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Nutrition for Toddlers: What and How Much Should My Toddler Eat?

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Chasing Babies... Growing in Grace: Nutrition for Toddlers: What and How Much Should My Toddler Eat?

Monday, January 7, 2008

Nutrition for Toddlers: What and How Much Should My Toddler Eat?

In this series on feeding your toddler, I plan to both simplify and go into detail on a number of things. Starting out though, like you, I am more interested in what I need to be doing now… while I am learning all the details. Really, my 13 month old can’t just hang out for the next few months while I figure out which fruits and veggies have the right amount of Vitamin B6 to keep him healthy, or what combination of protein and fat he needs for optimum brain development. Those things will come as I intend to go line by line down the label I saved from our last can of formula (ok, yeah, it would have worked way better if I had started this 6 months ago, but 6 months ago I was working on whatever was happening then) and find out what I need to do to be sure my little one is getting the same level of nutrition now as he was when Enfamil or Similac (or whoever) was ensuring it for me.

For today, however, let’s look at what we can be doing to make sure our little ones are getting the right foods, and the right amount, from the start. Since my little boy was 4 months old, we have been slowly and methodically introducing him to “real” foods (I imagine I’ll walk you through how we do it when we begin with our little girl in the Fall). You may not have started that early, but we had some growth and nursing issues that encouraged us to begin when we did. Regardless when you started, you now have a (hopefully long) list of foods your little one is familiar with. I encourage you to start there and over time, watch it expand.

How much should my toddler be eating?

The American Academy of Pediatrics says that your 1 year old should eat approximately 1000 calories a day. Other research however gives more of a window that may reduce some of your stress about whether or not your toddler is eating enough. This research gives us a caloric range depending on the age of your little one:

  • 1 year: 550-1100 calories/day
  • 2 years: 700-1400 calories/day
  • 3 years: 850-1650 calories/day

Where your child will fall in the caloric range will depend on metabolism, size, activity level and whether he/she has more of a calm or excitable temperament. Other factors to affect this, temporarily, are growth spurts, teething, and illness.

This said, I must add that the best way to know how many calories your children need is to let them be your guide. Their diets should be balanced (something we will discuss next), but as long as the proper number of diapers are being soiled each day with both wet and (ehem) less wet soiling, you don’t have to worry. (If you are worried, remember that all your concerns and questions should be brought up with your children’s doctor ~ I don’t pretend to have the knowledge a doctor could give you… I only share what I have learned for my children.)

What should my toddler be eating?

Toddlers need the same nutrients, and therefore foods, as we do. The difference is that they need them in different amounts. One general rule is to give your toddler ¼ of the serving size recommended for adults for every year of age (i.e. if the serving size is 1 cup of peas for an adult, a single serving for your 2 year old is a ½ cup portion. A single slice of bread may be a serving for you, but ¼ slice of bread would be a single serving for your 1 year old.) Another method of figuring serving size for your toddler is to figure 1 tablespoon per year of age = one serving. While they do not always work out exactly the same, both are considered a good rule of thumb to ensure you are giving your toddler the right amounts.

Here are the specifics on what your toddler needs:

  • 16-24 ounces milk (and/or other dairy, such as cheese, yogurt, etc.)
  • 4 servings fruits and vegetables (try to make one of those servings high in vitamin C and another high in vitamin A)
  • 4 servings grains (bread, rice, pasta, cereal, etc.)
  • 2 servings protein (meat, eggs, tofu, beans, peanut butter, etc)

I hope this is enough information to get you started without overwhelming you. I've been working on putting together a chart that you can print out and put on your refrigerator to mark off each serving each day. (I recommend laminating it or putting it in a page protector and using wipe off ink so you can reuse it each day.) It is my hope that this chart will make it easier to keep track of all those little meals and snacks until it is second nature to you. :)


****Please keep in mind that I am not a nutritionist or medical professional. I am simply sharing the research I am using for my own family. Please consult your own doctor regarding your children's nutritional needs!****



At August 7, 2010 at 9:44 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you, this is exactly what I was looking for. My children (17 month old twin boys) soil the right amount of diapers and aren't fussy between meals but they are slender so I was worried that they weren't getting enough food. This information is really helpful. Thanks, Stephanie


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