Metabolism Plan

Baby’s first birthday is an amazing milestone. Many developmental changes occur around this time, and parents can also make some changes to baby’s nutrition, including transitioning from breastfeeding or infant formula to whole milk or toddler formula.

Here are seven factors to consider when selecting a toddler formula:

1. Organic, non-GMO

When choosing a toddler formula, consider an organic one. By going the organic route, it is likely that you are reducing your babies’ exposure to pesticides, hormones and antibiotics. Organic dairy generally has higher levels of certain nutrients, such as more omega-3 fatty acids.[1][2] Read: 7 Reasons to Choose Organic for Baby to learn more.

2. Taste

Transitions for babies can be challenging. Anyone with a young child knows that if they don’t like the taste of something, they won’t eat it or drink it! If your little one is used to a certain taste, they may reject a new one. Read: 7 Tips If You’re Struggling With a Picky Eater

3. Prebiotics

Prebiotics are fibers that serve as food for the beneficial bacteria (probiotics) in the colon. Prebiotics are naturally occurring in breast milk and are added to some infant and toddler formulas. Studies find that prebiotics may improve the balance of bacteria in the digestive tract and may even reduce the risk of developing allergies and skin conditions.[3] Another way to support a toddler’s healthy gut bacteria is to offer foods that are rich in probiotics, like yogurt or kefir. Read: From Prebiotics to Probiotics — Demystifying Baby’s Microbiome

4. Fatty acids

Dietary fats play an important role in a toddler’s immune system, growth, and healthy eye and brain development. According to the journal American Family Physician, restricting fat intake in toddlers may impede growth and cause nutrient deficiencies.[4]That’s why it is important for families who are switching from breastfeeding or infant formula to look for a brand of toddler formula that contains healthy fats.[4] Read: 8 Benefits of Fats for Toddlers

5. DHA

Omega-3 fatty acids provide the starting point for hormones that regulate inflammation and are important for brain, eye and overall health. One type of omega-3 that is particularly important for brain development and eye health is docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Choosing a toddler formula containing DHA fatty acids is one way to help ensure that your toddler is intaking these important nutrients. Other sources include fatty fish, nuts, and seeds like flax and chia. Read: Defining DHA – Its Importance for Baby’s Eye and Brain Development

6. Iron

Babies are usually born with enough iron to last them for the first six months of life (with some exceptions, like some pre-term birth babies).[5] After the first six months of life, babies who are breastfed will need to get iron from their diets. Iron is very important for baby’s health and brain development, so it is important to include iron-rich or fortified foods.[6] According to the National Institutes of Health, the recommended daily amount of iron for ages 1-3 is 7 milligrams a day.[6] Toddler formulas contain iron to help ensure that toddlers do not develop iron deficiency anemia. To determine iron levels, your pediatrician can perform a simple finger prick test.

7. Calcium

According to the National Institutes of Health, children between the ages of 1 and 3 should be consuming 700 milligrams of calcium per day.[7] A toddler formula containing calcium can contribute to the daily recommended amount. Other dietary sources of calcium include yogurt, kefir, dark leafy greens, broccoli and sesame seeds. Parents should be aware that calcium also requires co-factors to build strong bones — including vitamin D, magnesium, and vitamin K.[8] Magnesium can be found in nuts, seeds, dark leafy greens, bananas and avocados.[9] Best known for its role in blood clotting, vitamin K is also important for strong bones. Good sources include dark leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli.[10] Healthy bacteria in the gut produce vitamin K, so prebiotic fibers may support healthy vitamin K levels.[11]

Consider the factors above when selecting a toddler formula for your little one. Cheers to one year!

About the Author: A nutritionist and the author of The Perfect Metabolism Plan, Sara Vance is a passionate advocate for natural approaches to health. She regularly offers cooking and group classes and has developed a series of online courses to empower people to use foods to balance their metabolism and overall health. As a mom and a specialist in childhood nutrition, Sara loves working with kids, speaking frequently at school assemblies and leading children’s workshops. Sara is a frequent guest on the Fox 5 San Diego show, CBS Los Angeles, KUSI and CW 6. She has contributed to Delicious Living, Mind Body Green and Refinery29. Sara has also filmed videos for eHow and created a Kids Yoga series for GaiamTV.

References and Sources

  1. Is Organic More Nutritious? New Study Adds To The Evidence
  2. Organic Production Enhances Milk Nutritional Quality by Shifting Fatty Acid Composition: A United States–Wide, 18-Month Study
  3. Prebiotics in infants for prevention of allergy.
  4. Nutrition in Toddlers
  5. Iron needs of babies and children
  6. Iron — Fact Sheet for Health Professionals
  7. How much calcium do children & teens need?
  8. Bone-Health Cofactors: New Science on Vitamin D, K2, Magnesium, and Zinc
  9. Magnesium
  10. Vitamin K
  11. The production of menaquinones (vitamin K2) by intestinal bacteria and their role in maintaining coagulation homeostasis.


The content provided in this article is intended for informational purposes only. It is not recommended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem without consulting a qualified healthcare professional. Always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare professional regarding any medical questions or concerns. See additional information.