How much food should my toddler eat?

Toddlers are notoriously tricky eaters and after the very clear step-by-step introduction of solid foods to your baby, parents are often left feeling concerned that their toddler’s diet isn’t meeting his nutritional needs.

Toddler serving sizes

Before getting too concerned about the amount your toddler does – or doesn’t! – eat each day, it is important to remember that toddler serving sizes are generally between ¼ and 1/3 of an adult serving size. This means that a serve of toast for your toddler is ¼ of a piece of bread.

Also, while your baby may have seemed to grow in front of your eyes – a stunning 7cm every 3 months – your toddler’s growth will slow to approximately 8-13 cm in an entire year. So while he may not seem quite as hungry due to the slowdown in his growth, good nutrition still remains a high priority.

Nutritional needs of your toddler

Based on the smaller serving sizes required for toddlers, your toddler needs to eat the following each day to meet his nutritional requirements:

  • 6 serves of grains, eg. ¼ slice bread, ¼ muffin, 2 plain crackers, ¼ cup dry cereal
  • 1 serve of vitamin C rich fruit or vegetable, eg. 1/3 cup juice, ¼ cup chopped oranges and kiwifruit
  • 1 serves vitamin A rich fruit or vegetable, eg. ¼ to 1/3 cup orange juice, ¼ cup chopped apricots or raw carrots
  • 3 or more serves of other fruits or vegetables, each serve being ¼ cup
  • 3 serves of yoghurt, milk or cheese, eg. ½ cup milk/yogurt, 15 g cheese
  • 2 serves of protein, eg. 1+ tbspn chopped meat, fish or poultry, 1 egg)

While you certainly don’t need to be counting calories for your toddler, it may help to know that the average toddler needs about 1300 calories each day. Bigger and smaller children will need more and less than this amount.

Given that many toddlers, prefer to drink their calories in the form of milk and juice (both of which are very filling and calorie heavy) it is a good idea to limit the amount they drink other than water to encourage their appetite.

Experts recommend that:

  • No more than 300-455 calories each day come from full-fat cow’s milk or breastmilk (this is the equivalent of 2-3 breastfeeds a day or approx. 600mls of milk)
  • No more than 60-90 calories each day come from juice (this is approx. 160mls of juice)
  • While you certainly don’t need to worry about the fat intake of your baby, by the age of 2 years, your toddler should be getting only 30-35% of his calories from fat each day.

Your toddler’s iron requirements

Toddlers should have 7mg of iron in their diet each day. With the loss of iron-fortified formulas and cereals from their diet as they mature and start eating family foods, toddlers are at risk of iron deficiency.

To increase your toddler’s iron levels:

  • Limit the amount of milk your toddler drinks – it only contains low levels of iron
  • Offer iron-rich foods such as red meat, fish, beans and enriched grains
  • Combine iron-rich foods with vitamin C rich foods, as vitamin C improves the absorption or iron
  • Keep offering iron-fortified cereal until your toddler is 2 years old.

If you are concerned about your toddler’s iron levels, consult your doctor. Do not administer an iron supplement without getting medical advice first.

Your toddler’s calcium requirements

Your toddler should have 500mg of calcium in his diet each day. This nutritional requirement is easily met is your toddler has the recommended two serves of dairy products each day.

Generally, between 1 and 2 years of age your toddler should drink full-fat milk which will provide the dietary fats he needs for growth and brain development. After 2 years, he can begin to drink reduced fat milk.

If you child doesn’t like milk or other dairy products, or is unable to consume them due to allergies, offer other calcium-rich foods such as fortified cereals, calcium-fortified soy beverages, broccoli, and calcium-fortified orange juice.

This article was written by Ella Walsh for Kidspot, New Zealand’s best resource for family health.

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