Toddler Nutrition for a Healthy Life

This page gives information on toddler nutrition - what is appropriate food or nutrition for infants toddlers for adequate growth.

Other pages on this site may also be of interest:

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How many calories do toddlers need?

The following is a guide to toddler nutrition calories requirements:

  • 1 year old children need about 900 calories per day
  • 2 - 3 year old children need 1000 calories per day
  • 4 - 8 year old children need 1200 calories per day if they are girls and 1400 calories per day if they are boys

A toddler can get enough calories by being picky with his eating, so don't be concerned about toddler nutrition if your toddler is growing appropriately.

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What type of foods should my child eat for good toddler nutrition?

In the first year of life, milk is the mainstay of the diet and during the second 6 months a variety of other foods are introduced.

The diet in the first year of life:

  • should have no cow's milk - just breast milk or formula
  • cheese and yoghurt can be introduced from 7-9 months of age - they are a good source of calcium which is necessary for strong bones
  • no fruit juice should be given before 6 months of age
  • no honey should be given before 6 months of age

See Starting Solids for adequate nutrition in infants.

Between 1 and 2 years, toddlers are adjusting their diet and for good toddler nutrition the diet should include:

  • Cereal grains, potatoes, rice, breads, pasta - 2 servings per day. Choose wholegrain unrefined varieties
  • Dairy (full fat milk, cheese, yoghurt) - 2 servings per day
  • Fruit and Vegetables - 2 servings per day
  • Meat/Fish/Eggs/Poultry/Legumes - 1 serving per day
  • Fortified Toddler Food - 1 serving per day
  • Carrots/Pumpkin - 4 servings per week - for adequate Vitamins A & C
  • Oranges/Kiwi fruit/Mandarins - 2 servings per week - for adequate Vitamins A & C 

Remember:

  • no more than 2 cups (16 oz or 480 mls) of milk per day - full fat milk is required for adequate nutrition for infants and toddlers under 2 years of age
  • limit fruit juice to no more than 1 - 6 oz (30 - 180 mls) per day. Only feed it from a cup - do not put in a bottle
  • limit refined sugar
  • introduce healthy foods repeatedly - up to 10 times (don't give up the first time your toddler refuses)

From 2 year of age, your child needs a variety of foods just as adults do but in smaller serving sizes. So the diet of a toddler over 2 year of age should include the following for adequate toddler nutrition:

  • Protein - meat, eggs, fish, poultry, peanut butter - 2 servings per day
  • Dairy (for calcium and fat) - milk (low fat after 2 years of age), cheese, yoghurt - 3 servings per day
  • Vegetables - 3 servings per day
  • Fruits - 2 to 3 servings per day
  • Cereal grains, potatoes, rice, breads, pasta - 6 servings per day

Create a food pyramid for your child - Go to My Pyramid Plan on the right of the page that comes up and enter your child's age and weight etc. Serving sizes will then be suggested that are appropriate for adequate toddler nutrition

Remember:

  • no more than 2 cups (16 oz or 480 mls) of milk per day - low fat milk can be used for nutrition in toddlers after 2 years of age
  • no more than 1 cup (6 oz or 180 mls) of fruit juice per day
  • limit refined sugar
  • avoid tea as nutrition for toddlers as it reduces the amount of iron the body can absorb and iron is important

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What is an appropriate serving size for my toddler?

As a rule of thumb, one serving size for adequate toddler nutrition is the size of your toddler's palm of the hand.

For a main meal, there would be one serving of protein (eg. meat, eggs), one serving of carbohydrate (eg. bread, pasta, potato) and 2 servings of vegetables, so the equivalent of 4 servings which would be the size of 4 palms of your toddler's hand.

Alternatively use this toddler nutrition guide for 1 serving size for a 2 - 6 year old:

  • 1 slice of bread
  • 1/2 cup of cooked rice or pasta
  • 1/2 cup of cooked cereal
  • 1 ounce (30 grams) of uncooked cereal
  • 1/2 cup of raw or cooked vegetables
  • 1 cup of leafy green vegetables
  • 1 piece of fruit or melon wedge
  • 3/4 cup of juice
  • 1/2 cup of canned fruit
  • 1/4 cup of dried fruit
  • 1 cup (8 oz or 240 mls) of milk or yoghurt
  • 2 oz (60 g) of cheese
  • 2 - 3 oz (60 - 90 g) of cooked lean meat, poultry or fish

Note that:

  • 1/2 cup of cooked dry beans or 1 egg counts as 1 oz (30 g) of lean meat
  • 2 tbsp of peanut butter counts as 1 oz (30 g) of meat

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What can I do to encourage a healthy eating lifestyle in my child?

