Feeding toddlers can be challenging. They are often picky eaters, are hesitant to try new foods, and in general, don't seem to eat very much.
To begin planning your toddler's diet, it can help to begin with the idea that toddlers need a lot less to eat than you think. Remember that children aren't growing as fast as they were during their first year of life and so have lower energy needs (the amount of calories per kg of their body weight) and smaller appetites. So if your child is active, healthy, and growing and developing normally, then he is likely getting plenty to eat.
It can also help to avoid common mistakes, such as:
- drinking more than 16-24 ounces of milk each day.
- drinking more than 4-6 ounces of juice each day.
- letting your child fill up on sweets and snacks.
- forcing your child to eat when he isn't hungry.
- giving servings that are too big. The average toddler serving is going to be about 1/4 of an adult serving size. Don't go by the serving size listed on nutrition labels, as these are mainly for older children and adults.
Toddler Food Pyramid
Well, there isn't a toddler food pyramid. The Kids' Food Pyramid
is for children aged 2-6 years, but you can still use it to guide what your younger toddler eats, including 6 servings of grains, 3 servings of vegetables, 2 servings of fruits, 2 servings from the milk/dairy group, 2 servings from the meat and protein group, and a limited amount of fats and sweets. Just remember that the serving sizes will be smaller for younger toddlers and are equal to about 1/4 an adult's serving size.
The Basics of a Toddler's Diet
Although you shouldn't usually count calories, knowing how many calories your toddler needs can help when planning his diet and can also help reassure you that your child is getting enough to eat.
The average toddler needs about 1300 calories each day. Bigger kids will need a little more and smaller kids a little less. A good rule of thumb is that your toddler will need 40 calories each day for each inch of his height.
If he is following AAP recommendations as to how much milk and juice he drinks, that will take care of:
- 300-455 calories (about 19 calories per ounce) from whole cow's milk (or a similar amount from breastmilk if you are breastfeeding your toddler 2-3 times a day) if he is drinking 16-24 ounces a day. Remember to not give low fat milk until your child is 2-3 years old and don't overdo it on milk. If he gets up to 48 ounces of milk a day, then he is getting over 900 calories a day just from milk, which is almost 70% of the number of calories he needs all day.
- 60-90 calories (about 15 calories per ounce) from juice. Don't overdo it on juice either. If your child is drinking 2-3 10 ounce sippie cups of juice, that is giving him 300-450 extra calories.
|A common problem scenerio we see in kids who don't eat much, is a toddler who drinks 4 cups of milk and 3 cups of juice each day. That can add up to 1350 calories, which is probably more than he needs all day, so it is not surprising that this child wouldn't be hungry for other foods.
So you now have only another 550-950 calories to get in him, divided between three meals and two snacks. That usually isn't very hard if you look at the number of calories in foods kids usually eat (although you should be choosing more healthy alternatives for many of these foods):
- american cheese (one slice) = 45 calories
- apple (1/2 small apple) = 40 calories
- banana (1/2) = 50 calories
- beef, ground ( ounces) = 85 calories
- bologna (1 slice) = 90 calories
- bread (1/2 - 1 slice) = 20-40 calories
- breakfast cereal (1/4-1/2 cup) = 40-80 calories
- chicken nuggets (3 - 6 pieces) = 105-210 calories
- eggs (1/2 - 1 egg) = 35-70 calories
- french fries (7 - 15 steak fries) = 60 - 120 calories
- french fries (8 - 17 Funky Fries) = 150-300 calories
- fruit cocktail, canned (1/4 ounce) = 50 calories
- Grahm Crackers (1 - 2 sheets) = 60-120 calories
- grape jelly (1 tablespoon) = 50 calories
- hot dog (1/2 - 1 hotdog) = 60-120 calories
- ice cream (1/2 cup) = 135 calories
- Macaroni & Cheese (2 1/2 ounces) = 260 calories
- mozzarella cheese (1 ounce) = 80 calories
- pancakes (1) = 60 calories
- peanut butter (1 tablespoon smooth and thinly spread) = 95 calories
- pizza, cheese (1/2 - 1 slice) = 140-290 calories
- Pop Tart (1/2 - 1 pastry) = 1-200 calories
- popsicle (1) = 70 calories
- pudding (1/2 cup) = 110 calories
- vegetables (1 tablespoon per year of age) = 25 calories/tablespoon
- yogurt (1/3 cup) = 50 calories
A sample breakfast, with 1/2 cup (4 ouces) of cereal, 1/4 cup of milk and 4 ounces of orange juice would give about 230 calories. If you instead gave a slice of bread with 1 tablespoon of peanut butter and jelly and 4 ouces of orange juice, your toddler would get over 250 calories.
