Do you worry that your toddler is eating too little or too much? The good news is your child will self-regulate their food intake based on their body’s needs. Their appetite should be your guide to successful mealtimes. Feeding children becomes less frustrating and less complicated once a parent knows exactly what a child needs to grow strong and healthy. Check out the nutrition guide below for a toddler’s daily food needs.
What and how much should my toddler be eating?
As a parent, your job is to decide what foods to offer and when they will eat them. Allow your child to decide which foods offered they will eat, and how much to eat. Daily appetite changes are normal, try to look at your child’s intake over the course of a week, not necessarily over the course of a day. The key is to continue to offer regular meals and snacks in a positive, low-pressure environment. Pressure to eat certain foods or finish their plates, leads to stressful mealtimes and food aversions that may impact their nutritional intake (1). Most toddlers need to consume about 1,000 to 1,400 calories a day. Here is a look at what a healthy eating plan for their daily needs looks like:
Grain group: 3 to 5 ounces of grains per day, aim for half of them to be whole grains. A few whole grain favorites are brown rice, and whole wheat bread, pasta or crackers.
Fruit group: 1 to 1.5 cups of fresh, frozen, canned, or dried fruits per day. Try to limit 100% fruit juice to 4 to 6 ounces per day and prioritize whole fruits in place of juice. Serving fruit in fun shapes or in a parfait are a few good ways to get whole fruits onto your child’s plate.
Vegetable group: 1 to 1.5 cups of raw or cooked vegetables per day. Children need a variety of vegetables including dark green, red, and orange. Try adding spinach to your pesto or subbing sweet potatoes for white potatoes. These additions to your child’s plate gives a boost of nutrients that include Vitamin A and Vitamin C.
Milk group: 2 to 2.5 cups per day. Children under the age of 2 should consume whole milk. Older children can have lower-fat milk such as fat-free or low-fat milk and fortified soy milk, yogurt, and cheese.
Protein group: 2 to 4 ounces total per day. Serve a variety of protein foods such as lean meats, poultry, seafood, eggs, soy products, cooked beans, unsalted nuts and nut butters. Including plant-based proteins on your child’s plate is a great way to boost their daily fiber and micronutrient intakes. Try adding black beans into tacos or tofu into a stir fry.
Here is an example of an average toddler-sized meal:
- One ounce of meat, or 2 to 3 tablespoons of cooked beans
- One to 2 tablespoons of vegetable
- One to 2 tablespoons of fruit
- One-quarter cup rice
Is there anything I shouldn’t feed my toddler?
It is important to avoid foods that may cause choking. Here are the most common choking hazards among toddlers:
- Whole grapes, round candies and cough drops, large pieces of meats, poultry, and hot dogs.
- Small, hard foods such as nuts, seeds, popcorn, chips, pretzels, raw carrots, large pieces of raw fruit or vegetables, and raisins.
- Sticky foods such as peanut butter and marshmallows.
Cutting up food into smaller pieces and mashing foods can help prevent choking. Supervise your child at all times when eating.
Additional feeding tips for your child:
- Involve your child in making the meals. This action can help familiarize them to new foods on the plate and increase willingness to try them.
- Model what healthy eating looks like. Studies show parental modeling is associated with greater fruit juice and vegetable intake (1).
- Try not to use food as a reward. This can hinder the healthy eating habits that you are trying to teach your child and may promote preferences for higher fat and sugar foods (1).
- Create a relaxing environment before meals and snacks.
- Keep mealtimes and snacks on a regular schedule.
For more information about eating plans and serving sizes, visit ChooseMyPlate.gov
- Savage, J., Fisher, J., & Birch, L. (2007). Parental influence on eating behavior: Conception to adolescence. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2531152/