Follow the tips for toddler nutrition and healthy eating patterns:

  • parents choose the mealtimes and what is eaten, not children - I suggest 3 meals and 2 - 3 snacks per day (so breakfast, lunch, dinner, mid-morning snack, mid-afternoon snack and perhaps a before-bed snack)
  • children can choose how much they eat at mealtimes - parents should not force children to eat
  • pay attention to servings sizes - keep at the appropriate size for age
  • after 2 years of age, use low-fat milk, cheese and yoghurt
  • limit snacking while just sitting around (for example, limit snacking in front of the television)
  • limit television / computer games to no more than 2 hours per day
  • allow children to eat as they wish (as long as they are not overweight - see growth charts)
  • have regular family meals and model "good food behavior" - Get your own customized food pyramid for your nutrition recommendations given your age and activity level

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How can I ensure my child has healthy bones?

Toddler nutrition requires an adequate amount of calcium and of Vitamin D every day.

Calcium - Children need about 3 servings of dairy per day to get enough calcium. There is about 300mg of calcium in 1 cup of milk (or 6 oz/180 g of yoghurt or 1 oz/30 g of cheese) and the toddler nutrition requirements are 500 mg for 1-3 yr olds and 800 mg for 4-8 yr olds of calcium per day. There is a similar amount of calcium in low-fat and non-fat milks as there is in full-fat milk.

Other calcium rich foods include:

  • tofu
  • broccoli
  • kidney beans
  • sweet potatoes and kumara
  • whole wheat / white bread
  • fortified orange juice
  • canned salmon

Vitamin D - the requirement for healthy nutrition in infants and toddlers is 400 IU per day or 10 micrograms per day and is available in:

  • fruits and vegetables
  • salmon and tuna
  • sardines and herrings
  • egg yolks
  • wheat germ
  • sunlight - if your child is not on Vitamin supplements, then he should have 10 - 15 minutes (15 - 20 minutes if he is dark skinned) of sunlight exposure (of face, hands and arms or arms and legs) at least 2 - 3 times per week between the hours of 10am and 3pm. At all other times, apply sunscreen and encourage a hat.
  • The AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) recommends Vitamin D supplements in all breast-fed infants until they are on whole milk. Vitadol C and Abidec are preparations available for providing Vitamin D to infants. These supplements can also be taken by older children.

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How much iron does my child need?

Your child needs about 10 mg of iron per day until about a year of age and then 15 mg per day until school age. It is important that your child has enough iron as it's important for learning as well as toddler nutrition.

Drinking too much milk can lead to iron deficiency so limit milk intake to 2 cups per day after the first year of life.

Iron rich foods include:

  • red meat - 1 serving has 2-3 mg of iron
  • dates or prunes - 1/2 cup has 2.5 mg of iron
  • green leafy vegetables - 1/2 cup has 2 mg of iron
  • fortified cereal - read the label but often 1 serving contains more than 15 mg of iron
  • brown rice cooked - 1 cup has about 1 mg of iron
  • spaghetti cooked - 1 cup has 2 mg of iron
  • whole wheat bread - 1 slice has about 1 mg of iron
  • red kidney beans - 1/2 cup has about 1.5 mg of iron
  • broccoli, beans, peas - 1/2 cup has about 1 - 1.5 mg of iron
  • baked potato with skin on - 1 has about 4 mg of iron
  • watermelon slice - has 3 mg of iron

Vitamin C helps the absorption of iron into the body.

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What other vitamins does my child need?

Healthy toddler nutrition includes Vitamin C and Vitamin A as well as Vitamin D.

Vitamin C rich foods include:

  • green and red peppers
  • avocados
  • bananas
  • cabbage, broccoli and other green vegetables
  • kiwi fruit
  • oranges and other citrus fruits
  • strawberries
  • tomatoes

Vitamin A rich foods include:

  • carrots
  • avocados
  • spinach
  • yellow/orange fruits
  • dark green leafy vegetables
  • kiwi fruit
  • prunes
  • papaya (paw paw)
  • liver
  • eggs
  • milk and milk products

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References on Toddler Nutrition

  • AMA. Dietary Recommendations for Children and Adolescents: a Guide for Practitioners. Pediatrics 2006; 117:544-559
  • Greer F, Krebs N. Optimizing Bone Health and Calcium Intakes of Infants, Children and Adolescents. Pediatrics 2006; 117:578-585
  • Szymlek-Gay E, Ferguson EL, Heath AL, Sheaff S. Practical food-based dietary guidelines developed for 12-24 month old New Zealand toddlers. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2004; 13 (Suppl): S62
  • Fox MK, Reidy K, Novak T, Ziegler P. Sources of energy and nutrition in the diets of infants and toddlers. J Am Diet Assoc. 2006. Jan; 106 (1 Suppl 1):S28-42
  • USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/
  • Wagner CL et al. Prevention of Rickets and Vitamin D Deficiency in Infants, Children and Adolescents. Pediatrics 2008. doi 10.1542

To go to the top of the Toddler Nutrition page, click here 

To view Growth Charts, click here 

For a customized Food Pyramid, click here 

To go to the main Growing page, click here 

To return to the Home page, click here 


Last reviewed 15 July 2011

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Dr Maud MD

Dr Maud MD (MBChB, FRACP, FRCPCH), a specialist pediatrician, provides health information and medical advice for parents of babies and toddlers. Read more about Dr Maud.



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