For lunch, consider a 1/2 sandwich (one slice of bread), with 1 slice of lean luncheon meat (90 calories) and cheese (45 calories) . Or a tuna fish sandwich (add 1/2 tablespoon of mayo to the tuna to get 50 extra calories). Or a sliced and quartered hot dog. And water, juice or milk.
Dinner might include 1-2 ounces of chicken (75-100 calories) or beef (120-165 calories), 2-3 tablespoons of vegetables (50-75 calories), some whole wheat bread (40 calories) and 1/2 cup of milk (76 calories).
Plus, your child will likely need a couple of small snacks mid-morning and in the early afternoon. These might include 1/2 cup of milk (76 calories) or juice (60 calories), 2-3 tablespoons of fruit (50-75 calories), or a slice of cheese (45 calories). Alternatives might include some jello, pudding, or yogurt.
This sample diet outlined above will give your child well over 1000 calories. In reality, he may not eat 3 full meals each day though. Many toddlers just eat one good meal a day and it is usually still fine. If he eats a good breakfast (250 calories), a small lunch and dinner (100 calories each), has a couple of snacks (150 calories each), 16 ounces of milk (300 calories), and 6 ounces of juice (90 calories), then he is still getting almost 1200 calories.
If you (or your Pediatrician) doesn't think that your child is getting enough calories, there are ways to boost the amount of calories he eats in small quantaties of foods. See our guide to boosting calories for more information.
Here are some more sample toddler diets:
Don't Worry About -
The only real time that you should worry is if your child isn't gaining weight well or isn't very active. An overly restricted diet with too much milk and juice might also be a problem.
Things that you shouldn't worry about include a toddler that:
- doesn't seem like he eats a lot. Remember that as long as he is gaining weight and is active and healthy, then he is likely getting enough calories.
- only eats a few kinds of food each day, such as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, hot dogs, or chicken nuggets and french fries.
- won't try any new foods. You can keep trying to introduce new foods by putting a very small amount (like 1/2-1 tablespoon) on his plate and don't force him to try or finish it. Many kids won't try a new food until they have been offered it 10 or more times.
- doesn't eat a balanced diet each day. Most kids don't. As long as his diet seems balanced over a week or two, he is likely getting enough variety. If he really isn't, talk to your Pediatrician about the need for a vitamin supplement.
- doesn't finish everything on his plate. The idea that children should sit at the table until they 'clean' their plate is out of fashion. Instead, children should be taught to recognize when they are full and then stop eating. If your toddler isn't finishing what you offer, learn to offer smaller portions.
- doesn't eat what you prepare for him. Try to avoid making elaborate meals for your toddler or offering foods with a lot of spices or sauces. Instead, keep things simple. While you shouldn't have to prepare a separate meal for your toddler every day, don't be surprised if he doesn't want to eat 'adult' foods.
- is overweight. Okay, you should be a little concerned if your child is overweight, even at this age. However, instead of restricting calories, you may just want to provide a healthy diet and encourge regular physical activity. Be sure to watch your serving and portion sizes (offer toddler size portions) and don't offer too much milk, juice, or high calorie snacks.