A healthy diet and good eating habits are essential for children's development, but feeding a toddler often becomes a big challenge for parents and kids! Children 1-3 years old change very quickly: they grow a bit slower, their appetite varies, and their temperament and need for independence start showing to make things more demanding.
Feeding Your Toddler: What To Expect?
Toddler age is a transition period in your child's early life, especially when it comes to meals and nutrition. Solid foods enter the menu, and table eating takes place. It is also a time for parents to adapt to new feeding patterns and habits. Toddlers are typically not very cooperative during feeding time, but this stage in children's lives is essential for introducing a proper eating routine and healthy diet.
How Much Can Toddlers Eat?
Toddlers are easily distracted and often picky eaters, while their appetite is inconsistent, reflecting their new nutritional needs and overall growth and development. Changes in appetite and table manners could appear extreme at times, but there is no need to worry – it is perfectly normal for toddler age.
Most parents worry if their child is eating enough. Offering regular meals is the basis of introducing healthy eating habits, but get ready for some trouble! While on some days, your playful little one will clean up the plate, on others, it simply won't be the case. Do not force-feeding, but make sure to keep up to three regular meals and about 2-3 snacks in a day.
In general, toddlers need around 1000 to 1400 calories per day. Still, these numbers vary depending on your child's exact age, activity level, and other specifics (discuss those with your healthcare provider). The best advice for parents is to choose a healthy variety from the primary food groups and to decide when and where the meals take place.
The rest should be left to the little one; in time, the eating schedule and the amount of food are expected to balance. When planning your toddler's diet, you should aim for foods loaded with nutrients essential for children's growth and development, which come from all food groups: grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy, and proteins.
Toddler Diet Guidelines
What do these recommendations mean in practice? What are the best foods for your toddler, and what would be the foods to avoid? What is the average serving size for a toddler? Let us break down these questions through main food groups, each followed by examples for one serving.
Grains(6 Servings Per Day)
Grains are the primary source of your toddlers' energy, essential for growth, physical and mental activity, and learning. Wheat, oats, barley, rice, corn, and other cereal grain fall into this group. Those could be bread, pasta, breakfast cereals, etc. Opt for those with a low glycemic index, which provides long-lasting energy.
- ½ to ½ slice of bread, or 4 tbsps. cooked pasta, rice, or ¼ cup of dry cereals
Fruits and Veggies (2-3 Servings Per Group Per Day)
Fruits and vegetables are an important source of water, vitamins, antioxidants, fiber, and energy, essential for children's immune systems. Offer various types from both groups, both cooked and fresh. Make sure to wash them thoroughly before serving.
- 1 tbsp. cooked vegetable
- ½ piece of fresh fruit or ¼ cup of cooked fruit
Dairy (2-3 Servings Per Day)
Milk, yogurt, and cheese are dairy products your toddler needs. Those are allowed to be introduced from the sixth month of age, although it is advised to breastfeed (or use formula) up to the twelfth month. Full-fat dairy does not have to be avoided for children between 1-2 years unless there are certain health risk factors, which should be discussed with the doctor.
- ½ cup of milk, ½ cup of yogurt, or ½ oz. cheese
Protein (2 Servings Per Day)
Lean meats, poultry, fish, and eggs fall into this group. These are loaded with components essential for proper muscle development in the first place. They also contain precious fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals that support brain development in children.
- ½ egg of any size, or 1 oz. meat
Legumes (2 Servings Per Day)
Legumes, such as lentils, peas, and beans, are an excellent source of fiber and contain plenty of essential nutrients, such as iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, folate, and calcium. Besides, legumes are packed with plant-based proteins.
- ¼ cup soaked and cooked dried beans, peas, or lentils
Healthy Drinks For Toddlers
Children 1-3 years old do not need anything besides water and milk. Avoid flavored water and milk, soft drinks, and juices. These products are typically loaded with sugar and do not have much nutritional value. Besides complications such as tooth decay and weight gain, sweet drinks make children feel full, which leads to avoiding healthy and needed food. Caffeine should not be on your little one's menu.
Best Snacks For Toddlers
In addition to regular meals, toddlers should have two to three healthy snacks. Fruits and vegetables are always a good choice. Grated apple, a banana, or a whole grain cracker (especially homemade) are good examples of healthy and delicious toddler snacks. Cakes, biscuits, chocolate, pastries, chips, and similar products should be limited and avoided at best. These foods fall into the 'special occasion' and 'sometimes' categories.