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How much should your toddler eat?

Written By | Aug 10, 2013

SILVER SPRING, Md, August 10, 2013 – As children grow so do their nutritional needs. It is easy when they are infants; health organizations advocate for breast milk, but in lieu of that it is formula. The only question is how much. Once children reach solid food there is a selection of pre-made, pre-processed foods that you can use to introduce your child to the joy of flavors other than milk. But when teeth start coming in and you are beyond purees, then it becomes more complicated.

Toddlers can go through phases when they gobble down everything in sight, or refuse their favorites on their plates. There are picky eaters, and those who demand only sweets and throw tantrums if their demands are not met. Some parents get lucky and have adventurous eaters who will try whatever is placed in front of them as long as mom and dad are eating the same thing.  But is your toddler’s diet balanced? Is it healthy? Are you giving them enough food, or too much?

With childhood obesity reaching 17% of children ages 2-19 in this country according to the Centers for Disease Control, it is clear that too many children are eating either the wrong kinds of food, or too much food.  Getting your child off to a good start with healthy eating habits is essential to prevent him from becoming part of this number. The convenient food that are pre-prepared and easy to grab and go are normally loaded with sugar, salt and calories, and lack the full nutrition of the foods that they are being used to replace.

So while we hate calorie counting for ourselves, and most parents are loath to do if for their kids, some basic knowledge of what a balanced diet for a toddler should look like might be helpful. According to the Mayo Clinic, the average 2 and 3 year old should consume about 1000 to 1400 calories per day depending on activity level.  So considering that 3 Nabisco Oreo cookies alone provide 160 calories, and 1 ounce of Pepperidge Farm Goldfish yields 140 calories, these common snacks or treats can put a huge dent in a child’s caloric requirement for the day without even mentioning the sugar-laden cereals, microwaveable pasta bowls, or fruit juices that often find their way into the mouths of young ones.

Sugary cereals can have a big impact on a toddler’s diet. Photo by Walmart Corporate via Flickr.

According to the breakdown of the toddler nutrition guidelines the Mayo Clinic lays out, 2 and 3 year olds should have each of the following in their daily diet: 2-4 ounces of protein, 1-1.5 cups of fruit, 1-1.5 cups of vegetables, 3-5 ounces of grains, and 2-2.5 cups of dairy. The new MyPlate recommendations by the United States Department of Agriculture offer further suggestions, such as switching your child to 1% or fat-free milk at this time, and using either milk or water as the beverage of choice over fruit juices. They caution to look for low-sodium options when choosing pre-packaged meal options for your child, and making sure that at least half of your child’s grains are whole grains.

The new MyPlate icon displays the new dietary guidelines as portions on a plate. Image courtesy of the United State Department of Agriculture.

So while you may be very conscientious about what your diet looks like, make sure you are paying attention to your child’s as well. While there is not as much in the media about how a toddler should eat, hopefully the guidelines above will help you make healthy choices for your child…with the occasional treat, of course. 

Brighid Moret also writes children’s picture book reviews at Big Reads For Little Hands. Read more about parenting issues in Parenting the First Time Through at The Communities at The Washington Times.

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Brighid Moret

Brighid is a freelance writer, mother and reader. She holds an MA in Writing from Johns Hopkins University. Find her on Twitter @BrighidMoret, or follow @BigReadsLittleH for the latest children's book reviews.