In the early days of feeding a toddler—or during a sudden shift in appetite or preferences—it can be helpful to step back and look at the big picture. This chart is meant to be a quick reference nutrition guide, and to offer reassurance.
Food for Toddlers
Too often, we parents find ourselves totally stumped with which foods are best for toddlers. And because it can be hard to remember baseline portion sizes—is one piece of broccoli enough? Two? Do they need a whole bowl?—this chart contains information on food groups and recommended serving sizes. (It’s an updated version of the handout you probably got from your pediatrician at the one year old check up!) So if you ever need a little help figuring out what to offer your toddler at snack time or dinner time, you can simply glance at this.
And whenever you’re struck with a new phase or food refusal, knowing which food for toddlers are the best and how much they need can be really helpful.
Healthy Toddler Food Ideas
This chart contains the recommended daily intake for healthy foods for toddlers including fruits, vegetables, dairy, whole grains, meat/poultry/fish, legumes/nuts, fats, and iron-rich foods (which are too easy to forget all about even though iron is vital for proper development). There are also a few extra tips like a ballpark amount of calories most toddlers consume and notes to remind you that little ones need to eat healthy fats for brain development.
How do I know if my toddler is eating enough?
Portion sizes are a tricky thing because they are easy to read on paper, but in reality, they don’t account for things like appetite shifts, growth spurts, preferences, illness, and natural inclinations to eat more at some meals than others. Some kids eat a huge breakfast and taper off as the day goes on. Some do the opposite! Some prefer 6 mini meals, others like 3 big ones. So please use this guide with caution: It is meant to reassure you that your toddler is probably hitting the baseline serving size recommendations—but it’s 100% okay if they eat more or less than these amounts!
This is not a prescription diet plan. Kids are totally capable of deciding how much they need to fill their bellies if you surround them with healthy food options. In my mind—and that of the very respected feeding expert Ellyn Slatter—it’s your job to decide what and when to feed them and it’s their job to decide how much to eat.
Remember that Toddler Appetites Vary
Appetites of toddlers can swing widely depending on whether they are dealing with teething, a growth spurt, or another developmental milestone. And this can be confusing for us parents, who already worry so much about how much—or how little—our kids are eating. But for me, I know that it’s helpful to be reminded that it’s okay if my toddler only eats half of a piece of fruit, or just a few bites of meat, because that’s actually an appropriate amount for someone their age and size.
Toddler Nutrition Guidelines…Are Just Guidelines!
Please know that my only intention for this is to give you a baseline, a starting point. This is absolutely is not meant to be a mandate or a structured meal plan. (Yes, I realize I’m repeating myself but I don’t want to stress anyone out!) And it should not take the place of any dietary concerns you have that would be better addressed by a pediatrician. There will be days when your kids eat much more than these recommendations—and days when they falls short in one category or other, just like any adult would if you compared real intake with a piece of paper.
So keep the big picture in mind and aim for a balanced diet over the course of a week—.and keep this guide to reference whenever you worry about whether or not your toddler is getting the right nutrition… of you can’t for the life of you figure out what to give them for their 4th meal of the day!
TIP: You can download and print a copy of the Daily Toddler Nutrition Guide here.
Source for chart information: American Academy of Pediatrics and the Mayo Clinic