How Much Should My Toddler Eat?

Two bites of an apple here, half a slice of toast there, a handful of Corn Flakes between meals. Sound familiar? Extreme fluctuations in appetite are common among toddlers. Finicky eaters are the norm, not the exception when it comes to young children. As your child ages and their rate of growth slows, their appetite shrinks accordingly.

So while regular feeding is important, don’t expect your toddler to eat three square meals a day without exception. Some days they will, other days they won’t.  And, in the long run, it usually balances out.

But we understand. Like all mothers, you’re prone to worry about your little one. To that end, here are some tips to keep in mind when planning your toddler’s meals.

How much should my toddler eat in a day?

While your toddler may not always cooperate, here’s what you should aim to serve him on an average day.

Grains: 6 servings

Vegetables: 3 servings

Fruits: 2 servings

Protein: 2 servings

Dairy: 16 to 24 ounces of milk (or equivalent amount of calcium-rich foods like cheese and yogurt)

Water: 8 to 32 ounces

Sweets: Very sparingly

Try to limit overall fat intake to between 20 and 30 percent of daily calories with less than 10 percent coming from saturated fat.

What is a typical toddler serving size?

Don’t be surprised if your child can’t cope with the same portion sizes as you.  Indeed, your toddler’s serving size should be a quarter the size of your own.

A neat trick to nail toddler serving sizes: Offer him a tablespoon per food group for every birthday he’s had. A three-year-old, for instance, would get three tablespoons of grains, three of protein, and so on. You get the idea.

What should I do if my toddler refuses to eat?

Toddlers can be incredibly obstinate. Sometimes their lips just won’t budge open. Resist the urge to cajole him into eating past the point when he’s full (something that can really backfire). It may teach him to ignore his hunger and fullness signals, and that can lead to overeating and weight gain later in life. (Good news: You can relax if he occasionally doesn’t finish his peas!)

If this refusal to eat becomes a routine occurrence, however, check how much milk and juice they’re drinking. If it’s more than 16 oz. of milk or 4 oz. of juice a day, these liquid calories might be the problem. Scale it back and see if their appetite improves.

Finally, try not to lose the forest from the trees. More important than the quantity of food your toddler eats at each meal is the quality of that food. There will be both good and bad days, peaks and valleys, finished meals, and discarded ones. But if your child is gaining weight, developing on track, and is active and energetic, then you can be confident that he’s getting plenty to eat.

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