Toddler years are a period of rapid development, your toddler is learning many new skills all at once including self feeding and trying a variety of foods. At the same time this period of rapid development is also a time when appetite drops. All of these factors can influence how much a toddler eats in a day.
Nutrition is still a top priority in this period of varying appetites and parents need to understand how to pack in the most nutrient dense foods in each meal without pressurizing toddler to eat.
If you are wondering, how much should toddler eat, read on.
Calories and kilocalories
When we say calories in diet we are often referring to kilocalories, remember this next time when you are reading a nutrition label.
Values on nutrition labels may also be written in kilocalories (kcal) or kilojules (kJ).
- 1 kcal = 4.184 kJ
- 1 kJ = 0.239 kcal.
How many calories do toddlers need?
Depending on their age, size, and activity level, toddlers need about 1000 – 1400 kcal a day. (source)
Toddler feeding and nutrition tips
- Toddlers are capable of regulating appetite and must not be forced to eat certain amounts of food at each meal.
- Parents should focus on providing a variety of healthy foods to toddlers. It is well known by now that increasing variety in diet reduces the chances of nutritional deficiencies.
- Use the toddler years as a time to discover new foods, textures and preparations. Create meaningful exposures to foods.
- Encourage self-feeding, there will be messes, but, independent eaters are more likely to grow into healthy eaters.
How much should my toddler eat in a day?
Toddler appetite varies depending on the size of the child, how they distribute their calorie requirements through the day (many tiny meals or a few big meals), nutrient density of the meals they are having, periods of growth spurts and illnesses.
It is difficult in such a situation to recommend exact amounts each toddler must eat in a day. Rather we recommend that children follow hunger and appetite cues. Toddlers will go through phases of likes and dislikes and certain food preferences based on their body’s needs.
Use the recommended portion sizes given below as a range to understand what toddler portions look like. This helps parents and caregivers feel confident that eating a variety of foods within the portion ranges means that their toddlers are well fed.
Recommendations by the British Nutrition Foundation
- 5 portions of Starchy foods (these include whole grain bread, cereal, potatoes, pancakes, noodles and pasta to name a few).
- 5 portions of Fruit and Vegetables (include a variety of colorful fruit and vegetables in child-friendly sizes and preparations).
- 3 portions of Dairy (includes cow’s milk, cheese, yogurt, soy based dessert with added calcium).
- 2 portions of Protein (includes chicken, beef, fish, eggs, lentils, beans, chickpeas to name a few).
Download the 5532 guide here.
Note: It is recommended that vegetarian/vegan children get 3 portions of protein a day to ensure they get enough of nutrients like zinc and iron.
Recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following average daily intake for toddlers aged 1-3 years.
- 6 servings of Grains
- 2-3 servings of Vegetables
- 2-3 servings of Fruits
- 2-3 servings of Dairy
- 2 servings of Protein
- 2 servings Legumes
Note: Toddlers must have full-fat dairy.
To know what one serving equals, read here.
Sample Menu For A 2 Year Old
Oats porridge made in full fat milk. Add nut butter and chopped fruit to the porridge as toppings.
Cheese sticks with crackers and fruit.
Chicken and rice meal with sauteed veggies on side.
Pasta and chicken meal with veggies like zucchini in the tomato sauce.
Save this pin for the next time you wonder about toddler portion sizes and nutrient requirements.
Choking risk foods for children under 5
The following is a list of foods that can pose a choking hazard for children under 5.
- Hard dried fruits
- Chunks of peanut butter
- Whole nuts and seeds
- Whole grapes and fruits with thick skin like plums, grapes, apples etc.
- Corn kernels
- Raw carrots
- Chewing gum and hard candy
- Big chunks of meat
For a detailed list read here.
Typical toddler eating patterns
Toddlers go through many likes and dislikes when it comes to foods. It is hard for parents to keep up with their changing tastes. But what works is to continue exposure to disliked food alongside foods they like. It can take up to 20 exposures before a food is accepted.
It is also common for toddlers to skip meals from time to time. Here it is important for the parent to track what kinds of foods are being eaten? are any routine changes needed? Is the child over tired by the time dinner is served? make changes accordingly.
Instead of focusing on each meal and quantity eaten focus on energy intake throughout the week. You will notice that toddlers are intuitive eaters and know exactly what their bodies need and seem to balance nutrition over a period of time.
To sum it up,
Our job as parents is to provide nutrient rich balanced meals consistently to our children and trust that our child can eat to meet his needs.
The meal charts provided above are a great resource to create awareness about nutrient requirements of children, how to build balanced meals and set realistic expectations about portion sizes.
What are some of the challenges you face with feeding your toddler?