The toddler years are when balanced nutrition becomes vital to your child’s health. Now that breast milk or formula is no longer providing everything your little one needs to grow, food must provide all the necessary nutrients. This can be especially difficult when your toddler becomes a picky eater and refuses many of the healthy foods you offer.
The basics of a balanced toddler diet are a few simple concepts: variety, portion sizes, and number of servings. Provide the right number of servings of each food group, in the appropriate portion sizes, and mix it up with a variety of options to find the foods your toddler will want to eat.
Servings and Portions
A basic knowledge of what your toddler needs to eat, and how much, makes it a lot easier to ensure a balanced diet. Most of us know what the four food groups are: fruits and vegetables, grains, proteins, and dairy. Many parents, however, have no real idea how much of each of these foods a toddler should eat every day.
Every day, your toddler should be consuming somewhere between 1000-1400 calories depending on age and activity level. That really is a lot less than many parents believe. Toddlers have small stomachs, and portion sizes should be much smaller than those an adult could consume.
Serve your toddler approximately one cup of fruits and one cup of vegetables throughout the day, adding another ½ cup of each for older toddlers. An appropriate portion size for these foods is about ¼ to ½ cup, or half of a fresh fruit like a banana. This means you are aiming to get about 5-9 servings each day of fruits and vegetables. Some servings may be larger than others due to how filling the food is, so it may be a lower number of servings or a higher number depending on the day.
Aim to get your toddler to eat about 3 ounces of whole grain foods every day. One slice of bread is about one ounce, but a standard serving for a toddler is only half of a slice, so an entire slice comprises two servings of grains. ½ cup of cooked cereal, rice or pasta is also one ounce, but is actually two servings for a toddler. Thus the 3 ounces will actually add up to anywhere from 6-9 servings per day, and you can add another ounce or two for an older toddler.
For intake of protein, remember that your child really doesn’t need that much. A toddler should eat about 2 ounces of lean proteins every day, which is about 2-3 servings of meats, eggs, and beans.
Finally, diary products should be about 2 cups worth every day. Thus if your toddler drinks 2 cups of milk in a day, you have already met the requirements.
Variety is the Key
Mix it up and offer your child different options from each of the food groups every day, especially when it comes to fruits and vegetables where there are plenty of available choices. Trying different foods will not only offer a wide variety of nutrients, but will also allow your toddler more choices and more chances to like the foods that are offered.
Choosing a wide variety of options to meet your toddler’s daily needs also opens up the door to different styles of cuisine and new flavors, to keep expanding your child’s culinary horizons. The earlier you introduce new foods, the more open your child will be to different food experiences later in life.